Il Leone Mastrantonio

22 Cobern Street | corner of Prestwich, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa
+27 21 421 0071 • www.mastrantonio.com/il-leone-mastrantonio

This cozy Italian charmer is a pleasant surprise for being hell and gone from Italy. But as good as it is, I assure you it is nowhere even close to as good as the reviews make it out to be on Google and TripAdvisor. So go in with tempered expectations and I think you’ll be happy.

From the outside to the inside, the place has an inviting old-school vibe about it. Sadly, the crowd has an old-school vibe as well, so keep your voice down, because apparently at several places in Cape Town people like to eat in libraries. Luckily they don’t live in New York or they might starve. Either that or they’d live off takeout.

But I digress. In terms of the food, they kick it off right with a visit to the wine room to check out their offerings firsthand. The antipasti offerings are also solid, from the creamy buratta to the grilled octopus and bruschetta. Nothing exceptional, however. The real stars are their pastas. I had both the Bolognese and the carbonara and both hit the el spoto. Again, nowhere near Ultimate status, but for South African Italian, you could do a lot worse.

Like with dessert for example. I found their gelatos to be so lacking in flavor it was hard to tell which flavor was which, coming off more as just scoops of frozen cream.

Murray’s Cheese Bar

264 Bleecker StNew York, NY 10014 • (646) 476-8882 • murrayscheesebar.com

Murray’s has been a New York icon for more years than the aged cheddar in their cheese cases. But more recently they decided to take that expertise and run with it, opening up a restaurant just a few doors down where the cheese flows like wine, or rather in tandem with it.

Our story begins with a robust, spicy blend of Grenache and Syrah by the glass. It was perfect for the cheesy tour de force that lied ahead, starting with the grilled artichokes, which wasn’t all that cheesy to be honest, but holy cow was it good, drizzled with an alici aioli (alici is an Italian fish sauce made from anchovies, in case you were thinking of googling it like I just did).

Equally impressive, and much cheesier, were the stuffed zucchini blossoms filled with spiced cream cheese, roasted corn and placed over a light yogurt sauce. Just killer.

But speaking of deadly, the Mac & Cheese was the real showstopper, making my Ultimate list with flying colors… and cheeses. My daughter technically ordered it, but I got all Daniel Day Lewis (circa There Will be Blood) on her and I “drank her milkshake.”

The sliders were also a solid yum, leading me to believe that the burgers are most likely awesome as well. And speaking of the A-word, the charcuterie and cheese plate is all that and then some. Obviously a lot rides on which meats and cheeses you choose, but you can never go wrong with the sweet San Daniele or the milky double cream. Also adding to the awesome are the inspired accouterments like the maple shavings. A stroke of delicousness!

Another worthy get is the grilled cheese, although I must admit I found the sandwich itself to be shockingly boring. What makes up for it in spades, however, is the kickass, sharp-ass tomato soup. Just dip the mediocre sammy in that red fountain of youth and your taste buds will feel like they’re twenty-one again, unless you’re younger than 21, in which case I’m not sure what the math would be?

Lastly, for dessert, while I appreciate the attempt to recreate iconic dishes with cheese, the Ch-mores fall miserably short and lack the contrast of flavors and textures that make S’mores so wonderful. Instead, the Ch’mores wind both looking and tasting like a cheesy blob. It was the biggest miss of the night and the primary reason I am docking a knife. Apart from that, I’d say it is a perfect stop amidst a Bleeker shopping spree, or for an early dinner with kids that doesn’t compromise for the adults.

Elizabeth on 37th

105 E 37th St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 236-5547 • elizabethon37th.net

oyster

Widely considered among the top three restaurants in Savannah it obviously became a ferocious obligation to dine here during my visit. And with hype at a steady boil, the odds were definitely not in Elizabeth’s favor as we entered the picturesque mansion.

When I say picturesque, I only mean this form the outside. Strongly. Just Google the restaurant and you are bound to see scores of exterior photos, but a meek sampling of interiors. This is with good cause. The interior is very run down and outdated. I know this is partly a purposeful homage to the historic Savannah structure, but there are droves of other historic icons all around the world that are older, and yet FAR more up-to-date. Take the Louvre in Paris for example. Esma Sultan in Istanbul. Or even the Poetter Hall right down the street in Savannah.

As a result, I found that the place fell shy of romantic, or even dressy. Service, however, was quite good. Attentive, knowledgeable and relatively good with recommendations.

As for the food, let’s start at the start, with a Prince Edward mussel amuse bouche, which definitely got things off on the right foot. This was followed by a pair of scallop oriented appetizers that we thankfully shared, because wifey’s was definitely the better of the two. Both were specials so if you don’t go soon, chances are you missed the boat, literally. The winner was a vidalia onion cream soup made with two types of the onion- the traditional Georgian ball of sweet goodness. And baby vidalia onions as well, which are a bit greener, yielding a touch of grassiness. It was awesome. As were the buttery chunks of scallop swimming amidst the onion pond, seasoned with a nice peppery kick.

With the other scallop app, it was a lone, perfectly seared mollusk perched atop a potato salad that sounds more underwhelming than it was, but still not up to the high standards set by the soup, thus it was the red-headded step child of the mollusk twins.

After that, the transgressions continued with another chef’s offering that would’ve probably done less damage to our perceptions had it remained in the kitchen. A salad sourced from the local garden with micro greens, herbs and clementines. Very pedestrian.

The Savannah Red Rice, while not as lackluster as the other misses, still didn’t make the grade by reputation. And when you’re a top restaurant in the South, one expects a pretty dazzling jambalaya. This was passable at best, mostly because it was very lacking in heat.

But then Elizabeth showed she was “woman, hear me roar,” serving up the best pork chop I’ve ever had. Cooked to grillmaster standards with a crisp char on the outside, tender and moist on the inner, and served up with one of the best slaws I’ve ever had, along with a five cheese mac that brought a creamy decadence to every bite. And when all three of those were on your fork at once, it was like a holy trinity of porky delectableness. You simply must get this. If you don’t, quite frankly you should be arrested.

And speaking of misdemeanors, the worst miss of the night came on the heels of such a soaring high. The Savannah Cream Cake is soooo over explained and complicated that it tricks itself into thinking it’s something more than it tastes like, which is angel food cake with strawberries. If I could have only one do-over it would be this. And I’d probably use it to get a second order of that friggin’ chop!

So, while the soup and the chop were definitely dishes for the books, the misses were one too many to go five knives and the decor inside was too dated to go four. So guess that leaves us with…

3 teeth