Brick + Wood

1275 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 939-1400 • lovelifeandpizza.com

Mama Mia! I have to admit I was already pretty happy with the pies at Tarry Lodge in Westport, but after Brick & Wood I am a changed man. Granted Tarry is a lot easier to get into, because sadly Brick & Wood is no secret, which stands to reason once you sink your teeth into a slice of za (that’s pizza for all you non-Scrabble lovers out there). The sauce! The crust! So fresh and balanced and perfect. From plain to pepp and all the way up to fancy, like the GUMBA, billed in all-caps because it’s worth shouting about. Topped with a gorgonzola buratta (you read that correctly), that is so skillfully balanced so that the creaminess and stank live in harmony without either one overpowering the pie. A level of difficulty not to be taken for granted. Then they top it with spicy soppressata and cherry peppers to give some heat. Pair that up with a glass of their Troublemaker and you are indeed in trouble- or at least your waistline is.

Speaking of gut-busting good, the Kit Kat bread pudding is worth breaking your diet for. Hmm, perhaps that’s what they really mean with their “Gimmie a Break” jingle?

The only mortal dish of the lot, was the arugula salad with pecans and shaved parm. Which was still good, but a bit overdressed.

Also worth noting, service is very friendly and surprisingly on their game even amidst the rush. Which reminds me, they don’t take reservations so a word of advice if you don’t want to wait too long for a table, either go at an off hour or go as a couple and sit at the bar. Otherwise the wait will make you earn the meal. Fortunately, it’s very worth the wait.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Blue Dahlia Bistro

1115 E 11th St. Austin, TX 78702(512) 542-9542 • bluedahliabistro.com

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Just down the street from the painfully long line at Franklin’s Barbecue you’ll find a place that looks like it belongs in Berkley, CA with its granola vibe and granola-hipster patrons. Cozy, earthy, wood elements cover just about every surface with a large communal table in the middle, a la an LPQ (Le Pain Quotidien).

Unfortunately the food isn’t as good as an LPQ, which is disheartening that it can’t even best a global chain (granted a very good global chain), but Blue Dahlia isn’t a all-out miss per se, it just barely passes mustard. Speaking of which, the special frittata could’ve used some. Or habanero sauce, which is what I used to bring the gorgonzola, spinach, onion and peppers back from the dead. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the bad toast and lame salad they tried to pawn off with it.

The smoked salmon platter was also just okay, but I find it hard to fault a place in Texas for its lox when I’m coming from New York- #lowexpectations.

And the pomegranate lemonade, while also “just okay,” was not so okay because it was the compromise I was forced to make because they don’t have fresh squeezed juice. Not even the pseudo-fresh kind! We’re talking Tropicana! What kind of self-respecting, granola, Berkley-wannabe doesn’t have fresh juice?! I’ll tell you… The kind that’s “just okay.”

2 teeth

Foodlab

7253 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90046(323) 851-7120foodlab-la.com

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Having only ordered from here, I think it’s safe to say that things are still in the clinical trial phase, because not much was nailed. The iced tea was bitter and basic. And the grilled cheese (pictured), while made with gruyere, tallegio and gorgonzola on 5 grain with glazed onions and grain mustard, proved to be a bit too much of one note. Granted it’s a good note, but not as interesting as one would hope after reading that epic list of lovable ingredients.

The best thing for me was the prosciutto and fig sandwich on a baguette with ricotta and honey, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. However, do not be fooled by the menu description, because it is NOT served on raisin walnut bread. Also, do not be fooled into thinking this sandwich is SO good that I am recommending the Lab on the whole. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to have to eat here, this is my suggestion.

2 teeth

Delicatessen

Kısıklı, Mim Kemal Öke Cad. No:19 Istanbul, TK(0212) 225 0604 • http://www.delicatessenistanbul.com/
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Set amidst the Fifth Avenue shopping scene of Istanbul you will find a number of interesting looking places to spend you money on something other than high fashion. One such place being Delicatessen. A contemporary take on the name with its glass cases filled with goodies both savory and sweet, made hipster by its industrial steel and brick décor.

Within those cases, unfortunately lie offerings that are a bit hit and miss, at least by human standards. The army of street cats that will descend upon your table at the first sight of food will beg to differ. But assuming you’re human, because as I understand it most cats don’t read, here is the breakdown of do’s and don’ts:

For starters I highly recommend the inventive twist on the Turkish classic, sigara boregi (warm cigar-shaped, feta-stuffed pastries), only Delicatessen jazzes them up with the addition of marinated porcini mushrooms, making them more interesting and better than most I’ve had. On the flip side, their attempt at an Italian staple, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola and balsamic was less successful. The pear wasn’t ripe enough and cut too thick, so it overpowered everything else in the dish.

But far worse than the prosciutto was the filet and mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly thin and yet they STILL managed to under cook it. Which might not have been so bad had the quality of the meat been up to snuff, but it was sinewy and not worthy of human consumption. So, I fed the uncooked portion to one of the street cats.

Now after the steak one might assume that I cut my losses and avoided any further transgressions on the dessert course, but making an ass of you and especially me, I went for the blackberry cobbler in the dessert case because admittedly it did look pretty good. And pretty good it was, served warm and a la mode. Just not good enough to save this place from the meek knife count.

2 teeth

Black Bottle

919 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004(425) 223-5143blackbottlebellevue.com

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Having never been to this suburb of Seattle before (unfortunately sharing the same name as a mental institution), I imagine this place does quite well for itself considering the options around it aren’t exactly aplenty. And with its massive industrial loft décor, small plates and vino selection it would most likely be a standout in most suburbs. Granted, as I understand it, there’s also one downtown, the original, off which I’m guessing it drafts its cool.

Other coolness to be had would include the crispy garlic shrimp, the blasted broccoli and the beets smothered in melted cheese (tastes less weird than it sounds or looks), which we didn’t even order, but I’m always in favor of tasty mistakes. Right up there with happy accidents.

The cool started to thaw, however with the pulled pork tacos, which were just okay, as were the shishito peppers, which are never bad, but are also very guilty at this point of a “tried one, you’ve tried ‘em all.” Seriously, I’ve had this dish at over a dozen restaurants and I’ve yet to find a place that can screw it up.

On that note, there were a couple of screw-ups. The pear and gorgonzola flatbread (pictured) is garbage, with its horrendously overpowering crust. You can get better flatbreads out of the freezer case at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. But worse still was the spicy coconut lemon ginger ceviche. It wasn’t spicy. It wasn’t lemony. Not even coconutty or gingery. It was however crappy and unworthy and the blandest ceviche I’ve ever had.

Now I don’t want to blacklist Black Bottle just because the wheels came off toward the end, because there truly is potential in them thar hills, but I also don’t want to oversell this place either. It’s good if your in the hood. If you’re not, don’t step over anyone chasing after a 4 star experience that isn’t there. #yelphype.

2 teeth

Vinegar Hill House

72 Hudson Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11201(718) 522-1018vinegarhillhouse.com

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Two words: Short ribs. My God! I know everyone raves about the chop, but my wife and I had them side by side and the chop paled by comparison. Served as a stew with a medley of vegetables and Gorgonzola, it was one dreamy bite after another and among the best short rib dishes I’ve ever had. And what an incredible feat to put out such mastery from a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet.

As a whole, everything was excellent that first meal. I had the octopus app and wifey had the watermelon salad. Both solid. Then the mains came, and we know who won that battle (see above).  But the okra & zucchini side we got was also pretty killer.

And for dessert, the Guinness Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting held it’s own as well, managing to satiate our sugar cravings, but without being all that sweet necessarily. Tempered by the beer I suppose. Oh, speaking of booze, even our cocktails were quite good.

In fact, the only nits we had were it’s location, which isn’t the most convenient on Earth, and the hostess who is often sporting a bit of a tude. Upon returning, however, a bit of spottiness has arisen. The menu has changed to be much more hit and miss, but when it comes to the pork entrees they still seem to know how to wow you just enough to keep you coming back.

So, in summary, what might’ve been five knives once upon a time has slid to four. It’s still fantastic and totally worth the wait, as they don’t take reservations, but the misses as of late have pulled it back a hair from perfection.

4 teeth

Father’s Office

1018 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403(310) 393-2337 • fathersoffice.com

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If I were just rating the Office Burger I would give it 5 knives without blinking because there is literally no better burger on the planet. Quite a statement, I know. But try one and believe! It’s all kinds of awesome. From the Grade A Prime to the blend of gruyere and gorgonzola to the bacon compote and watercress all stacked on a Portuguese roll.

Also, the micro brews on tap are fantastic. Solid fries as well. The only downsides to this place are the hours, the wait and trying to get a table. I recommend having a big breakfast and then showing up at Father’s Office right at 3PM when they open. You’ll slide right up to the front, get your burger, get a table and then let the bliss begin (no rezzy’s sad to say).

Also, don’t be askin’ for ketchup here. There is none. No tomato on the burger either- but trust me,  you’ll never even miss it.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Burger

Kalbi_Burger

Eatery 112 – Minneapolis, MN

Deceptively simple, this burger shines by simply combining two very well thought through toppings. The first comes in the form of its gooey brie, which they somehow magically prevent from making the burger soggy. The second, a vital part of the equation, the sweet bread and butter pickles on the side. You MUST put them on the burger. The interaction between the cheese and the pickles and the meat is divine. All house in an English muffin that manages to stay out of the way just enough to allow the ingredients to take center stage, but present enough to make its contribution felt.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

It’s all about the meat baby. The Black Label burger is the Mona Lisa of ground flesh. Some kind of crazy concoction of prime, and pork and veal and maybe even a little bone marrow folded in. Hard to say. But there is literally nothing else that special about this burger, and yet that patty will grab you by the taste buds, looks them in the eye, and make them its bitch.

Father’s Office – Santa Monica, CA

I know bold, sweeping statements always get you into hot water, but if I’m wrong on this one, boil me alive, because the fact remains, The Office Burger is the best burger on the face of the Earth. Yes, I went there. Granted I haven’t eaten ALL of the burgers on the face of the Earth, but I’m still pretty sure I’m right. Now, just caveat, however. If you are a burger purist, this is not your burger. This thing is a product of innovation. It starts with high quality prime topped with a blend of gruyere and gorgonzola. Then a layer of bacon and caramelized onion compote. Next comes watercress and finally a wonderful Portuguese roll to house its prowess. Now I know what you’re thinking, no tomato? No. No ketchup or mustard either. In fact, you can’t even ask for it, because the place doesn’t allow it. Perhaps a bit authoritarian for a burger joint, but I promise you will never miss these lesser burger crutches. This thing does just fine without. And therein lies its true greatness, and its rightful place at the top of burgerdom.