Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

Web-Category-not-too-sweet-Desserts-NYC-Elan-Robertas-Blanca-Meadowsweet-Brooklyn-Williamsburg-Manhattan1

Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

R+D Kitchen

1323 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403 • (310) 395-3314 • http://rd-kitchen.com/locations/santamonica

images

Don’t hold this against RnD, but it’s actually the sister restaurant to Houston’s. I know. I know. But hear me out, because she’s one hot sis and an awesome plan B should you not be able to get a reservation at you’re A. So awesome, in fact, that this might just become your new plan A, if only they took reservations.

The décor is pretty standard, like a contemporary version of a Bennigan’s, with lots of booth seating, wood paneled walls and an open kitchen. And the wait staff runs a tag team method of service, which actually proves very nice, because there’s always someone around to take care of you, so no need to flag any one down like you’re a castaway on Gilligan’s Island.

The Jack Rabbit was our cocktail of choice for the evening, a tequila and grapefruit combo that was good, but not exactly memorable, hence why I had to ask my friend what the hell the name was again.

For a starter, with resounding praise, I recommend their deviled eggs (pictured) with a heavenly hit of horseradish. But as sinfully good as they were, even better is the Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich, dubbed their best seller and for good reason. It’s an Ultimate, right up there with the one at Son of a Gun, if you ask me, which I assume you are since this is my blog. But beyond the fried chicken, what makes the Ding sing is the wonderfully soft, fresh-baked bread from Bandera, the generous amounts of slaw and the contrast that’s created between all of the crunchy elements and the pillowy goodness of that bun.

The other entrée we tried, the salmon, was also good, but not quite at the same level as the Ding. Served up with a sizable mountain of mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Sadly we were so full at this point that we didn’t order dessert. But happily that didn’t matter, because our server wouldn’t hear of it, tapping into her inner Jewish grandmother by bringing us their warm, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies on the house. Which were hard to resist, because A. they were warm and B. they were free. So that helped a lot. Enough to have me debating between three and four knives. But I lean four because it’s a chain. And for a chain, that’s worth a golf clap right there.

4 teeth

 

Casa Mono

52 Irving Pl. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-2773 • casamononyc.com
 img_3502

This little corner tapas charmer is located right in the heart of Irving Place, flanked on two sides by huge divided light windows, which fills the tiny dining room with sun. Feels like something you’d expect in The Village or Europe.

Of the small plates, we shared five and unfortunately Mono only hit on dos. The first being the bone marrow (pictured), which was done with capers and olives, giving it a nice, salty flavor, along with a little texture, to help cut through the buttery marrow. One of the more interesting bone marrow dishes I’ve had.

The other gem was a roasted rabbit with habanero sauce and yogurt, so delish I’d have to go back to Playboy or Bugs to find a bunny I enjoyed more. Playing with the elements between the heat and the cool creaminess of the yogurt, it really made every bite somethin’ somethin’.

For the misses, I would take a firm pass on the buratta with snap peas and bacon. It’s a watery mess that tastes more like cream soup than buratta. And considering how low the degree of difficulty is with buratta, I’m gonna have to say this was pretty damn god awful. Like trying to actually shoot fish in a barrel and blowing your foot off in the process.

And the other miss was the Polpo (octopus) with fennel and grapefruit. It wasn’t a shit show like the buratta, but it was definitely a calamity of proportions. So heavy on the fennel and a little too light on the puss. As a result, one might say the octopus was drowning in a sea of fennel. Oh, the irony (note to Alanis Morissette, this is actual irony, not coincidence or tragedy like everything in your song “Ironic,” which tragically helped to successfully misguide an entire generation as to the definition of the word. Okay, I’m done venting)!

Lastly, we went for an attempt at redemption, with my favorite dessert, bread pudding. Because I really wanted to give this place three knives (in my heart of hearts I did like it), but currently it was teetering on the edge of two after burratamaggeddon. Sadly, Mono’s chef screwed the pooch once again serving up a confused dessert that seemed like it was caught between wanting to be a peach crumble and bread pudding and didn’t really stick the landing on either.

So two knives it is, I’m sorry to say. And while Mono may be capable of spots of greatness, there are too many spots of a different color, to the point where one has to question whether or not the chef is just calling it in, or even worse, does the chef at Mono… have mono?

2 teeth

The Ultimate Cocktail

keynote2-who-are-we

Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Highball & Harvest

4012 Central Florida Pkwy. Orlando, FL32837 • (407) 393-4422highballandharvest.com

Dining-N-Style-highball-harvest-Main

The JW Marriott and the Ritz Carlton are both so massive on their own that when you connect them it creates a structural morass the likes of an MC Escher drawing. And while you might wish you had Google maps to find your way through the Shining-like halls of this behemoth, there’s gold in them, thar hills! The treasure I speak of is Highball & Harvest a contemporary Southern restaurant located somewhere in the belly of the Ritz.

The décor is a little all over the place, but ultimately passes as nice and the service is suspiciously friendly, perhaps I think that because I’m from New York City where most people that jolly are heavily medicated.

But our waiter’s chipper demeanor aside, he was also spot on with the recommendations, the first of which being the Parker House rolls . They are so good I actually recommend NOT ordering them, because the temptation to fill up on bread will be immense. Which means you’ll need to dig deep, mustering up some serious willpower so that you can enjoy the things to come. Things like the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes and remoulade. An ultimate worthy dish to the second power, proving tops in both the crab cake category as well as the fried green tomato.

Another dish I highly recommend is the blackened grouper. Cooked perfectly and placed over a bed of hominy ragu, adouille sausage and pickled okra.

On the mortal end of the spectrum I would place the kale salad the sticky toffee pudding and the donuts. None of them were bad or even mediocre, but they just didn’t wow like their predecessors.

I do, however, feel the need to expound upon the donuts as I applaud the presentation. Dusted cinnamon sugar donut bites served warm in a paper bag next to a tube of Nutella which you use to inject the donuts full of chocolaty wonder. It’s definitely good, but just shy of great.

But I don’t want to end things on a blah note, because I really did love this place. So, I have saved one of my favorite things for last, the cocktail. Called the Doc Holiday it comes in a copper mug filled to the brim with Tito’s vodka (not something I believe was around during Doc’s existence, but I’ll let it slide), ginger beer, grapefruit and blueberry jam. Plus hand-cut ice. Now I’m not exactly sure how hand-cut ice actually influences the flavor of the drink, but they seem to be very proud of it at H&H. And while I kid the things I love, I can’t say enough about this drink. In fact, it’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. As is Highball & Harvest in its entirely. Run. Don’t walk. Assuming you can actually find it.

4 teeth

The Rickhouse

246 Kearny St. San Francisco, CA 94108(415) 398-2827rickhousebar.com

DSC_0003

From the moment you walk in you feel like you stepped into a cabin-like pub in the South. Or in the English countryside. I don’t know- just not in San Francisco. With it’s library wall of booze (pictured) and it’s catwalk wooden banisters on the second level. I really dug the vibe.

Even the live music was great, playing a totally unexpected genre of mellow jazz.

The Four Points was also a nice surprise. A bourbon cocktail made with grapefruit. Refreshing and dangerously drinkable. In fact, Uber has probably made more money off of this drink than the bar.

My only complaint, and yes, I’m that guy. The hard to please, always gotta find something sort… But acknowledging it is always the first step, right? Anyways, my one gripe is service. While certainly friendly, it is also buzz-killingly slow. Fortunately there’s a second, less crowded bar in the back. Unfortunately, it’s not as fully stocked as the front bar.

4 teeth