Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

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As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth

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Charlie Bird

5 King St. New York, NY 10012(212) 235-7133charliebirdnyc.com

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It’s tough to get a reservation at Charlie Bird. Too tough if you ask me, because it simply isn’t worth the aggravation. Hell, even if it were easy to get a table here I still don’t think I could honestly say it’s worth the money or your time, falling into that ever-growing pile of over-hyped Italian restaurants in New York.

The décor is an intimate sliver on the Soho fringe with exposed brick and a floor to ceiling windowed wall, which tends to make the place quite noisy and thus less intimate because you constantly have to break the flow of conversation at your table by saying, “Wha?” The service was good though. Friendly, unaffected and most importantly attentive.

But Charlie choked where it counts, serving up a ho-hum string of dishes seven deep, made up of three starters and all four pastas. The only bright spots being the focaccia they serve as their bread and the painfully simple, yet surprisingly delicious faro salad (pictured).

So starting positive, let’s talk focaccia, which once served you might ask, hey, where’s the olive oil for dipping? But take just one single bite and you will soon learn that ample amounts of oil are already in the bread. It’s very good, but let’s just say you’re napkin is going to look like you had a run-in with one of those Turkish wrestlers and lost.

Apart from the focaccia, the only other thing that managed to impress was the faro salad I mentioned above, made with a colorful array of roasted cherry tomatoes, pistachios, mint and Parmesan. And while it’s very good, why bend over backwards to get a reservation at 6:30pm for a dish you could easily make at home?

So now that the backhanded compliments are out of the way, it’s time to get nasty… The grilled octopus saltimbocca with Tuscan beans and prosciutto is okay, if not a touch dry. Also, after hearing that it was the best in the world, I feel it is my moral duty to bring those hypers back down to Earth, and correct this injustice by setting the record straight. This pus wouldn’t even crack my top five in New York City alone! Pearl & Ash, Gato and Pasha all handily trouncing this lame attempt at an Ultimate.

Far more disappointing than the octopus, however, was the burrata, served up with baby romaine and pickle accompaniments that did absolutely nothing for the dish. In fact, this dish was so boring it makes watching golf on TV seem riveting by comparison. Yet even as boring as the burrata was, I think the cauliflower with hazelnuts might actually be able to out-bore it in a bore-off.

Then came the pastas, and all four tasted like the chef had developed an acute case of flavor-a-phobia. The best two were the corn parapdelle with leek fondue and the linguini with uni, bortarga and lemon. But saying they were the best is like claiming bragging rights after winning a foot race versus a corpse. The corpses being the gnocci, (Élan’s is WAY better, not to mention Frenchier), and the Chitarra Nero with crab and chili, which was just flat out too salty to be enjoyable. And so was the entire experience for that matter. Especially when there are scads of other places out there that are easier to get into and are infinitely tastier. Sorry Charlie (couldn’t resist a little old school Starkist ad humor).

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Karakoy Lokantasi

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Kemankeş Cd No:37/A, İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 292 4455 • karakoylokantasi.com
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Karakoy is the dark horse of Istanbul if you ask me, which suits it nicely since the direct translation of its name is “dark village.” Such an unlikely, industrial waterfront turned so hip it could easily give Brooklyn a run for its money, filled with one incredible restaurant after another, a stunning, refurbished Hamam turned spa, and unique boutiques speckled throughout.

Yet, amidst all of the funkier, cooler restaurants there lies a much lower key option, not trying too hard to live on the edge, delivering all your classic meze with excellent service and a simple, inviting, understated (comparatively) décor.

That said, the mezes themselves were a bit on the hit and miss side, not quite living up to the raves. My favorite being the smoked bonito fish with red onion (lakerda). Perhaps it’s the latent Jew in me, responding to the reminiscent flavors of sable and red onions atop a bagel and cream cheese… Cue Homer Simpson drooling noises.

After that, both the mustard pickled levrek (sea bass) and the grilled octopus proved to be a solid yum, while the yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves) and sigara boregi (phyllo dough stuffed with feta) proved to be nothing memorable.

The only flat out miss was the midye dolma (stuffed mussels), which is normally my favorite meze of all mezes. But I have to say these might’ve been the worst I’ve ever had. I mean they really shat the seabed on this one. So much so that they should foot the bill to fly in Sehmus, the Midye Whisperer of Bodrum, to teach them how it’s done.

But back on a positive note, the cacik (yogurt and herbs) was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. Granted I like the more soupy version well- okay, I like practically anything with yogurt, but this was definitely on the better end of the cacik spectrum. In fact the only other I can claim was as good was at Beyoglu in New York. Also, the fig dessert (pictured) with kaymak was pretty tasty as well.

So not exactly an out-of-the-way must. And I can’t say I’m even sure that it’s better than the scads of much cooler looking places all around it, but after a glass or two of Ala Yeni Raki who even cares?

3 teeth

 

Cull & Pistol

75 Ninth Ave. New York, NY 10011(646) 568-1223 • cullandpistol.com

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Can I just say how much I love Chelsea Market? I mean as a foodie it’s like a dream in mall form. Fish markets, Italian markets, spice markets, meat markets, bakeries and restaurants lined up like culinary wishes come true. It’s a bit like Faneuil Hall in Boston, only cooler and less touristy. Not to mention less food courty. If you haven’t been you really need to take a stroll. And if you have been, but haven’t tried one of the restaurants yet, well, you need to do that too (Hale & Hearty Soups withstanding).

I did just that very recently at Cull & Pistol and I have to say, I was pleased & delighted. The vibe is fish shack chic and the service is surprisingly warm and friendly for NYC, from door to table and back again. Not many tables though, so I recommend making a rezzy or going at an off-hour.

Impressing the palate were some of the freshest oysters I think I’ve ever had. Granted I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising considering they are affiliated with the Lobster Place fish market next door. That said, I didn’t think they had as huge a selection as some other joints in town, but I think they are playing it for quality not quantity and quality they were. My favorite being from Osterville, MA funny enough, which is near and dear to my heart for other reasons as well, I spent many a summer there over the years.

If you don’t dig on the raw variety, however, I highly recommend their fried option, called Pistols on Horseback. Three fried oysters wrapped in prosciutto with crème fraíche and chives sitting atop a mini tortillas. I’m not sure why the name, but I’m pretty damn sure you’ll like ‘em.

The grilled octopus was one of the weaker dishes IMO, but most certainly not bad. Perhaps it’s more due to the fact that I’ve had some pretty astounding plates of pus lately and this was not amongst them.

For the main course I went right into the eye of the storm, ordering the highly acclaimed Connecticut Lobster Roll (pictured), well-knowing that head-to-head with Red Hook Lobster Pound this would most likely pale, and pale it did. Again, most definitely not bad by any distortion of logic, in fact, it was actually very good, but it’s also no Ultimate.

And for dessert, C&P ended strong with a very tasty slice of lemon meringue pie. Not too sweet, with that perfect punch of tartness, which is just how I like it. And like it I did, from the first bit to the last… and from Cull to Pistol… not that I have any idea what that even means.

3 teeth

Macchialina

820 Alton Rd. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 534-2124 macchialina.com

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We heard about this place from the waiter at Yardbird, who seemed so spot-on with his recommendations that we asked for some on other menus. Very emphatically he proclaimed that only one other restaurant in Miami that truly impressed him was Macchialina. So, without hesitation we booked a table.

But those hesitations we forewent on the front end, crept up with a vengeance the moment we arrived. The location is in the middle of nowhere and the décor doesn’t help much in terms of making up for that. In fact, the setting was so uninspired we opted to sit outside, which is right on the sidewalk of a busy road filled with buses and fire engines. Now, I realize how hypocritical this is, being that I come from New York City where this is the norm, but in Miami it just seems worse.

Once the food came our hesitations were abated for a spell, with dishes like their creamy polenta topped with sausage ragu. The polenta was stick to your ribs creamy, and the ragu was morta bene. But sadly they skimped on the ragu, throwing the dish off balance after the first few bites. Regardless it was still the best thing of the night.

After that came the grilled Octopus, which was also good, but needed something more as well. And that was the general theme here. Everything was missing that one extra element to make the dish truly great. For example, even the escarole salad needed more salt.

But the biggest infraction of the night came from the highly acclaimed short rib tallegio lasagna. Sounds unbelievable, right? In fact I think it was this dish and the bread pudding that sealed the deal on our changing reservations just to go here. Well, it saddens me to say it, but the legend far exceeds the lasagna. It is way too much of one note, in dire need of crushed red pepper to help liven things up. And with the added kick it is most certainly good, but “best lasagna ever” it ain’t.

And as for the other reason we came, the bread pudding, it was every bit as disappointing as the lasagna. Not only is it not the best bread pudding ever, I don’t think it would even crack my top 100. Hell, there are two places in Westchester, New York that would put this pudding’s head in the sand. The Cookery and Fortina– but here’s the kicker, not even those, as much as I love them, make my Ultimates list. That’s how far Maccialina’s bread pudding is from being worthy of its praise.

Suffice it to say that if you’re staying on the other side of the island, this place is most definitely not worth the trip. However, if it’s close by, you could most certainly do worse. Like at Yuca for example.

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A Fish Called Avalon

700 Ocean Dr. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 532-1727 afishcalledavalon.com

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After hearing such swooning reviews both online and from our concierge, I was so hopeful for a less touristy seafood alternative to Joe’s Stone Crab. Well, those hopes were quickly dashed as we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the abyss. Lit up like a mini Vegas, Ocean Avenue is a hedonistic block party filled with patrons of ill repute, pumping techno music out of every orifice.

Fortunately Avalon itself is the classiest establishment on the strip, but to be fair that’s not saying a whole lot. Not that I should be picking on the setting, because truth be told that was the least of my issues. And boy do I have issues- with the snail-like service alone.

But had the food actually have been worth it I would’ve happily endured the aforementioned. Sadly, none of it was. Well, the octopus withstanding. It was actually pretty solid. Beyond that, however, I’ve had better seafood in many a land-locked state. MUCH better. And this is WITH ordering the local catch and specialty of the house, the macadamia crusted flounder with spinach risotto. It’s not bad. But “not bad” isn’t exactly what one would call effusive praise.

That said, the shrimp scampi was bad. Lacking any sort of impression on the palate. Not with garlic or spice. And while I appreciate the attempt to put a twist on the classic by adding avocado, the shrimp were as indecipherably bland as the “saffron” rice next to them. I use quotes because there was no trace of said saffron to be found anywhere. Not in taste, nor color.

Finally came the Key lime pie and yet another indigenous disappointment. Again second-rate, and I’m sorry, but when a national chain like California Pizza Kitchen bests you at a dessert for which you are supposed to have home field advantage, I think it’s time to question keeping it on your dessert menu.

If you have reservations here, cancel them. Go to Makoto in Bal Harbor, or Juvia on Lincoln. Both of them are better than A Fish Called Skip It!

2 teeth

i Trulli

122 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 481-7372itrulli.com

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I have no idea how many Italian restaurants there are in New York City, but by my count there are about 500 too many. Too many places coasting by on the New York Italian reputation. Getting by with pasta and sauce on a plate and calling it authentic because they serve it up with an Italian accent. But last I checked, speaking Italian and cooking Italian are not the same thing.

And it’s places like these- places like I Trulli that really piss me off. I mean why does this restaurant continue to survive while a MUCH better spot like Ciano (RIP), closes down just a few blocks away? It’s criminal! And it’s our fault. All of us. For giving them business. For perpetuating the lie and buying into the expectations of what we think we are about to eat as opposed to the actual food we are chewing in our mouths.

Just start by ordering their mini calzones and you’ll see what I mean. In a blind taste test I guarantee you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from the frozen supermarket variety.

The fawned over short rib on Yelp also fell short. And I can only explain the hype by referencing another critter with four legs, sheep. People who hear short rib and then assume that it automatically must be incredible. Well it’s not. It’s overcooked and underwhelming. The caprese salad, while not bad, was not exactly memorable either. And the octopus was so blah I nearly forgot to mention it (went back and just added it).

Even the best dish of the night, the duck ragu was nothing even close to the epic swooning that you’ll read online. It’s certainly good, but the only reason it stands out is because everything else is so mediocre around it.

The surprise of the night (primarily because of lowered expectations) was actually the lasagna of all things. Good sauce. Good balance. Nice contrast of textures with the ever-so slight char on top, the way mama used to make. Well, not my mama, but if I had an Italian mother, this is the way I’d imagine she’d make it.

And of the various desserts we tried, the highly recommend beignets were highly unworthy. Instead, go for the apple crumble. Not very Italian, but it was easily the best thing on the dessert menu.

So now you know what to get if you go. But please, please, please don’t go. I don’t care if it’s too hard to get into the truly great Italian spots. That’s because they’re worth it. Pick another genre of cuisine and try back another night. But let’s bring some Darwinism up in this bitch and truly weed out the weak ones. Sure accessibility and affordability are nice things to have… in Wichita. In New York we live and eat by a higher standard. But if we continue to compromise, we will turn this city into a giant outdoor mall filled with Starbucks and Gap on every corner… Oh no! It’s already starting to happen!!!

2 teeth

ABC Cocina

38 E 19th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 677-2233 abccocinanyc.com

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If you’ve ever been to ABC Kitchen then you’ve seen how great Jean-Georges is with décor. And I’m guessing he found it so nice he used it twice, Cocina is a dead ringer.

And speaking of the dead, the irony of Cocina is that it’s sitting atop the gravesite of another great tapas restaurant, Pipa. Not sure why it didn’t last, but my remorse dissipated after one bite of their guac with grapefruit salsa. Such a simple, brilliant twist to refresh a classic.

Another great spin on a tried and true was the beet salad with “smoky” goat. It gave layers of depth to the dish that made it seem as if I was trying it again for the first time.

But the dish that stole my corazón was the huevos rancheros. Easily the best I’ve ever had. Served in a skillet, sitting on a crisp tortilla bed. Nothing too inventive about it truthfully, so I’m guessing it was just a matter of quality ingredients and proportions.

The ham and cheese fritters are also worthy of your attention, described as “ooey-gooey,” as in “Oooo-weee are those friggin’ good!”

And while I didn’t actually try it, the fish sandwich got tons of praise form the other side of the table. That said, upon my return for dinner, I did try the the crispy fish tacos and holy contrasts Batman! The use of pickled cabbage is a beacon of brightness that balances out the fried fish, keeping it from feeling heavy. Just genius. And the habanero sauce they dress it with was so on point I didn’t need to add a drop extra, which is rare for me. Definitely adding this one to my Ultimates.

But Cocina is not perfecto. The much raved about short rib taco fell way short of the fishy glory that preceded it. And speaking of fish, the fluke ceviche was chewy and bland. Probably the worst dish we ordered and worst ceviche I’ve ever had. As for the octopus, it made my taste buds scoff, especially after having just had some killer pus at Mermaid Inn a few nights before. So the comparison did not bode well for Cocina.

Service was also a touch spotty during lunch. Not knowing when to clear dishes. Hostess tried to seat us inches from the front door with nothing between us and the frigid cold outside but a velvet curtain, even though we had a reservation. But for dinner we sat at the bar and our server/bartender couldn’t have been better. Partly due to his wonderful recommendation of that fish taco and also due to his suggestion of the blood orange margarita– deadly!

In the middle of the road, I would put the Red Hibiscus sangria, which was certainly good, packed with refreshing fruit, but unfortunately not quite as packed with awesome as the margarita.

And all four desserts also fell somewhere in the mids… The tres leche was solid, but I’ve most certainly had better. The flan was also pretty good, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about flan. I’m not the biggest fan. The vanilla fritters with Mexican chocolate was done well, but the flavors just didn’t wow. The best of the quatro being the rice pudding. It’s nothing incredible, but if you like rice pudding (which I do), it is done very well.

And well done is the main takeaway at Cocina. The hits definitely outweigh the misses enough that I feel obliged to round up to four knives.

4 teeth

Blue Ribbon Sushi

The Cosmopolitan Hotel • 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 698-7000 · blueribbonrestaurants.com
 
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The fact that it’s located in the Cosmopolitan Hotel is definitely a plus. It’s the most tastefully done Casino in Vegas. Granted the competition isn’t exactly what one would call steep, but it does make your journey both to and from the restaurant much more seamless by comparison to something like Aureole, where you are in a beautiful setting inside the restaurant, but then the moment you set foot outside, you feel like you just stepped into the middle of a pissing match between Walt Disney and Donald Trump.

So, now that I’ve drifted way off topic and evoked a bodily fluid, I’m sure most of you are no longer reading this. But for those who still are, Blue Ribbon is awesome! Better than the one in New York on a number of metrics. The first being décor. I know, shocking that Vegas could outdo anywhere on aesthetics, much less New York, but it outdone it was.

And the outdoing kept doing from start to finish. The first thing being the open-faced Wagyu sliders. Perfectly cooked and a great way to offset your Vegas drinking bender. Another solid starter was the duck potsicker app. Also nice and substantive compared to the sushi side of the equation.

And last but not least, the grilled octopus started, which was also good, but definitely the weakest of the three.

Then came the main event. The Blue Ribbon as they called it. No, not the Blue Ribbon maki, which is lobster and caviar, the Blue Ribbon chef’s tasting- aka plank of awesome. Apparently inventive naming things isn’t their strong suit, but let me tell you, most of what was on that platter was. Covered with inventive maki, artfully brined sushi pieces and blissfully fresh (yes, in a dessert) sashimi.

Even the service was better than the Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York, which got me thinking, maybe they should move the Vegas one to New York and the New York one to Vegas. Thoughts?

4 teeth

 

Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

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While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

3 teeth