Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Positivo

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/positivo-sand-bar

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I am positively in love with Positivo. A jack of all trades and a bit of a chameleon, changing from more American fare by day, to Pan-Asian by night and somehow sticking the landing on both. Not that it’s without its misses, but I don’t want to get all negativo, because for resort food, even the misses are pretty impressive.

The setting is relatively standard for a resort of this caliber, situated completely outside with several tables right on the sand. Granted they are the furthest from your servers so should you opt for the better view, just know that attention will suffer a touch.

Of the droves of tasty looking lunch options we split an enormous kale salad that I can’t even imagine eating solo without blowing out your colon from ruffage overload. I liked it very much as it was loaded with goodies to keep it interesting, including corn nuts of all things.

We also had the chips and guacamole, which is the biggest miss of our stay, made surprisingly bland considering the locale. And while there were admirable attempts to make it interesting, they didn’t come through in execution. Nor did the Obsession cocktail, about which I was not very obsessed. It basically tastes like alcoholic coconut water with a spicy rim.

On the flip side, the brisket sandwich with chipotle aioli on ciabatta was pretty awesome. A touch too fatty to be fabby, but the flavors were dynamite!

For dinner the crispy snapper is a must, prepared almost like crispy orange beef, but with fish, obviously. So good. The ceviches are also decent, made very fresh as a ceviche should be, but the octopus was the more flavorful of the two because the halibut needed more lime to give it that all-important acidity.

But stop the presses come dessert, because we have an Ultimato. The grilled mochi is a stroke of brilliance. Caramelized on the top, it almost comes off as a roasted marshmallow wrapped around creamy red bean ice cream. It’s so good it almost makes up for all of the insanity caused by the Puerto Rican Parade in New York City. Almost.

3 teeth

Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

4 teeth

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

Anthony’s

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Central Terminal • 17801 International Blvd. Seattle, WA 98158 •  (206) 431-3000anthonys.com

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If you need a bite to eat in the Seattle Airport look no further than Anthony’s. Not that you could look any further, because the facade of this place is so massive it’s almost impossible to see around it. But as sprawling as this restaurant is, this juggernaut still manages to pack ‘em in. Not an empty seat in the palatial dining room. But fear not, because this place turns over its wait list like a famine is coming. And yet somehow the service doesn’t suffer either, well, at least not in terms of speed. You’ll have to take a rain check on the warm and fuzzies though, because this waitstaff is all business. And so is the kitchen, spitting out plate after plate like a well-oiled fish taco machine.

And those tacos (pictured) are actually pretty darn good. We split the grilled Mahi and the blackened halibut and both were solid. Two tacos per order (on a corn or flour tortilla depending on which you fancy) with sizable slabs of fish in them. No skimping here. I also recommend adding avocado and salsa, not to mention Tabasco sauce. They’re not viscerally wow inducing, but for an airport, you’d have to be a heartless bastard not to be impressed.

Our waitress was strong with the upsell as well, convincing me to bite on the lure of a New England clam chowder cup (because let’s be serious for a second, Manhattan style isn’t even an option). The soup was surprisingly good. The clam really popped through the cream, as did the other seasonings, making it one of the better cups I’ve had, especially being that I was so far from the homeland.

Upselling me again (either she was really good, or I’m really easy), I also bit on their old fashioned strawberry shortcake, which proved to be excellent. The shortcake struck that perfect balance between crunchy and moist, and the local Washington strawberries were bursting with fresh-picked flavor. Even the cream was spot on. Clearly homemade and not overly sweet. It might just be the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had. I know, I’m conflicted about it too.

And last but not least, the prawn Bloody Mary was tall, spicy, Ketel One-y and prawny. Just the way I like it. The spicy tomato concoction almost acting as cocktail sauce for the prawn garnish.

An all-around impressive, airport food showing Anthony. Bravo sir. Bravo. Consider the below a very strong three.

3 teeth

Sugarfish

1345 2nd St. Santa Monica, CA 90401 • (310) 393-3338 • sugarfishsushi.com
SugarFish

Sugarfish is aptly named, because in the immortal words of Peter Griffin, the sushi is friggin’ sweet! Not a single miss in the Nozawa Trust Me, which is the biggest of three omakase-like options they offer. And they offer them at a ridiculously reasonable price. 35 bucks for seven courses of top notch sushi. Most places would charge you double or almost triple for the same or lesser fish quality.

Beyond fish so incredibly fresh you don’t even need your teeth to chew it, the other star is the rice. Served warm, unlike most other places, which actually winds up bringing out the flavors and aromas of the fish even more so. Just don’t ask for extra rice, unless you’re 11 years old or younger, otherwise they’ll turn you down as they did to one of my friends who asked. I’m assuming it’s because the chef doesn’t want people drowning his masterpieces with mounds of rice. I get it. A crime indeed.

Among the highs, the best salmon I’ve ever had. The best halibut. And the albacore belly was unbelievable.  On the nit side of the coin, the service is a bit slow, even though it was relatively empty because we ate at such an off hour, which I recommend since they don’t take reservations. Otherwise you could be in for a major wait if you go during the usual mealtime rush.

5 teeth

Foreign Cinema

2534 Mission St. San Francisco, CA 94110(415) 648-7600foreigncinema.com

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While the bar might be “cool” looking and “perfectly stocked” as some suggest, that means very little if you can’t get a drink. It took about 20 minutes to get someone to make me a drink, which I might’ve understood if the place were packed, but the service is just abominable with three bartenders behind the bar and only one actually tending it. One was constantly busy moving bottles around for aesthetics. And the other was busy making drinks for tables and flirting with the wait staff.

Now, to be fair, the service sucked elsewhere too. The hostess who told me I’d have to wait 15 min for a table outside for two- never came to get us after nearly 30 min. Even though I watched from the bar to see at least 4 tables constantly open during this time. Something I might’ve understood if I was a walk-in and they were giving priority to those with reservations, but I was one of those people with a reservation!!!

So, service is just flat out shitty, no bones about it. Fortunately the food made up for it. The butternut squash soup was amazing. The oysters were incredibly fresh. And the halibut entree was skillfully prepared from the fish itself to the variant accoutrements nestled beside it.

And I also do concede that the decor of the place is very cool. But it is soooo tainted by the service I sincerely doubt if I’d ever go back.

3 teeth

Alcaravea

Av. Ignacio Zaragoza esq. 16 de Septiembre, Cabo San Lucas 23450, MX • 624-1-43-37-30

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From the moment you walk in, you can tell the place is special. The décor is warm and charming with it’s wrought iron railing and tasteful art. And the vibe manages to somehow honor both Italy and Mexico at the same time.

As for the service, it was very friendly and accommodating, but unfortunately the kitchen is a tad slow, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry.

That said, the kitchen takes its time for a reason- some of the dishes are simply incredible. So good that you will forget you are in Mexico. For example, the eggplant parmesan is easily on par with the best I’ve ever had. The pastas were also fantastic. And the special catch, Halibut, was incredible. Unfortunately, the veal was a big miss, as was the caprese salad and the antipasta platter.

Would’ve tried dessert, but because everything took so long, we just ordered ice cream for the kids thinking that would be quicker, but even that took forever to prepare, for some unknown reason.

Also, one other watch-out to consider, because they have a beautiful open façade, with wrought-iron and ivy, while it makes for a wonderful setting, if you are sitting next to it, prepare to hear lots of engine noise from the street, as well as to breathe in lots of exhaust. 😦

So all in all, a positive experience, but not without its detractors.

3 teeth

Purdy’s Farmer and The Fish

100 Titicus Rd. North Salem, NY 10560(914) 617-8380farmerandthefish.com

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This is a tale of two visits. Two vastly different experiences, primarily due to the service. The first time it was literally one of the highest points of the meal. Our waitress was amazing. Attentive. Helpful with the kids. Accommodating. Warm. My only nit was toward the end of the meal, when the kids were reaching meltdown, she took an awfully long time with the bill. But since she was so incredible up to that point, I let it slide.

The second time, even though we had a reservation, they made us wait, even though the table was empty when we arrived. Then, it took over 20 minutes and us having to ask, before a server finally came to take our orders. Upon delivering those orders they were often incorrect in virtually every way possible. For example, when the oysters came, they were served with only 2 forks even though there were three people. Drinks came after appetizers. Bread was never brought to the table. And other orders were completely forgotten. Oh, and once again it took forever to get the check, even after asking multiple times. I literally wanted to walk out without paying I was so annoyed. Instead I exacted my revenge with a commensurate tip.

But inconsistent service aside, I still do like the place because the seafood is quite good (and the fact that the owner has his own fish market in the city doesn’t hurt). I mean, not everything is excellent, but the highs are so high, it almost makes up for the frustrations above. But if the service is ever like that again, it might just be a deal-breaker.

As for decor it’s quaint and charming. Both times sat on the patio of the white house, over-looking the garden. And both times we took the kids for a walk around back to see the farm while we waited for our food.

So now let’s do a deeper dive into the food, there were three dishes that were out of this world.

1. The swordfish with balsamic sauce and garden fresh veggies was so fresh and delicious. It had these these tiny little tomatoes that exploded in your mouth like those little fireworks in Ratatouille, adding layers of depth to a dish that was already perfectly cooked.

2. The frozen key lime pie was a nice twist on one of my favorites. Striking a nice balance between tart and sweet.

3. The white chocolate bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream. My god! It was so damn good I nearly fell over into the citronella candle behind me.

Honorable mentions would include the lobster roll, one of the best in Westchester and the oysters. Raspberries go to the Caesar salad which is not served with a true Caesar dressing. Typical creamy crap you find at most places these days.

And falling somewhere in between, the halibut with corn risotto was just okay. As was the big eye tuna. Granted, the tuna was remarkably fresh. Melted in my mouth. But when the recipe says “Szechuan” I expect a little more heat.

But all nits aside, Purdy’s definitely has game on the plate. They just need to work on the spotty service, because really does detract from the experience.

3 teeth

Marc Forgione

 134 Reade St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 941-9401 • marcforgione.com

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Umm… I’m gonna go with WOW! That pretty much sums it up. I loved just about every last drop of this restaurant and ate most of those drops as well.

To start, the décor is great. Just teetering on the edge of casual and beautiful. With an energy about it that hits you the moment you enter. Some may find it a bit loud, which it is, but that’s part of the fun- having you yell at each other about how good your food is.

As for service, our waitress was tremendous. Not in size, but in personality and attentiveness, without ego or plastic undertones. But not flawless either. For example, our cocktails came quite a bit late to the table, mid-way through our starters, but this was do to the bar losing the ticket. Now, normally you’d think this would be cause for docking a knife, and normally it would be. But is it the rarity of flawlessness that matters or is it how they handle the occasional hiccup? In this case, both the waitress and bartender came over to personally apologize for the mix up and delivered the drinks within a minute after. And yes, they were worth the wait. Especially the Summer Sangria with a richness almost as if there was Bourbon in there as opposed to wine.

But by now you’re probably getting pissed because I haven’t gotten to the food yet, so let’s get to it.

First up would be the amuse bouche, which is comprised of two dishes. A basic ceviche that is nothing to write home about, and a wonderfully explosive cream cheese puff pastry, that is worth flying home about.

Next came the buttery brioche-like bread which was so buttery and delcious, the fact that it came with butter was like gilding the lily. But as good as the bread is, I strongly recommend that you skip it in favor of the Texas Toast that comes with the Spicy Lobster which was so incredible it was as if my taste buds had died and gone to taste bud heaven. The lobster meat and bread in that sauce- OMFWow!

But not to be outdone, the tortellini is also very impressive, packing it’s own heat and a complexity to its sauce that unfolds in your mouth like a story.

Wait, I probably should’ve saved that description for the Halibut entrée, because that sauce was also quite the tour de force, minus the heat. But so rich and layered it was more like a meat dish.

Now here comes my one nit. And I blame myself for it. I had gone there fully prepared to get the highly acclaimed chicken, but our served talked me out of it and I went with a lamb special instead. Now, the lamb was far from bad, but at 48 bucks a plate, not bad IS bad. At that price I should’ve lept out of my chair and danced a jig after every bite.

The dancing, however, was not far behind, because the S’more dessert had me giddier than Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Just the presentation alone- well, of everything really, but with the “charred” marshmallow on a stick and the salted “chocolate bar”- if my tongue had hands it would applaud.

The other dessert was no slouch either. A deconstructed key lime, which had it been the only dessert on the table would be receiving all the adulation right now.

Such a treat. Finally an Iron Chef restaurant that lives up to its metal. A tribute to the fact that he is still the one actually in the kitchen. Saw him with my own eyes the last time I went.

Which brings me to another evening of incredibleness. The amuse bouche this second time was a touch less impressive. An homage to the NYC bagel and smoked fish. Good, but not grand. The graganelli with short ribs and black truffles, however, was mood-altering-good.

Also, this time I had the heavily revered under brick chicken and I have to say, while good for a roasted chicken, it’s still just a roasted chicken. I’ve had MANY a chicken dish that bests it. From One in Irvington, NY (RIP) to ABC Kitchen to Son of a Gun in LA. Don’t get wooed by the hype. There are so many better options on the menu.

And once again, come dessert, Marc knocked it out of the park. The best “pumpkin pie” I’ve ever had. Made in souffle form, served with a very complex and equally delicious sorbet made from bourbon, squash and three other things I can’t remember. If an afterlife exists, and they serve food, this must be what it tastes like.

5 teeth