Salsamenteria di Parma

86 Rue Meynadier, 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 99 66 67 • salsamenteriadiparma.com
 

At the bottom of the hill just before you officially enter “Old Cannes” there is wonderful new Italian restaurant that specializes in transcendent charcuterie (pictured). In fact, that’s kind of their big thing. In fact, there’s not much else on the menu with the exception of salads and bruschetta. And cheeses, of course.

But in its simplicity lies its genius. To quote the great four-legged philosopher Baloo, “Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities. Old Mother Nature’s recipes. That brings the bare necessities of life.” That there is some sage wisdom from a bear, because their parma bruschetta with honey is a thing of beauty. The tomato and pesto bruschetta is also quite nice, but challenging to keep those little grape tomato slices on the bread and not in your lap.

The charcuterie was also quite impressive, so I’m guessing they know how to source their hog. Which shouldn’t come as a shock, I suppose, considering a bifurcated pig is their logo and themed décor.

Salads, however, do not appear to be their thing, serving it undressed and underwhelming. Luckily they made up for it handsomely with a crazy chocolate sausage dessert. What?! Yes. Chocolate sausage. For desert. It is stupid good. Almost like a cookie, but with the consistency of helva. It’s kinda hard to describe, but trust me, it’s VERY easy to wolf down.

Not sure I would ever choose this place for a full-up dinner, but for lunch or a snack or a light dinner with a bottle of wine and lots of goodies- it’s hard to beat it.

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Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

Bistro Bis

15 E St NW Washington, DC 20001(202) 661-2700bistrobis.com

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Located in George Hotel this is a great option for those who want convenience of location without sacrifice on awesome. The décor is very nicely done, as one might expect from the chain. Elegant and classic, yet somehow also modern.

As for the food, I kinda blame out waitress for getting us off on the wrong foot, claiming the steak tartar with quail egg and a porcini mushroom aioli, to be the best she’s ever had. Obviously she’s never been to Manzo in New York or Pastis in Cannes, because both of those destroy Bis’ very lame attempt at an Ultimate. As John Bender from the Breakfast Club would say, “Not even close, Bud!”

Now what she should’ve recommended was the seared foie gras over a hazelnut pain perdu with pickled rhubarb and spiced rhubarb gastrique. It was so friggin’ yum it almost restored my faith in Capital Hill… almost.

The other dish our waitress could’ve gone with was the octopus. My second fave of the night, perfectly charred and dolled up with chorizo, sweet peppers and spring onions placed over a bed of squid ink pasta and drizzled in a white bean emulsion. This is one of those dishes that sounds too complicated for its own good, but they somehow manage to pull it all together.

Another pleaser, not quite at the level of those other two starters was the frisee salad with applewood smoked bacon, duck confit and a poached egg dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette. It won’t quite rock your world, but if it’s what you’re craving then you’ll definitely be happy.

For entrees, I tried both the sea scallops and the trout and I have to give it to the trout, no contest. Made in a classic prep with a twist they use capers, lemon, crisp ham and parsley brown butter and then accompany the fish with haricots verts and a pommes chateau. It was moist and flavorful and exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I have a doctorate in eating.

The sea scallops, however, failed to bring the zazz that one might expect from its preparation. Again, a twist on a common thai black rice dish, made with the additions of coriander roasted carrots, smoked shitake mushrooms and a ginger-port wine reduction.

I like what this chef is made of though, reaching for the stars and catching just enough to make me want dessert. But sadly I had to rush to catch the Acela home so I guess I’ll have to return for seconds, especially for the apple tart (pictured). Damn does that look good!

3 teeth

Pat LaFrieda

The Pennsy 2 Penn Plaza New York, NY 10121 • http://www.thepennsy.nyc

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Well known as one of the best meat purveyors in the tri-state, Pat has been putting more smiles on restaurant goer’s faces than the all-you-can-eat buffet at Scores. But being the man behind the man is one story. Being on the stage all alone is another. Nonetheless, Pat has decided to take a stab at playing the front man at the Pennsy with a meat-a-palooza sandwich stand.

Now obviously the meat is gonna be on point, there’s really no disputing that. But as we know, one ingredient does not a sandwich make. I believe that lesson is in the Bible under Hoagie 25:17. A sin I find LaFrieda somewhat guilty of with his ham and brie sandwich. Now obviously it has other ingredients in it, but the balance is completely off and there is not an ounce of inventiveness to make up for it. So it ends up tasting like a torpedo of bread and brie, with a little bit of pig… no Gerald.

Improving from there is the steak and cheese Sammy with caramelized onions is strong. A classic for certain, but it hits all the right notes. Particularly in wintertime when comfort food is more en vogue.

And speaking of putting on the winter weight, the Chookies are also pretty darn joy inducing. Essentially half-baked chocolate chip cookies in cube form, or more to the point of the name, chunks. Get it? Chunky cookies = Chookies. Lame as it may be, it obviously sucked me in.

2 teeth

Little Drunken Chef

36 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 242-8800

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Well, the fact that the chef is a self-proclaimed drunk explains a lot. And considering this place got four stars on Yelp, I’d say the chef isn’t the only one who’s plastered, because you’d have to be shit-faced to think this place was even worth three, much less two. And yet both times we have tried to go here there has been a 45 and 20-minute wait respectively. The second time we powered through it with a few drinks at the bar, which also had a wait to be seated. We haven’t had this hard a time getting a table in Westchester since Bedford 234, but at least that meal proved worth it.

So back to the bar, where we were eventually able to squeeze in and get the only highlights of the night, the drinks. Figures when you take into account where you are. The two drinks we had were the sake cucumber concoction and the Drunken Manhattan, which is far less inventive than the sake (my reco), tasting like your run of the mill Manhattan, but served in a martini glass as opposed to a lowball. Oooooh!

Then miracle of miracles happened, our table was ready in under 20 minutes. And lucky us, we scored a drunken, jovial waiter who went on to swoon about roughly 75% of the menu, which is always a worrisome sign, made only more worrisome by the fact that not one single recommendation was even just okay, much less good. I think he was just ecstatic to have a job and someone to talk to.

Starting with the Tossed Goat Salad, the kale is overdressed, the Drunken Goat (that’s the actual name of the cheese, which is available at any Whole Foods, but aptly chosen for its name) is shaved so thin you can’t even taste it and the chunks of peach aren’t even ripe! On the plus side, at least they didn’t screw up the candied pecans. But the rest of the salad should definitely be “tossed.”

Next came the jamon and manchego croquettes four ways. And sadly 75% of them sucked about five different ways by my count. The only one rising to an “eh” was the chutney, but I suppose that’s to be expected since Indian is the closest in to the chef’s comfort zone.

As the night progressed, the losers kept coming and I’m not just referring to the clientele lined up outside still waiting for a table. I’m also talking about the pulled pork buns, served with a hint of chimichurri. Not with actual chimichurri, mind you. Just a hint. That hint being in the description on the menu, yet nowhere to be found in the dish itself.

And for an entrée, I highly recommend the paella for none. I tried the Paella for one and it might very well be the worst form of Spanish torture since the Inquisition. Overcooked rice, overcooked chicken, overcooked scallops, overcooked mussels and a sprig of chorizo- granted I’m not entirely sure it was honestly chorizo, but it was definitely a sausage of some kind.

Now I know I get dramatic sometimes and take things to extremes, but to have had to wait 20 minutes for this performance should be punishable by death. I’d rather wait in line at the DMV! Seriously. And the worst part is that I had to actually pay for the mistreatment of my mouth! But what’s crazy about all of this is that I have actually been a long time fan of the “Little” franchise, going back to its humble beginnings as just a Kebab Station. Then a Spice Market. That said, I’ve noticed that the further they step away from their bailiwick, the more the seams start to show, because Crepe Street is a bit of a pass, especially compared to places like Good Food in Briarcliff. But never has anything been as bad as this place, which if allowed, I would like to rename “Little Big Mistake.”

1 tooth

Lola

2000 4th Ave. Seattle, WA 98121(206) 441-1430 tomdouglas.com

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When you’re staying at a hotel and you ask the concierge for restaurant recommendations, it’s always a bad sign when they recommend the one located in the hotel, just off of the lobby. It’s like, “Suuuure, and I bet your mother thinks you’re quite the catch as well.”

Well damned be my pessimism, because Lola in the Andra hotel is actually rock solid. Now, I only had breakfast there, but that was easily enough to see that Lola has serious skillz. How serious? Let’s just say Dick Cheney is hilarious by comparison.

But as serious as it is, I was giddy as a schoolgirl with my order of Tom’s Favorite Breakfast (that Tom being Tom Douglas, a Seattle restaurant icon). It’s grilled octopus, sliced purple potatoes, tender greens, bacon and green garlic yogurt capped with a sunny side egg. It’s also fan-fricken-tastic. And sure, I was like you going in, “Octopus for breakfast?” So, I asked our server if it was worth the experimentation and she responded with an emphatic yes. And now I can see why. Live and learn people, octopus is the new breakfast of champions.

However, one trick pony Lola is not. Oh no, no, no. The omelette with morels, English peas and minty feta is also dope. Made doper still by thick, meaty slabs of bacon and squashed garlic fried potatoes.

Even the tea here is worth a shout out. No run-of-the-mill mint for these cats. They mix it with licorice and it was fantastic. Normally I’m more of a juice guy, but this was so good I downed the pot like it was the cup of life.

So after such glowing praise, why not 5 knives you ask? Well, after I go back for lunch or dinner, check this review again and we’ll see…

UPDATE: So, after going back for lunch, once again Lola served up an impressive performance with their delicious sockeye kebabs, served with a yogurt, dill cacik-like sauce, a fresh Greek salad and warm, fluffy pita. It was truly awesome. So now why not five knives? Well, I went back again for breakfast and this time I tried the eggs benny and I have to say it was a miss. Sure, the eggs were poached to perfection. And the ham they use is wonderful. But the fresh baked muffin from Dahlia across the street was chewy and hard to cut through. So much so that it brought the whole dish down with it. Not to mention the knife count.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Croque Madame

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While the struggle for women’s equality has been slow going on the whole, I would like to point out two areas where things appear to be going quite swimmingly: chess and sandwiches.

Starting with chess, the Queen is hands down the best piece on the board. She can go wherever she wants, as far as she wants. And she’s worth nearly twice as many points as any other piece in the game. Whereas the king can only move one space in any direction, but only if that doesn’t put him in check. Lame.

So too is the croque monsieur when compared to a croquet madame. I mean sure, I love a ham and cheese as much as the next guy, but throw a fried egg on top and it’s like an edible ace of spades. But now that we know who wins in a head-to-head amongst croques, it begs the question, who wins amongst the madames? Or more ironically stated, who is the king of the madames?

 Craftbar – New York, NY

Sacrébleu! You need to stop whatever you are doing right now and roll your bones on over to Craftbar for this one. Yes, Tom Colicchio is the man behind the lady, serving up the most flawless madame since… I’m painting myself into a corner on this one, aren’t I? If I say my wife half of you will say “aww” and the other half will roll your eyes, my wife included. If I say Bo Derek, playing off the “10” thing, then I need to qualify that I am doing so only as a pop culture reference, because in terms of substance she was far from perfect. I could go Jolie or Elle McPherson who seem to have beauty and substance, but I am so far off topic right now it’s not even funny, so back to it.

What makes this croque rock is a perfect balance of textures. Too often I find inferior croques allow the oils from the gruyere and the ham to turn the bread to mush and there are few things in this world worse than a soggy croque. But due to the skillet cooking/serving vessel, Craft Bar manages to keep the bread nice and crunchy, so when you bite into it, those caramelized chunks of grilled bread break away, letting through a wave of gooey goodness from the egg yolk and the cheese. And just when you think you’ve hit cloud nine, apparently there’s a cloud ten, carrying with it the sweet, magical saltiness of the ham. It’s an absolute clinic on the values of simplicity and great ingredients. It’s also easily one of the best 10 sandwiches in New York City.

 

Contra

138 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002 • (212) 466-4633contranyc.com

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Well, Contra definitely lived up to its name, because it was the total opposite of what I was expecting. Unfortunately, I was expecting greatness the likes of Momofuku Ko. Or at least spots of brilliance the likes of The Musket Room. Well, no dice on either account.

The disappointments started early, first by making us wait over 30 minutes for our table, with a reservation. A duration I haven’t had to endure at restaurants far more popular and worthwhile. But while we waited, naturally I perused the menu to see what exciting dishes lied ahead, and that was the first sign of trouble. Not a single course sounded interesting. So much so that we were certain to pay the extra money for the bread, because at least that looked promising, by comparison to the plates passing us by. And it was. Definitely worth ordering. That said, don’t listen to your servers who will tell you that one order only serves two people. Sure, if that’s ALL they were eating for the night. For normal human beings one order will serve four people quite nicely.

Which brings me to my second gripe, the service. No one was technically rude in the normal sense, but the fact that I must’ve been bumped into by a dozen staff members throughout my dinner and didn’t receive a single apology or “excuse me” shows what kind of mettle they are made from. They did, however, show lots of concern as to why we weren’t finishing our courses- but perhaps those questions should’ve been redirected to the kitchen before serving such a pathetic string of losers.

It started with carrots and uni served over a bed of almond milk sauce and while it was interesting, it most certainly wasn’t amazing. And as tepid I may sound right now, this is actually one of the highlights of the meal.

Next up came the fluke. A relatively bland fish by all accounts, which usually allows chefs to wow you with their preparation of it. Well, no wows were to be found. The preparation was as bland as the fish, which wasn’t even cooked that well. For some of us it was overcooked, for others, undercooked, and no one had the Goldilocks version (just right).

Following the fluke came the biggest loser of the night, the chicken with “ham” and “chickpeas.” The reason the other two ingredients are in quotes is because they are nowhere to be found in this dish. Not by sight, nor taste. They say it is in the jus beneath the chicken, but if you buy that, I have a time machine toaster oven I’d like to sell you. On the plus side, I’d call this dish a win only for the fact that none of us wound up with salmonella poisoning, because the chicken was way pink.

After that came the two dessert courses, the first of which being strawberries and cream and to put it bluntly, you’d do better with a basket of strawberries and a tub of Cool Whip from Stop & Shop. Dead serious.

Fortunately, the last dish of the night showed some semblance of culinary skill but it was too little too late. And while I’d like to tell you about it, I don’t even recall what it was, because by that point I had lost so much interest I no longer cared. I just wanted to go home, call it a loss and lick my wounds, which by the way, were tastier than most of those courses. On the plus side, I hear Contra changes the menu often. Hopefully by tomorrow.

2 teeth

Cask & Larder

565 W Fairbanks Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789(321) 280-4200caskandlarder.com

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Having been to the Ravenous Pig, Cask’s sister, I sort of knew what to expect and those expectations were pretty high. Then, after some fellow foodies hyped it up even more, those expectations ballooned higher than Cheech & Chong smoking Whitney Houston’s ashes. Too soon?

The point being that Cask had a LOT to live up to, and live they did. Thrived actually. From the moment we entered I loved the gastro pub vibe with a chef’s table set amidst the beer kettles.

I also want to give a big shout out to service. Everyone was great. Not just our waiter who was actually training, but to his trainer, and to the chefs in the kitchen, who invited my son back for a tour, just because he was curiously looking in through the kitchen window. Sentimental gestures aside, after all, as a Ferocious Foodie I am immune to such ploys, the food really was great. Not all of it. But enough to plant a wow firmly on face.

The biggest wow coming from the duck ham. What? Yes. It’s duck prepared like an old school dinner ham. Served over a bed of harvest grains. And speaking of beds, I loved it so much I wanted to crawl in bed with it and make sweet, sweet love to- Getting weird? Well, it’s glazed in ecstasy I tell you! And it’s an Ultimate.

The kale salad was another superb bowl of blessedness. Garden fresh and loaded with goodies like Florida peaches, avocado and walnuts. Nowhere near as original as the duck ham, but sometimes it’s the simple things.

A hair below these two dishes I would put the grilled octopus and the strawberry angel food cake for dessert. Both are very good and very worth ordering as well.

After that would be the bread pudding for me. It’s a touch on the dryer side of things, which is not how I like to roll, but the layering of chocolate and caramel flavors makes up for a lot.

Down from there is the flounder. A bit of a snore to be honest. Almost as if it came from a different restaurant.

And worst of all were the roasted oysters. Shoulda gone with the deviled eggs. Saw a tray go by right after we ordered and the pangs of buyer’s remorse swelled inside me like tidal wave of sub-par oysters. But ohhh that duck ham… If beating a dead horse is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

4 teeth