Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

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Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

BBQ Chicken

25 W 32nd StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 967-8093 • bbqktownnyc.com

Welcome to the Korean Pret of fried chicken. A confusing, and yet surprisingly accurate description made only more confusing by the name, because there’s very little barbecue to speak of. That said, there is chicken in virtually every imaginable sauce you could want, fried, jerk, barbecue (naturally), grilled, thai, coconut, general tso, sesame, honey, spicy. It’s like Forrest Gump talking about shrimp. All pre-made for a quick grab-n-go mission (hence my Pret comparison) or there is a pretty extensive amount of seating if you want to sit and take in the rather nonexistent decor. It’s also very reasonably priced by Manhattan standards, making it one of the only options for lunch in the area under $20.

But here’s the thing, the bowls are all pretty damn yummy. Some served up with rice and potatoes. Others with rice and veggies like their bibimbap. And some are just piled high with poultry. But all of them are surprisingly good. They have other things as well, but chicken is clearly their bailiwick. Oh, and best of all, they have beer! Take that Pret!

Walrus & Carpenter

2895 Fairfield AveBridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 333-2733 • walruscarpenterct.com

This is going to sound like a bad porno plot, but after having done Rothbard in Westport, I couldn’t wait do the sister. I mean this in the most culinary sense, of course. After all, this is family blog. Okay, so maybe a highly profane, very disturbed family with kids in need of therapy, but a family nonetheless.

So back to Walrus & Carpenter. I mean, the name alone had me. It just sounded cool. And to know that this was the older sis just had me all the more intrigued.  Unfortunately, in the restaurant there are no walruses or carpenters to speak of, although the predominant wood paneling does suggest that at least at one time there were in fact carpenters on the premises.

Like her sister, Walrus is also a gastropub, but unlike her younger sibling, she is much more hit and miss. For example, I found the heirloom tomato salad with fennel, arugula and almonds to be quite good. Whereas the fried oysters with lemon-shallot aioli, while tasty, was so over breaded that you could taste nothing of the mollusk, essentially netting out as fried balls of batter dipped in sauce.

Speaking of fried and battered things, the chicken is quite good. Cooked moist-ilicious and jazzed up with a spicy-sweet combination that makes it better than your average bird.

The gnocci and the pulled pork sandwich, however, were both the epitome of average. Bland as balsa wood, not that I’ve eaten a lot of balsa before, but I’d imagine it’s even worse than melba toast. For a better pulled pork sammy I’d head to Q in Portchester.

But just when I was about to get all down on Walrus they showed that they are more than just whiskers and tusks, bouncing back with some strong baby back ribs.

We were too full by that point to get dessert though, but thanks to the rally I think we’ll be back to check out their sweets game.

Oscar Wilde

45 W 27th StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 213-3066 • oscarwildenyc.com

Ungapatchka might just be the only word strong enough to describe this bar. For those of you not up on your Yiddish, it means ridiculously over-decorated. But as ostentatious as it is, they actually make it work somehow, pushing things so far past gaudy that it becomes cool again. Almost like flying to Chicago and over-shooting it so far that you go all the way around the world and wind up back in Chicago. That’s Oscar Wilde, a $4 million-dollar tribute meets renovation meets booze.

From giant bronze statues to peacock feather chandeliers to ornate tchotchkes (also Yiddish for little miscellaneous trinkets and keepsakes) on every inch of every wall and surface, this place doesn’t miss an inch, also boasting the longest bar in Manhattan, wrapping around 90% of the perimeter. Mahogany, you ask? Please. That’s so two million dollars ago. We’re talkin’ white Italian marble.

Now here’s the trick. You’d think that all of this pomp and circumstance is purposefully perpetrated to mask its inadequacies, but I am compelled to tell you that it also delivers on the drinks. I personally only had the Bee’s Knees which is vodka based with honey infusions and lemon bitters. It is damn good. Others around me also seemed happy as they ordered seconds and thirds of their respective cocktails. Granted they could also just be alcoholics.Whatever the reason, find one to come here. It’s a one of a kind joint, that’s for sure, taking very much to heart Oscar’s sage wisdom, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

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.

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

tommybahaamafood

I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

David Burke Fabrick

Archer Hotel 47 W 38th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 302-3838 • davidburkefabrick.com

Chocolate-hazelnut Burke-n' Bag at the David Burke fabrick restaurant in New York, June 11, 2014. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

While there’s definitely some truth in the old saying “the clothes make the man,” sadly it doesn’t work that way for restaurants. If it did, I believe I would be giving Fabrick much higher marks for their trendy, conceptual twist playing off of its Garment District locale with desserts like their chocolate purse thingy (pictured) all the way down to the smallest details such as a fabric swatch cocktail menu.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend the Honey Badger. No, not the badass scavenger on YouTube that doesn’t give a shit. The spring 44 honey infused vodka cocktail that goes down so easy you’ll down two or three without giving a shit either. Made all the tastier with lemon, cinnamon agave and black pepper.

But sadly I only had one, so I did actually care about the food and it saddens me to say that the inventiveness of the preparations doesn’t come through on the palate, for example the burrata small plate with fig, prosciutto, mache and concord grape vinegar all disappears in a sea of blah aboard a plank of country toast.

Equally disappointing in light of its promise was the crab cake BLT, served on challah with candied bacon and a chipotle aioli. It was slightly more flavorful than the burrata, but nothing to get yourself all worked up over. However, if you’re staying in the Archer Hotel and just want to grab a drink and/or a quick bite, I’d say go for it. But if you were planning on making this a destination unto itself, I’d set a course for a different destiny.

2 teeth

Mario by Mary

2 Pennsylvania Plaza New York, NY 10121 (917) 475-1830thepennsy.nyc/mario-by-mary

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I have to admit I’ve become a bit of a Pennsy groupie, eating from there roughly three or more times a week. But as life-saving as it is to have this treasure trove just a stone’s throw away from my office, the Pennsy is unfortunately not the Solla Sollew I once thought it to be.

But shockers of all shockers, the weak link isn’t either of the two “healthy” options, as Cinnamon Snail and Little Beet both carry their weight like a champion sumo wrestler. No, the disappointment comes from the prodigal son, Mario Batali and his partner in blah, Mary.

Having now had not one, but two different grilled cheeses there, I walked away very unsatisfied both times. The first time going with the honey and truffle sandwich and the second time rolling the dice on the eggplant. As a backhanded compliment, I will say that the pickled veggie salad they give you on the side is actually pretty nice though. But not good enough to make up for the fact that you’d be better off heading a few blocks over to No. 7 Sub. So be warned Mario and Mary, I’m gonna give you one last shot, because I have my eye on that Cubano (pictured), but this is make it or break it time, so if you don’t bring it like a cheerleader on Adderall,  you could very easily slide to a one.

2 teeth