The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

Coral Reef

Epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32856 • (407) 824-4321 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/coral-reef-restaurant

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When you enter a theme park the likes of Disney, your expectations quickly plummet somewhere between high school cafeteria and prison food, so much so that sustenance takes over as the main objective. Almost as if you were on the show Survivor. And if you’ve ever done Disney with two children under the age of six, it’s a lot like Survivor in more ways than one.

But the touristy masses of chicken nuggets, hot dogs, burgers and turkey legs, were no match for the Ferocious Foodie, who saw past the sea of crap food to a different kind of sea, of the food variety.

Yes, there’s actually a decent seafood restaurant tucked away in a corner of Epcot right next to the Nemo ride. I know, part of me is dying inside just having to type these words, but truth be truth.

Inside the restaurant the décor is too cavernous to ever be considered nice, but the novelty of giant fish tanks that would make most major aquariums swoon, certainly adds a little something extra to the experience.

As for the “decent” food I mentioned, the rainbow trout was surprisingly moist, with a nice balance of flavors between the starch of the white beans and the salty, savory accent of bacon.

Unfortunately, the other fish, the Mahi Mahi, wasn’t quite at the same level, being more what you might expect from a place founded on the fame of a six-foot mouse.

And while the kids had a typical children’s menu staple, mac and cheese, they licked the bowls clean, so I’m assuming that it’s pretty damn good, at least by the standards of my Ferocious progeny (when they order mac & cheese they usually never finish).

Shockingly enough, the cupcake that came with the kid’s meal was also surprisingly good. Moist and not too sickly sweet on the frosting.

Now don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like I’m comparing this to the likes of La Chevre D’or in the South of France or anything, but amidst the recalibrated expectations of theme park cuisine, it’s gourmet.

3 teeth

 

Mariani Gardens Café

Mariani Gardens • 45 Bedford Rd. Armonk, NY 10504(914) 273-3083 • marianigardens.com/about_cafe.asp

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The location is a touch odd, in the midst of a nursery and outdoor furniture store, but somehow it works, probably because it’s a VERY high end nursery and outdoor furniture store, and thus the setting, while casual, is very nice.

The high end-ness bites both ways, however, as the prices are even higher end, and I’m not just talking about the furniture.

For lunch, for four people, no appetizers, no dessert, no sides, and only three drinks (non-alcoholic) it was about $75. And we’re talking salads and hotdog/burger. No lobster salad. Just vegetables. No foie gras or veal burger (it was veggie). Drinks were nothing special either. No fresh squeezed juices or smoothies. Just Diet Coke and lemonades.

So, the big question is, was it worth the ridiculous price? Not even close! Everything was as mediocre as it gets. The best of the lot was the beet salad with goat cheese, but that’s not saying much. The worst of the lot was the French lentil salad with “spicy” walnuts. I’m not sure what passes as spicy these days, but whatever it is, they forgot to put it on those walnuts. At least the portions were big, but what good is it if those portions taste like balsa wood?

Now I can only imagine the place is trying to compensate for the rent. Or the fact that the only people buying plants and furniture from them are the .0001%. But I don’t think I should be the one subsidizing their lifestyle. Either up your game or I will be taking my business elsewhere from now on. For example right up the street, Melts crushes this place. Or Fortina. Hell, I’d rather grab a sandwich from the deli in DeCicco’s.

Sorry to be so harsh Mariani, but as a nursery, you of all places should know, you reap what you sow.

2 teeth