Loews Hotel Restaurant & Lounge

This is a review of the bar, not the hotel or the restaurant, although I did have some snacks that probably bridge the gap between menus.

The bar itself (pictured) is much nicer than the one in the Loews, Santa Monica, which isn’t hard to beat, but unto itself, the New York location has a nicely done, deco vibe. Service is warm and friendly as well. Not the liveliest of crowds, however, so if you’re looking for a scene, this ain’t it.

As for cocktails, I found the Manhattan a little too sweet for my tastes and so I quickly switched to my ole goto Blanton’s on the rocks.

Apps were money. My favs being the mini reubens and the French fries, which were surprisingly good, served up with two dipping options; a homemade ketchup marinana and a mayo mustard. The reason I say “surprising” is because I’m normally not a fan of homemade ketchups. They almost always suck. For me, it’s either Heinz or Annie’s or it’s mustard please. Don’t even get me started on Hunts. Also decent are the hummus with fried chickpeas, the charcuterie and the cheese plate.

Ultimately, I am happy I came to Loews (movie theater humor- though technically a different, unrelated Loews). Definitely not a destination unto itself, but if you’re staying in the hotel or meeting someone there you could do a lot worse. Particularly on the Upper East.

3 teeth

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Petit Poulet

52 W 33rd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 244-0440 petitpouletny.com

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The pickens are pretty slim when it comes to lunch in Herald Square. In fact, in Manhattan it’s kinda become the land that restaurateurs forgot, which puts ole Ferocious smack dab between a rock and hard to find a friggin’ place to eat place. And that’s not for a lack of trying.

My most recent attempt being this bistro-hopeful that seemed to start off on all the right feet with its classic décor, good service, reasonable rose and tres yummy charcuterie board complete with Roquefort, Camembert, cornichon, soppressata, mustard, jam, olives, grapes, fresh baguette, etc…

The other starter, the hummus and pita, was less obvious for bistro fare and wouldn’t have been my choice to order, but Morocco is a stone’s throw, so I let it slide. It’s just okay though, as to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected from my little chicken that could, was the palliard salad being as dry as Morocco. Far inferior to that of The Palm or The Standard Grill.

For dessert, the chicken choked, serving up a bizarre attempt at profiteroles that were more like ginormous balls of vanilla ice cream with teeny-weeny beanie caps of pastry on top and bottom. Flavor-wise they were still good, but as you can imagine, horribly off balance and tasting more like just a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whereas the tart tatin was much more contained in size, but didn’t quite get there in flavor or texture, because the crust got very sogged down by the sugary innards of the tart and the choice of granny smith apples didn’t quite manifest in the contrast I think they were hoping for. And as a result, I actually found myself preferring the dysfunctional, obese profiteroles.

So for now I’m going with two knives, because the misses out-weighed the hits, but if I were grading on a curve based on the options in the area, I’d say it’s probably more like a three.

2 teeth

Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

3 teeth

Galata Kahvehanesi

Şahkulu Mah. Tımarcı Sk. No:1 34421 Istanbul • (0533) 2391403

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Just off the main drag cutting through Galata there is a monopoly brewing by the name of Nar Hotels. A rather interesting concept whereby the hotel and its restaurants reside in several different buildings that span for blocks, as opposed to everything being under one roof. The result is very charming, quaint and each décor is done very tastefully, packing a lot of style into each square meter. Take Galata Kahvenhanesi as a prime example, with its soothing use of earth tones combined with a contemporary flair. It’s enough to make you forget all about the dilapidated building falling to pieces next door.

While we’re on the subject of things falling apart, let’s discuss the service in Istanbul restaurants during Bayram. Not only do you not get the A Team (who are busy on holiday in Bodrum), but they skip right over the B and C teams and go straight to D, as in Deplorable. We had to ask for things so many times I believe it may have set a world record. In fact, the only way the service could’ve been any slower was if the waiter had dropped dead mid-shift, been rushed to the hospital, resuscitated and rushed back to the restaurant to continue serving.

Fortunately for us, the chef apparently stayed through the festivities, because the food was up to snuff. The meze platter was fresh and flavorful, filled with eggplant dolma, bulgur salad, hummus, etc… And the rocket salad was equally worthy of praise. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t was the bread, which boy genius (a.k.a. our waiter) decided would be better served warm, so he nuked it, making it as chewy as a dog toy! Head in hand. But all things considered, I still most definitely recommend this place. Just not during Ramadan.

3 teeth

 

The Strip Club

378 Maria Ave. Saint Paul, MN 55145(651) 793-6247domeats.com

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It’s not what you’re thinking. I mean c’mon, give me some modicum of credit. I’m not about to stoop so low as to review the food in a nudie joint. Although that does pose an interesting thought for a spin off stripper review site, “Ferocious Nudie.” But as misleading as the name might be, The Strip Club does in fact serve up some serious flesh… in the form of beef, pork, poultry and fish. So good it’s actually worth venturing into this sketchy part of town.

For starters I highly recommend the pork belly with the spicy carrot slaw on top and the crispy cauliflower drizzled with yogurt. The seared foie gras is also good, but it is sadly overpowered by the English muffin base, the duck egg and the glazed apricots, so much so that you barely even taste the foie gras. Making it a good starter kit for those just toeing the waters, easing them into their first time, but for true lovers of the livers, you will feel a bit cheated. And last of the starters for me would be the beef tartar over hummus. A bit on the whatevs side of the four.

On the entrée side of things, be sure to skip the duck or pay dearly with order envy should those around you go with the filet mignon or the braised lamb. Both were superbalicious yet simple in their preparations, allowing the meat to shine in all of its mouth-watering glory.

And for dessert we went with the fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, served with a crème anglaise dipping sauce, which actually proved to be my least favorite dish of the night. The cookies were the under baked, doughy kind, which always feels like a cheat to me to get to gooey. And the créme anglaise tasted more like a grasshopper milkshake melted down. But even with ending on a sweet and sour note, I have to give props where they are due. The service was great, the décor relaxed and for some bizarre reason, the patrons old, which is a bit of a downer, but it also somewhat tempers your fears of the neighborhood, because let’s be honest, if anyone is getting mugged, it’ll probably be the sweet old lady, not you.

4 teeth

Almayass

24 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 473-3100almayassnyc.com

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Attention all Ilili lovers, there’s another game in town. And what’s especially nice about this game is that it’s easier to play. In case my obtuse analogy isn’t tracking, what I mean to say is that it’s way easier to get a table, especially at lunch.

But settle you will not. Almayass is not just an alternative. It’s very much a destination in its own right. From the moment you enter, you are immediately taken by the elegant décor which is much warmer than Ilili,, blending more classic elements with contemporary, and accented with wonderful works of art.

Another plus is that the staff is much more pleasant and much less snooty than at Ilili, which is nice if you don’t want a side of attitude with your fattoush, speaking of which, it was very good.

In fact, most everything was good. A few misses. A few homeruns. And lots in between. Among the homers would be the Soujuk Almayass. Best thing I’ve ever had with this Middle Eastern sausage. It’s painfully simple really, just a slice of sausage sitting on a crostini with a sunny side quail egg on top. But holy Lebanon was it good! Chased with a little arak (Lebanese anise liquor) and I was all like “Ilili who?”

Another dish that was surprisingly better than any I’d ever had before was the mantee. It’s the same thing as the Turkish dish “manti, which are tiny ravioli filled with meat, covered in yogurt. What made it so special, however, was how crisp it was on the outside, and so most and creamy on the inside. And we all know what a softy I am for contrasting textures.

Three other dishes that were also very strong were the kebab made with filet mignon, the baba ganoush served with pomegranate seeds and the lentil soup. Granted my review of the soup is only hearsay, and by that I mean “MMMMMMMMM!!!” from across the table.

In the middle of the road was the pita bread, tzatziki and hummus. And bringing up the rear, the three biggest misses for me were the olives, the tabouleh salad and the sarma.

The olives because they were served pitted, which I can only assume was due to the fact that they’re afraid of getting sued by someone for cracking a tooth on a pit, because no self-respecting restaurant from the region would ever serve olives pitted otherwise.

The tabouleh because it was very leafy and dry. I like mine more moist and hearty.

And last but- well actually least, the sarma. Among the worst stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. Such a shame too, because this place was so close to five knives, but I’m afraid they fell shy by one.

4 teeth

McCoy’s Bar & Grill

Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport • 9300 Airport Blvd. Orlando, FL 32827(407) 825-1340 orlandoairport.hyatt.com/en/hotel/dining/McCoysBarandGrill.html

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It’s in an airport inside a hotel, so this is obviously not a destination unto itself unless you are a culinary masochist, but even with these two categorical strikes against it from the onset, it actually managed to hit the spot in the end.

Certainly a very hit and miss experience, I mean who are we kidding, but our waiter was very honest and very good. Steering us toward the better things on the menu, which helped. However, even within those, there were still a few misses as well.

Of the hits I would give shout outs to the red wine blend by the glass, Chateau St. Jean. And to the Thai chicken wings (pictured).

After that, the fish bites were okay. As were the stuffed jalapenos. The only flat out miss was the hummus, served with the same chips you’d find at Whole Foods. The octagonal ones with the flax seeds.

But net, net, it’s a solid stop before a flight to grab a drink and a quick bite- if you know what to bite, that is.

2 teeth

 

Ilili

236 5th Ave. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 683-2929 ililinyc.com

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I’ve only eaten lunch here (several times), but one of these days I will be back for dinner.

Of the many visits however, here are some of my learnings: For my first trip I had the prix fixe (great deal) and decided to go with the Phoenician fries which, I have to say, are probably the best fries I’ve even had in my life along with the Lamb Dip. The lamb was definitely good too, but compared to the fires, it took second.

The bread was also good (warm puffy pita), as was the cucumber, mint lemonade. The only miss was dessert, the caramelized banana bread was just eh.

As for decor and service, both were excellent. Decor being a very pleasant surprise. It’s sleek and hip and a very popular spot for happy hour.

So that rounds out my first impression. Upon returning, however, here’s what else I learned. Get the mezzes as opposed to the prix fixe. It’s definitely the way to go. The brussel sprout dish alone is worth a second, third, fourth and fifth trip. Easily the best brussel sprout dish I’ve ever had – and for those of you who have been to Cleo in LA, yes, this one is better.

We also had several other dishes from tuna belly, to lahamajeen, to hummus and all were quite good as well. The only thing that was a bit of a let down were the stuffed grape leaves, which is a shame, because that’s one of my favorite dishes- but whatevs- with everything else as good as it is, I’d put this in the top 5 med restaurants in the city without a second thought. Granted until I go for dinner I’m holding back on the fifth knife.

4 teeth

MP Taverna

One Bridge St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7854

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Out of the 4 different restaurants that have been in this space over the last 8 years, I would place MP in a tie for second place. ONE (RIP) takes first quite handily, and coincidentally, the decor is actually the most similar to ONE compared to Solera & Day Boat (the other half of the tie).

The service was great. Quick, but never pushy. With some good recommendations.

But as for the food, I found it a bit hit and miss and meh. For example, the fried calamari was quite bland. The octopus, while good, was nothing all that special. The sliders were also a solid good, but again, nothing off the charts. And the dip assortment was also just okay, with the exception of the humus-type dip, which was my first bite to reach OMG status.

As for entrees, I found the lamb shank to also be quite bland. As was the simple branzino. But I did enjoy the Greek Paella, made with orzo and lamb sausage. A nice inventive twist on a Spanish stronghold.

Then, came dessert and yet another miss. The baklava is definitely a pass, and a bit of a crime for a higher end Greek restaurant. But fortunately, we also ordered the chocolate halva. WOW was that good. The nuttiness with the chocolate and ice cream- whoever made this should be promoted to executive chef and take the reigns on everything else.

Oh, and last but not least, the sangria- also, you guessed it, good- not great.

Sorry MP, I had much higher hopes for you, considering how busy you’ve been. But I just couldn’t help wishing ONE was still around.

2 teeth

Kouzzina

The Boardwalk • 2101 Epcot Resort Blvd. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830(407) 939-5100 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations

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Oddly enough, the second best restaurant at Disney just happens to be right next door to the first (Flying Fish Café). Yes, Kouzzina actually lives up to the hype. And I have to give it extra props, because as far as celeb chef restaurants go, most of them fall horrendously short of expectations. For example Bobby Flay’s Americain and Mario Batali’s Babbo. But Cat Cora finally manages to convert her celebrity into something worthy.

Right out of the gate you can tell you are in for a treat with the stuffed grape leaves and grilled shrimp to the creamy hummus and fresh pita. Even the Greek olive oil, with it’s peppery finish. All of the above are all great. But the true stars came next…

All three entrees were phenomenal. The shortribs with a glass of Russian River Pinot Noir. The Branzino with the chili oil- such a great blend of Mediterranean and Thai influences. And the pork- which I didn’t actually try, but my mother wolfed it down amidst a symphony of “oohs” and “mmms.”

But could Cat stick the landing? Would dessert live up to its predecessors? Indeed. The chocolate “lava” cake was incredible. Skip the raspberry ice cream is comes with though. It cheapens the dish, which is plenty good all by itself. The other dessert, the baklava, was also good, but very non-traditional. Done more like a spring roll (again, mixing Asian influences). This one, however, is just okay by itself, so I do recommend having it with the cinnamon ice cream to get it over the hump of just “eh.”

So, after such a glowing review I’m sure you are wondering why only 4 stars and not 5- and that is because the rest of the experience was lack luster. The service was absolutely atrocious. She was nice and well-meaning, but a terrible fit for such a good restaurant. She should be a server at Chili’s or Applebee’s. Not here.

And the other big miss is décor. Fortunately we forced our way to a table outside, so if you make a rezzy, be sure to request outside, because inside feels like a dining hall, woefully lacking anything that resembles what some might call “décor.”

So, the good news is, if you eat outside and you get a better server than we did, you are quite likely to have yourself a five star meal. At Disney, no less!

4 teeth