All’onda

22 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 231-2236 allondanyc.com

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Hype strikes again! Damn YOU HYPE!!!!

I swear this place must’ve made it onto at least half a dozen top lists in NYC, from Thrillist to New York Magazine. Well, unless you’re caught up in some cockamamie Brewster’s Millions scheme where you’re trying to squander your hard-earned coin, I’d say skip it, because it’s almost all’unda whelming.

From the moment the first starter hit the table things were off. The arancini with black truffles were so lacking they should be blacklisted. Not even the faintest hint of earthiness from the truffles, which most likely didn’t come from France. And no butteriness or creamy cheese to make the risotto shine from within.

The polenta crisps had their issues as well, served with a baccalà montecato dip (cod salad) that was so incredibly salty no one was able to endure more than a single bite.

The best of the lot was easily the duck crostini, but that was in large part due to the lack of competition. Almost like a foie gras terrine, the duck was silky smooth, spreading over the toast like a blanket of richness, sweetened with pickled Asian pear and contrasted with a little hazelnuttiness.

I shared the short rib risotto for two (pictured) with a friend, and fortunately she didn’t disown me after talking her into it, because it was a huge mistake. Both in physical and conceptual terms. Starting with the physical, let’s just say that I think they misprinted the menu and it was supposed to be for 20. That, or Fred Flintstone was in the kitchen and no one ever bother to discuss portion control with him. Also, it’s not a risotto dish. It’s the friggin’ side of a cow on a plate next to a drizzle of tomato mostrada and a tiny bowl of Arborio rice, so don’t be fooled by the misleading description. Also, just don’t order it, because it’s too expensive for what it is and how it’s served, “sous-vide” as they like to call it. Or “raw,” would be another way to describe it. The server tried to convince us that the color was a result of the sous-vide process, but I can assure you that the texture didn’t lie.

The garganelli was much, much better, prepared with peekytoe crab, citrus and tarragon. But somehow it still didn’t reach the level of expectations. If you want a truly special crab pasta try NoMad or Frankies 457.

Then, just when all hope seemed lost, All’onda rallied with an Ultimate. The Brussels sprouts are as good as the reigning champ Ilili. But this is no copycat. All’onda goes its own way, using candied pancetta and bottarga (dried mullet roe) to harness greatness. It was so incredibly good, the Japanese eggplant turned green with envy.

Another surprise came from the dessert course and while I usually don’t recommend olive oil cake, this was the best I’ve ever had. But considering it’s still just olive oil cake, it’s hard for me to get so excited that I can declare it an Ultimate. I suppose it is though, trouncing the likes of Maialino and The Inn at Pound Ridge.

The apples were also good, basically a deconstructed crumble. And the sorbets were delicious as well, the best being the kiwi.

And last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. The basil gimlet was nice and refreshing and the La Serenissima was nice and spicy. But while it had its moments, it had its misses. Too many, if you ask me, to ever call it one of the top new spots in the city.

2 teeth

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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

The Ultimate Brussels Sprouts

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Ilili – New York, NY

This dish is so good, everybody and their grandmother is now copying it from coast to coast. Case in point Cleo in Hollywood, CA. But nobody does it better than these guys. In fact, they do it so well, I think Brussels sprout farmers around the world should have to share a portion of their proceeds because I guarantee the sales of sprouts are at an all time high.

The genius of the dish is that it’s grounded by such a healthy, strong tasting green vegetable that it allows for such extremes in the other direction. Those extremes coming in the form of frying ’em up with a little fig jam, mint yogurt, toasted walnuts, sherry vinegar and grapes. So it’s actually hell and gone from healthy, but hey, it’s a green vegetable so RDA box checked!

All’onda – New York, NY

I honestly never thought the day would come when I added a second entry to this post. I mean Ilili’s sprouts were just so far and away above anything else that it seemed like it was going to take almost as long as it did for someone to tie Roger Maris’ 61 home runs. Well, it took about six years. And All’onda’s sprouts are all that and a bucket of pancetta. Candied pancetta to be precise. And bottarga, a salty byproduct made from shaved mullet roe. I had to look it up. Learn something new everyday. Like wow are these friggin’ these dangerous. Speaking of buckets, I could easily eat one filled with these puppies.

Resto

111 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 685-5585 • restonyc.com
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What a nice find. Met a friend here for lunch and I have to say, it gave a strong showing.

Right out of the gate the decor is charming and cool at the same time, with great touches like the inventive “drink menu.”

For an appetizer, we split the deviled eggs, which were heavenly. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But seriously, best I’ve ever had. Granted they are a twist on the classic, but so incredibly creamy it was like eating a pillow of delicious.

For an entree, I had the special rib eye sandwich, which was also very good. But not quite at the level of the eggs, and not quite as good as other steak sandwiches such as BLT Steak’s or even Mangia’s Shortrib Scicciata.

The brussel sprout side was also good, but compared to Illili they are just okay.

And the biggest miss for me was the salted caramel sundae for dessert. Just eh.

The kitchen is also a bit slow. And by “a bit” I mean very. We were one of only a handful of tables and yet it took 90 minutes for our meal, and that was only because we ordered the dessert and the check while still finishing our entrees, otherwise it would’ve been easily two hours for lunch. What is this, Mad Men?

But net, net… I like. And if I did half knives I’d probably go 3.5. And I’d also probably go back in a second, if someone asked me (hint to friend).

3 teeth

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St. New York, NY 10012(212) 475-3850minettatavernny.com

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If it weren’t for the reputation, most people would walk right past this place. Even upon entering, there is honestly nothing worth mentioning that you might not find at 100 other places that look and feel just like it in the city. It’s a gastro pub.

Also, not a fan of the reservation process. First of all, they block out 6pm to 9pm for people who have VIP status. So, unless you know someone, which I fortunately did, you can’t get a table at a reasonable time. That said, you can always walk in and eat at the bar. But even that can be a 30-45 min wait, and the bar area is my  definition of cramped hell. Not a place I would ever want to eat, with people leaning over you to get the bartender’s attention, placing their dirty glasses next to your plate, etc…

On the plus, the bar has some great cocktails. We each had the Rhubarb Sophie and it was VERY good. DUI good. If I wasn’t driving I probably would’ve had two more.

Another plus is the service. I know a lot of people have said that they are NY rude, but I guess I didn’t notice it. From hostess to bartender to waiter, every one was good.

Now for the main event, the food. Getting off to a bumpy start, I found the bread to be very disappointing. As was the special pork belly appetizer.

But then, the entrees came and holy burger heaven- the Black Label is everything they say it is. The meat is so moist and flavorful it’s as if they ground up baby angels to make it. The marinated onions and the bun- so good. Didn’t put a thing on it. No ketchup or mustard. Used them for the fries, which are just eh. If you want the best fries in the city (if not the country), try Ilili’s Phoenician Fries. But anyway- back to the burger. Patty for patty, probably the best burger meat I’ve ever had.

The Za Za pasta was also a solid good. Basically a slight variation on a carbonara. Compared to the burger though, you’d have to be crazy to order it- so I suppose I just insulted the wife. #doghouse

And last but not least, dessert. We went with the Grand Marnier souffle. Probably the best one I’ve ever had. Spot on perfect. And they don’t go light on the hooch.

So, between the burger and dessert it’s hard not to go 4 knives. But with the decor and opening misses, it’s also far from perfect.

4 teeth

The Ultimate French Fries

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Ilili – New York, NY

How random is it that a Lebanese restaurant should happen to have the best fries on the planet? My tongue literally did a double take when I had them the first time, but my friend who was with me was just as floored, so I knew my mouth wasn’t crazy.

Sure, fries in general are pretty hard to screw up. In fact, the only place I know that manages to do so is In-and-Out Burger, but the fact remains, the French have nothing on these Phoenician fries.

So what makes these Phoenician fries so special that they reign supreme over all the others? Well, consistency is key, that’s for sure. But there are many a good fry out there if consistency was the only metric. However, since we’re on the subject, to me, the perfect fry is one that has a slightly crispy exterior, but a soft, fluffy interior, which these do.

What these also have, mind you, is a consummate dusting of herbs and spices that will make your tongue so happy it’ll whirl like a dervish. And the harissa aioli they serve with it is pretty tasty too, but personally, I find these fries so incredible I down them naked. Not me. The fries.