Gourdough’s

1503 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • gourdoughs.com

This place has a sense of humor about it from the name, a play on the Spanish word gordo, which means “fat,” to the guy inside the Airstream dishing out jokes about as freely as they dish out calories. Even the menu items are one pun after another, and the price, while steep for a donut, is diffused by the light-hearted declaration in the form of pennies, which makes everything sound cheaper.

As a base, the donuts are not your cake-like variety. They are more akin to Krispy Kreme when they come hot out of the oven, the sweet dough evaporating in your mouth almost as if it were cotton candy. But what makes these donuts truly muy bueno is the stuff on top.

Exhibit A. The Squealing Pig. A shot put-sized doughnut smothered in cream cheese icing and strawberry jalapeno jelly, then topped with even more jalapeno’s of the candied variety and as the name would suggest, bacon. It’s about five different kinds of wrong that somehow come out tasting so very right. And I’ve had my share of bacon donuts in my past, but this one beats the livin’ pork out of ‘em!

My other fav was the Funky Monkey. Again with the cream cheese icing, but this one is topped with freshly grilled bananas and brown sugar. Just W-O-W-!

In third I would give it to Sara’s Joy. This time with a fudge icing, coconut filling and shaved coconut on top. Now I have no clue who Sara is, but I like the cut of her jib. And the topping of her donut. She apparently has a soft spot for coconuts and eating killer donuts that make your stomach its bitch.

Coming in a strong fourth, the Son of a Peach. Almost as fun to say as it is to eat. Blessed with a cake mix topping, filled with peaches and dusted with cinnamon. It’ll do ya right, and by that I mean you will feel like a donut just had its way with you. Granted that’s pretty much true of any of them. Every last one of them is a beast, so bring a big appetite if you want to tame it.

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant

36 Railroad PlWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-0810 • harvestwinebar.com

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Located across the street from the train station, Harvest makes for a great place to eat either right before a train or right after, at the end of a long workday when no one at home wants to cook and you’re not sure what you want to eat (guilty as charged), Harvest offers a jack of all trades menu with a few hits, a few misses and a lot of creativity.

Starting with the wines by the glass, you will find Conundrums in both red and white. So right there you have two solid reasons to visit. The vibe is also pretty cool, although the crowd both times I ate here was a bit sparse.

In round one, I enjoyed the veal chop, prepared with a red wine truffle glaze, creamy spinach, baby carrots and parmesan. But the real winners were salmon tartar with jalapenos, baby arugula, lemon zest and potato chips for salty scooping. So yum.

The surprise winner for me was the crispy artichoke starter. It just sounds and looks like it’ll be heavy, but somehow they are magically light and wonderful. So much so that this was my favorite thing.

Come round two I found the pear and endive salad to be decent but the octopus start is a big miss. Only because of its chewy consistency. The preparation is actually quite good. Basic, but good. Mainly avocados, tomato and red peppers. And funny enough, the exact same prep was used on my favorite dish of round two, the crispy crab cakes.

Now I just need to return and get the artichokes and the crab cakes and I’ll have the perfect meal.

3 teeth

Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

3 teeth

Meltkraft

151 E 43rd St. New York, NY 10017 (212) 380-1735meltkraft.com

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Self proclaimed as an artisan grilled cheese sandwich shop with farm-sourced everything, Meltkraft sounds like a cheesy paradise waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, if you listen closer you can also hear the sounds of wind leaving your sails, because their craft needs a little work based on the two sandwiches I tried.

The first was the Melter Skelter. I mean ya gotta love a sandwich named after a Beetles song and a movie about Charles Manson. It’s made with 3 month aged reclette, pickled green tomatoes, jalapenos, BBQ potato chips and watercress (pictured). Which sounds off the charts by description alone, and while it is certainly good, I was hard-pressed to actually taste much more than the cheese and jalapenos.

That said, at least it was far superior to the Brielle, made with Brie (obviously), as well as cranberry chutney, caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts. Again, delicious in theory, but quite bland in execution.

And so along with the ho-hum performance comes a knife count with matching syllables. For better melts just a stone’s throw away, I suggest heading down to Beecher’s in the Flatiron.

2 teeth

Husk

76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-2500 • huskrestaurant.com

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Charleston just might be the only place on Earth where heading down a deserted alley would be sage advice, because when you do, you will find some of the most charming buildings, forested crypts and even parking lots that will take your breath away! In fact, the alleys are so stunning that they put the streets to shame. Granted that’s not saying much, since most of the main drags are swarming with a touristy hell.

But within this swamp of tank tops, mandals, and baseball caps that promise to “Make America Great Again,” there is a beacon of hope that goes by the name of Husk. Located in an old historic landmark, the building has been impeccably refurbished and decorated to the nines inside, my guess is by a SCAD alumni.

But a secret she ain’t, in fact, the news has spread so far and wide that I heard about this place from two different people in Cannes, France, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance, because this James Beard winning haunt packs ‘em in as if they were selling the antidote to Walkers (I felt it fitting to have a Walking Dead reference, being that much of it is shot in the Carolinas). And they flock here for good reason, because it doesn’t take long for them to impress, kicking things off with a magically refreshing Blueberry Hill cocktail, made with tequila, blueberries (obviously), orange juice and jalapeno for that nice little hit of spice to balance the sweet. Granted it’s more refreshing than it is anything else.

Another early crowd-pleaser was their bread. Baked with salty goodness in the form of bacon, I haven’t had anything like it since Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP). But try to contain yourself, because you’ll want to save room, and lots of it, after all, this is the South, and land of the lighter fare it is not.

For our appetizer, wifey and I split the hushpuppies based on the waitress’ recommendation, and while I liked her very much, I think she missed it wide on those puppies. I’ve had droves of better.

Also disappointing for me was the panzanella salad with fried chicken. The salad, was rather basic and while the chicken had great smokiness, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. Plus, I hate to say it, but I’ve had MUCH better fried chicken in Orlando at Highball & Harvest as well as in New York City (blasphemy!) at ABC Kitchen.

But just as the hype started to exceed the reality, the shrimp and grits rose to the occasion, done in such a way that almost tasted more like a sweet corn polenta, topped with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was in a legue of its own and only bested by one other, at Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately Husk is not exactly the storied success it was built up to be, but it also had its moments. Therefore I think it’s a worthwhile stop amongst your visit, should you grow hungry in your search for alleys.

3 teeth

Walton’s Fancy & Staple

609 W 6th St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 542-3380 waltonsfancyandstaple.com

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I’m not really sure where the fancy is, because it’s definitely not in the décor. Not that it’s a shithole or anything, but fancy it ain’t. It’s your run of the mill counter service café with some prepared foods and several made-to-order options listed on huge boards overhead. Maybe they were going for irony?

As for the staple side of the equation, I think I get it. All of the dishes are your basic staples from sandwiches to French toast to shrimp and grits (a southern staple). But each of them has a little twist, which I suppose could be construed as “fancy,” but I still think that’s being generous with the term. Very caught up on this fancy thing as you can see. Lost a lot of sleep.

As for the “fancy” twists of which I speak, the shrimp and grits was actually the best I’ve ever had, fancied up with blackened shrimp placed over a bed of jalapeno, cheddar grits. It is a savory, spicy masterpiece.

The other fancied up dish was the crème brulee battered French toast, which was good, but not great. It’s just too damn big for its own good. It’s a fatal mistake I see time and time again. Restaurants all trying to get tricky with different batters, coatings, breads and portion sizes, when the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is to soak the bread through and through for fuck sake! How hard is it? Just do that and I could care less about the brioche, challah, raisin walnut, caramelized, bread pudding, burnt brown butter, cinnamon dusted, macerated apple topping.

Back on the plus side, their chai latte is pretty damn skippy.

3 teeth

 

The John Dory Oyster Bar

1196 Broadway New York, NY 10001(212) 792-9000 •  thejohndory.com

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After having read that they offer the best whole fish in the city, I have to say I was a bit miffed when I got there and there was no such option to be found anywhere on the menu. Which is especially effed up when you have a name like John Dory and you don’t even serve the damn fish! But as deflated as I was by the “bait and switch,” I quickly perked back up when the oysters hit the table. Six East Coast, six west coast and all twelve were awesome. Fresh, not too briny. Shucked by pros, so not a shell fragment to be seen and served up with a genius jalapeno mignonette. Horseradish was also in the house, but no cocktail sauce or vinegar. And I gotta say, neither were missed, because both options really let the mollusks shine, without overpowering them.

Having nearly forgotten all about whole fish-maggeddon, the distractions continued with the Spanish mackerel crudo served in a cup of squid crackling and spiced chili. It was quite fabulous. So much so that I started to question the 3 star yelp consensus (not that it’s the first time, of course).

And that’s when the entrees arrived and things started to make more sense. The octopus, while good, didn’t quite reach great, and even at its best, was only made so with yummy additions like Bottarga, olives and the potatoes, which were surprisingly key for this dish. On the other hand, there was no saving the Beer, Lamb & Clam. Great name, but that’s about the nicest thing I can say for it. It’s basically a bowl of steamed clams with a crushed tomato sauce that vaguely resembles notes of beer.

For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding is quite good, reminding me a bit of the one you’ll find one block over at L&W Oyster Co. Granted it’s bigger, just not better. And therein lies the rub, with L&W so close by, I’m not sure I’d pick the John Dory over it 9 times out of 10. But if you’re craving a change of pace, it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and every block matters, or you simply can’t get a table at L&W, then I say jump in with both feet. You could do a helluva lot worse.

3 teeth

Herringbone

1755 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 971-4460herringboneeats.com

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I struggle a bit to understand this one. The wait to get in is almost as big as the dinning room, which is so cavernous it’s almost to the point of making it feel like a Rain Forest Café, but for seafood. And while it is done far more tastefully (not saying much), with touches like the puffer fish tree at the foyer or the various nautical elements at every starboard turn, it can’t help escape the vibe that it’s a chain. Yet within chain-dom, there are obviously good chains and bad chains and Herringbone definitely falls in the better camp of the two. But to be fair, a chain is still a chain at the end of the day, so leave your expectations at the door, after all, it will have to wait for a table like everyone else.

To start, I opted for the Grow a Pear cocktail made with jalapeno, gin and cucumber. It was refreshing and light enough to go with anything on the menu. And I put that theory to the test, trying it with a host of starters, my favorite being the heirloom tomato salad, which I found to be the best thing of the night (not good for a “seafood” restaurant). Made with perfectly ripened orbs of red, sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by fresh, creamy chunks of mozzarella, caprese style.

The whole fish ceviche (pictured) was also nice, but mostly as a result of its novel prep, in whole fish form. The flavor of it, however was a little par for the course and nothing exceedingly fresh either.

Working our way from good to meh, the Buffalo octopus was just okay for me. Decent Buffalo flavor, but the pus itself was overcooked. Also could’ve been a bit spicier if you ask me.

But the worst by far was the Baja crab, or should I say Baja crap. Don’t let your waiter try a peddle this loser dish on you. It tastes like overcooked rice speckled with shreds of canned crab and a few squirts of Tabasco.

For my entrée, the scallops were passable, but not very well balanced because after three scallops in, I found that I had finished all of the surrounding goodies, leaving me with one scallop abandon on the plate.

Just as the ship appeared to be sinking, however, somehow Herringbone managed to raise the Titanic with their wonderful lemon poppy begniets. Kept light by the lemon. Kept awesome by the contrast of hot and cold with the addition of ice cream. But as great as the bookends were, the laggards in the middle cost this place dearly.

2 teeth

Rosa Mexicano

61 Columbus Ave. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 977-7700 • rosamexicano.com

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I’ve been going to Rosa for years. All three locations in the city, and multiple times at that. So I think it’s fair to say that we have some history together. And while there are many things I still love about Rosa, like any long-term relationship, we’ve had our rocky times as well.

The first time we met, I was instantly smitten by her fresh-made guacamole right there table-side. But this was back in the day before Dos Caminos and virtually every other Mexican joint copied them. Since then, however, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to spice things up, literally. Although the innuendo does work nicely. So, if you’re like me and you want more heat in your heat in your guac, you can ask them to double or even triple the chopped jalapeno count in the bowl. And if you’re into oral masochism, again like me, you can even ask that they go in the back and grab some habaneros instead, to give it more kick than a mule with a soccer fetish.

But man cannot live on guac alone, and fortunately Rosa does many other things very well. Some classics like empanadas, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and poblano dishes, and some with a modern twist, like their skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta with caramelized onions and cojita cheese or their incredible bunuelos served with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces that make them even more ridiculously addictive than they already are (a borderline Ultimate Doughnut).

Sounds like a Hollywood romance, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t always that way. A while back at their Upper West-ish/Hell’s Kitchen location, I took my cousin and his fiance who were in town for a visit. And let’s just say Rosa treated us like mierda. First they made us wait at the bar for about 45 minutes for our table, and that’s with having a reservation. Fortunately, they have great drinks, but the bar was so over crowded it felt more like being on the subway at rush hour with a margarita in your hand.

Then, once seated, we naturally ordered the fresh made guac, and everything was going deliciously as always… That is, until the entrees came. When a few of us ordered the paella risotto, and while it was tasty for the first several bites, it was also filled with shards of PLASTIC!!! Yes, several bits of plastic were mixed all throughout the dish. And when we told the waiter, they literally did nothing about it! They didn’t comp a single dish. The manager didn’t even come over apologize. Nothing. And just like that they lost a customer for over almost a decade.

However, forgiveness is divine, as they say, and a few years back I decided to let Rosa back into my life. The one near Union Square. And slowly but surely, she earned my trust back and we have been together happily ever since… end scene.

3 teeth