Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

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Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

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Perry St.

176 Perry St. New York, NY 10014(212) 352-1900 • perrystrestaurant.com

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Jean, Jean, Jean… Is it possible that after SO many restaurants you are finally starting to spread yourself too thin? Not to take anything away from you, because quite frankly I think you’ve done the impossible. I can’t think of one other chef in the Tri-State who has as many truly great restaurants. So give yourself a pat on the back for Jean-Georges, Mercer Kitchen, ABC Kitchen, ABC Cocina and The Inn at Pound Ridge. But not even Babe Ruth batted a thousand, so I am sad to report that Perry St. might be Jean’s first brush with mortality.

Of course I am only speaking in terms of comparability, because Perry St. is still good by all normal human accounts. But no one ever accused me of being normal, and neither is Jean, so when you play the game at a higher level, the bad news is that you have to keep it up. And since Perry St. was listed on many a “Top Ten” list of 2015, the hype bar was set only that much higher.

The knives started falling early as we entered to one of Jean’s least impressive décor’s yet. Sure, it’s clean and contemporary, but it also feels a lot like a trendy hotel lobby and nowhere near as nice as his last three openings. But that’s not even why I’m docking the knives. It’s more because of the flow, or lack thereof. You see, the hostess, while stunning in appearance, is equally stunning-ly bad in seating parties with reservations in a semi-timely manner. As a result, the sliver of a bar area becomes so over-crowded and noisy that it takes away from any attempt at elegance for the surrounding tables, which is about 50% of the restaurant. Then there are the back corners of the dining room, both left and right, which are so secluded that no one would ever want to sit there, especially the one on the right, across from the bathrooms, which have their own issues as well. Now I’m not exactly sure what the hold up was, but let’s just say there’s a bit of a logjam at the ole WC, causing a line so long they actually have a sofa there in case your knees buckle from the wait.

Once seated at our table, however, things did take a turn for the better, thankfully. Our waiter was attentive and the food was good. Sadly not quite as spectacular as one might be led to believe from all the press and Yelpers, but definitely good.

Of the starters I would say Perry went two-for-two, the winners being the Spanish octopus with Romanesco sauce, pickled peppers and potatoes. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it’s just about as close as it gets. The other winner is the shockingly delicious mushroom dish. In fact, they are so awesome that you owe it to yourselves to get an order in the middle to share.

Equally shocking, unfortunately, is that one of the misses is actually the seared foie gras. Nowhere near as transcendent as it should be for such a guilty pleasure. I mean c’mon, if you’re gonna torture a goose, at least make it worth the ride.

The other miss for me was the snapper sashimi. Not only did I find it to be very basic, the one touch of inventiveness made it feel as if you were chewing on bits of seashell and sand along with the fish.

The entrees rallied strong though with the lemongrass lobster. It’s excellent and worth every pretty penny. As is the duck. The beef tenderloin proved to be the weakest of the three, served with broccoli, broccoli pesto and chimichurri. The steak itself is cooked like a champ. Charred on the outside, moist and pink on the inside. But the flavors of the pesto and chimichurri just didn’t wow, which is especially surprising because the tenderloin is always one of the best dishes at The Inn at Pound Ridge, no matter what the preparation du jour, so I thought I was golden. But apparently I was just bronze.

Dessert also served up a mixed bag, the better of the two being the passion fruit soufflé with passion fruit sorbet. It’s done very well, but doubling down on the same flavor seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Whereas the brown butter carrot cake was just okay. Nothing I would ever sing about. Not that I should ever be singing with my voice.

So, without a single Ultimate and an admittedly clunky experience I have a hard time giving Perry the thumbs up. But there are many strong dishes to be had, so I can’t exactly give it the Julius Caesar either. Which leaves us with…

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Spoon and Stable

211 N 1st St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 224-9850 •  spoonandstable.com

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The food scene in The Mini Apple has officially arrived. Not that there haven’t been gems here and there over years. But now the level of the game has risen so high, at so many restaurants, that I can safely say that Minneapolis can compete with almost any city I’ve ever been to.

Case in point, on a Monday friggin’ night, this place had an hour wait and not an empty seat at the bar. And for good reason. The chef, Gavin Kaysen, is James Beard winner and a former disciple of Daniel Boulud. But not only did he learn a thing or two from Danny Boy, judging from the décor, he picked up a few tricks from Jean-Georges as well, because this place is tres chic. On old horse stable from 1906 turned to gold with white brick walls, wrought iron details, a divided light wine cellar in the center of the dining room, and a long wood bar overlooking the kitchen as a unique twist on a chef’s table, which is where we sat.

Beyond having front row seats to an episode of Iron Chef, the other plus to sitting there is that you not only get recommendations from the waiter, but from the cooks as well. And to quote Quagmire “Giggity, giggity!” were they spot on with their suggestions.

The first reco being a dish we would’ve never thought to order in a million years, yet turned out to be the best of the night, the Autumn Vegetable salad. The centerpiece is an orgasmic disc of squash placed over a bed of spelt berries, pecans and figs that were marinated in red wine vinegar and cloves all pampered in a buttermilk dressing. Need to add this one to Ultimate Salad.

The other recommended starter was pretty damn great too. A bison tartar folded into a harissa aioli and topped with cilantro and radishes. Then served with socca chips as your utensil for piling on the remarkably seasoned meat.

For entrees I had to go with the lamb shank since wifey don’t play that, and while good, it was definitely the most mortal dish of the evening. Fall off the bone moist, and served with yellow eye beans, artichokes and an herb salad that was a bit junipery. The other entrée, however, was a marvel of pasta technological advancement. The Raviolo al Uovo is a single, softball-sized ravioli that contains a sunny side egg inside it! And its magnificence is only magnified by its preparation, with Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, pecorino and brown butter.

Even the side dish was wow-worthy taking an old staple like creamed spinach and making it new again with the addition of a Midwestern guilty pleasure, fried cheese curds.

And finally, the pumpkin custard dessert was an awesome seasonal finish to a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. The custard itself being just okay, but when you had with the apple cider sherbet and the candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds)- look out!

Just eat here already would you! So I don’t have to keep going on and on about it. And I’m not just saying all of this because of the Willet bourbon and Amarone are making me all lovey-dovey. Although it is helping.

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Per Se

10 Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019(212) 823-9335 • perseny.com

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If you should manage to get a reservation, congratulations. Now the bad news. While I found the dining room nicer than The French Laundry, the food isn’t quite up to the same astronomical, nor is the price tag .  And I’m not one to shit on Thomas Keller. I’m actually quite the fan. But when you’re playing at the tippy-top of the game, and the only chef in history to have two restaurants open at the same time with three Michelin Stars apiece, I expect nothing less than a life changing experience, and I’m sad to say it was not. Wallet-changing, maybe. But most definitely not life-changing. Thus, I am still the same old cocky, opinionated, know-it-all, blowhard.

Now, to be fair, one must take this review with a huge grain of- no, make that an entire industrial-sized bag of salt, because Per Se is still very, very good. In terms of service alone, it is on a whole other level. Not since Bouley in the early 90’s have I experienced anything like it. Swat team precision meets Russian ballet meets the “Be Our Guest” routine from Beauty and the Beast. I know you might be thinking, “really, how good can service truthfully be?” Well, just pick up a copy of the book “Service Included” and you will understand that Per Se makes a place like Daniel look like amateur hour service-wise.

As for decor, Keller likes to keep things “undistracting.” He doesn’t want the ambiance to compete with the plate and thus you won’t find anything the likes of a Jean-Georges restaurant. And while I did find it a touch boring, it still out-shines The Laundry simply due to one stunning trump card- floor to ceiling windows overlooking Central Park.

Now for the food. This is where I think many a Richie Rich, is over-convincing themselves that the cuisine here is spectacular simply because of the price. Which I get. Who wouldn’t want to rationalize spending all that coin? You need to justify it somehow, otherwise you’re libel to throw a conniption when you get the bill and wind up on the front page of The New York Post. But rationale aside, at this price and with this much hype, it should easily be one of the best meals of your life, and I can honestly say it doesn’t even crack my own personal top 100, in New York City alone!

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The Ultimate Guacamole

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When it comes to great guac, I have to admit I’m a bit of a priss. Okay, so I’m prissy in general as a rule, but only as it pertains to good food. As for the complexity or simplicity, I whole-heartedly appreciate both. But when it comes to guac, I have to say I kinda prefer the fuss. No simple old mashed up avocado will do for this cat, oh no, no, no. You gotta earn my lovin’ with a little magic in your mush. Below are three of my favorite magicians.

The Ninth Door – Denver, CO

This is the most inventive guac of the three, and more inventive than any I’ve ever seen before or since. It starts with an avocado cut in half, then they flash fry it with a little panko and fill the divot where the pit use to be with pico de gallo. The end result is so unforgettable you’ll hear Natalie Cole singing in your ears while your mouth and your eyes are still busy recovering from the rapture.

ABC Cocina – NY

Jean Georges always seems to find a way to take the basics and turn them into brilliance. From caprese salad to foie gras terrine to guac he really knows how to make you feel like you’re tasting something again for the first time. The dial here is a simple one, however, simply adding sunflower seeds to the green stuff and serving it up along side a wonderful grapefruit salsa and oversized, fresh-baked chips.

Rosa Mexicano – New York, NY

For the purists, I offer up the remarkably fresh, table-side prepared guac at Rosa. I’ve been to hordes of other places that try to do the same, but somehow it always pales by comparison. I’m not sure how or why, but whatever they’re doing, they manage to pull it off at every location too. Also, one of the things I love most about it is that they customize the heat. You like spicy, they throw in more jalapenos. You like crazy spicy, just ask for habaneros. That’s what I do and it’s guac-a-holy-mole!

The Ultimate Foie Gras (Terrine)

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As much as I love foie gras in the seared form, that affection is significantly tempered when it comes to terrine. Not that there’s anything wrong with terrine per se, but when you have the seared to compare it with, it’s hard to get excited knowing you are only getting the runner up fruits of a goose’s torturous labor. That said, there are a few exceptions to the rule, because the Ultimates below taste like anything but settling…

The Inn at Pound Ridge – Pound Ridge, NY

As if foie gras wasn’t already enough of a treat as is, Jean-Georges took it upon himself to cross-breed it with crème brulée and thus I give you foie gras brulée. A terrine baked into a crust with a caramelized, candied top. It’s so damn good you’ll never want just plain ole terrine again. The only problem with it I can foresee some people having is deciding whether or not it’s more of a dessert than an appetizer- rich people problems are the worst.

The Bazaar – Los Angeles, CA & Miami, FL

It’s going to take you a minute or two to wrap your head around the presentation of this one, but after one bite of the foie gras cotton candy, you’ll take significantly less time wrapping your head around the fact that you want to place another order of it, stat! To elaborate, they take a tiny brick of terrine and hide it at the core of the cotton candy ball on a stick. The result is a fun, melt-in-your-mouth experience, as the cotton dissolves instantly, enveloping the savory pate in sweetness.

The French Laundry – Yountville, CA

This is the most traditional of The Ultimates, served as a straight up terrine from a local farm that exclusively deals with Thomas Keller, which means the geese are probably fed foie gras before they themselves are turned into it. But it’s actually not the terrine that’s the star here. And while the brioche toast they serve it with is divine, it’s not that either. Interestingly enough, it’s the salt. But not just any salt. A medley of salts sourced from all over the world, including one that dates back over 40 million years! Granted that could easily be a crock of shit that they spin to justify the obscene price tag, but Morton’s or not, I felt quite special scarfing down my foie gras with prehistoric seasoning.

The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

ABC Cocina

38 E 19th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 677-2233 abccocinanyc.com

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If you’ve ever been to ABC Kitchen then you’ve seen how great Jean-Georges is with décor. And I’m guessing he found it so nice he used it twice, Cocina is a dead ringer.

And speaking of the dead, the irony of Cocina is that it’s sitting atop the gravesite of another great tapas restaurant, Pipa. Not sure why it didn’t last, but my remorse dissipated after one bite of their guac with grapefruit salsa. Such a simple, brilliant twist to refresh a classic.

Another great spin on a tried and true was the beet salad with “smoky” goat. It gave layers of depth to the dish that made it seem as if I was trying it again for the first time.

But the dish that stole my corazón was the huevos rancheros. Easily the best I’ve ever had. Served in a skillet, sitting on a crisp tortilla bed. Nothing too inventive about it truthfully, so I’m guessing it was just a matter of quality ingredients and proportions.

The ham and cheese fritters are also worthy of your attention, described as “ooey-gooey,” as in “Oooo-weee are those friggin’ good!”

And while I didn’t actually try it, the fish sandwich got tons of praise form the other side of the table. That said, upon my return for dinner, I did try the the crispy fish tacos and holy contrasts Batman! The use of pickled cabbage is a beacon of brightness that balances out the fried fish, keeping it from feeling heavy. Just genius. And the habanero sauce they dress it with was so on point I didn’t need to add a drop extra, which is rare for me. Definitely adding this one to my Ultimates.

But Cocina is not perfecto. The much raved about short rib taco fell way short of the fishy glory that preceded it. And speaking of fish, the fluke ceviche was chewy and bland. Probably the worst dish we ordered and worst ceviche I’ve ever had. As for the octopus, it made my taste buds scoff, especially after having just had some killer pus at Mermaid Inn a few nights before. So the comparison did not bode well for Cocina.

Service was also a touch spotty during lunch. Not knowing when to clear dishes. Hostess tried to seat us inches from the front door with nothing between us and the frigid cold outside but a velvet curtain, even though we had a reservation. But for dinner we sat at the bar and our server/bartender couldn’t have been better. Partly due to his wonderful recommendation of that fish taco and also due to his suggestion of the blood orange margarita– deadly!

In the middle of the road, I would put the Red Hibiscus sangria, which was certainly good, packed with refreshing fruit, but unfortunately not quite as packed with awesome as the margarita.

And all four desserts also fell somewhere in the mids… The tres leche was solid, but I’ve most certainly had better. The flan was also pretty good, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about flan. I’m not the biggest fan. The vanilla fritters with Mexican chocolate was done well, but the flavors just didn’t wow. The best of the quatro being the rice pudding. It’s nothing incredible, but if you like rice pudding (which I do), it is done very well.

And well done is the main takeaway at Cocina. The hits definitely outweigh the misses enough that I feel obliged to round up to four knives.

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ABC Kitchen

35 E 18th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 475-5829 • abckitchennyc.com

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After such incredible hype I’m afraid my expectations were virtually impossible to meet- damn you hype!!! That said, I did find the restaurant to be very good, just not worth all of the pomp and circumstance to get a rezzy.

For example, we went during Snowmageddon figuring there would naturally be cancellations and we could slip in.They did slip us in, but the “only” time they had available was 5:30pm. Let’s just say that less than 50% of the tables were filled during the entire duration of our meal which ended around 7:45/8:00. Hardly “booked.” And it’s this fake, manufactured- self induced-hard-to-get-into bullshit that I hate about places like this in NYC.

But beyond that, the decor is really quite something. Jean-Georges really does know how to jazz up a place. Casual and cozy, yet modern and hip. You feel like you are in a country barn that was renovated by a contemporary architect. The lighting alone is worth the visit.

As for the food, I did extensive yelping before going and I have to say that my fellow elites let me down a bit. We had the roasted carrot and avocado salad, the crab toast, the pizza special, the fried chicken and the sundae- all of which came highly recommended by multiple yelpers of the elitie variety. Of the dishes, the toast and the salad were good, the pizza was just okay and the sundae was a complete waste of calories and money. That said, there was one stand out- the chicken. Yes, chicken. I know it’s practically a cardinal sin to order chicken when you are out, but I am damn glad I did, because it was stellar. Far and away the best thing we had. Best fried chicken I EVER had. Almost done like fish and chips. But unfortunately, it was the ONLY thing that lived up to the hype.

Fortunately (for them), I went back for lunch and I have to say, what a difference a mealtime makes. They are SO much better at lunch time. I would seriously consider upping them to 4 stars, but if you can only do one meal time well, are you really a four star restaurant?

That said, everything we had, from the spinach salad to the pizza to the portobello sandwiches yielded not a single miss. Maybe they just get too tired of being awesome come dinner time and they start slacking?

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