Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Jardin

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, NV 89109(702) 770-3463 • http://wynnlasvegas.com/Dining/CasualDining/Jardin

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Don’t listen to the concierge if they should point you in this direction. And don’t let the French name fool you either because this place serves up more crap in Vegas than the dice tables. Starting with the “jardin,” which overlooks le swimming pool with a meek smattering of bushes between you and the rowdy, corpulent, inebriated sunbathers.

The service is god-awful as well, royally screwing up the recommendations, almost as bad as the concierge who recommended this restaurant in the first place. But shit recos aside, our server was also painfully slow. How slow? The place was maybe 20% full and we didn’t order a single cooked appetizer yet after two hours we had to bail on dessert because we ran out of time.

Of the abysmal recos, let’s start with the cocktails. The first was a painfully tart attempt at a vodka and citrus based thing that made me wince harder than those Bitter Beer Face commercials from 15+ years ago (damn I’m old). And the second drink was the polar opposite, sickeningly sweet blueberry sangria. I’m not entirely sure which was worse, but somebody needs to slap the mixologist who concocted these abominations and wake them up to the values of nuance.

The only positive thing I can say about the meal was that the Beau Soleil oysters were quite fresh and very good, served with a tasty mignonette.

But chasing the oysters was a kale salad drowning in dressing followed by a short rib entrée that was dryer than the surrounding dessert, accompanied by corn two ways, which managed to suck both ways.

I’d rather lose $200 at the tables than eat here again.

1 tooth

Positivo

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/positivo-sand-bar

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I am positively in love with Positivo. A jack of all trades and a bit of a chameleon, changing from more American fare by day, to Pan-Asian by night and somehow sticking the landing on both. Not that it’s without its misses, but I don’t want to get all negativo, because for resort food, even the misses are pretty impressive.

The setting is relatively standard for a resort of this caliber, situated completely outside with several tables right on the sand. Granted they are the furthest from your servers so should you opt for the better view, just know that attention will suffer a touch.

Of the droves of tasty looking lunch options we split an enormous kale salad that I can’t even imagine eating solo without blowing out your colon from ruffage overload. I liked it very much as it was loaded with goodies to keep it interesting, including corn nuts of all things.

We also had the chips and guacamole, which is the biggest miss of our stay, made surprisingly bland considering the locale. And while there were admirable attempts to make it interesting, they didn’t come through in execution. Nor did the Obsession cocktail, about which I was not very obsessed. It basically tastes like alcoholic coconut water with a spicy rim.

On the flip side, the brisket sandwich with chipotle aioli on ciabatta was pretty awesome. A touch too fatty to be fabby, but the flavors were dynamite!

For dinner the crispy snapper is a must, prepared almost like crispy orange beef, but with fish, obviously. So good. The ceviches are also decent, made very fresh as a ceviche should be, but the octopus was the more flavorful of the two because the halibut needed more lime to give it that all-important acidity.

But stop the presses come dessert, because we have an Ultimato. The grilled mochi is a stroke of brilliance. Caramelized on the top, it almost comes off as a roasted marshmallow wrapped around creamy red bean ice cream. It’s so good it almost makes up for all of the insanity caused by the Puerto Rican Parade in New York City. Almost.

3 teeth

The Writing Room

1703 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10128(212) 335-0075 • thewritingroomnyc.com

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If you happen to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, let me apologize in advance, but what the fuck is wrong with you guys?! You’re bringing the rest of the city down. I mean hell, Brooklyn is killing you! The Lower East Side too! Even your Upper West Sibling across the park has their act together (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say it. From the 70’s on up, you are the shopping mall food court of New York City cuisine.

Let’s take The Writing Room as a recent an example. From the décor, it’s seemingly not so bad, right? Especially that warm and cozy back room with the fireplace and the old school typewriters (pictured). Makes you feel all Hemingway inside. But the whole right hemisphere of the restaurant is a boisterous, yuppie cesspool, filled with the right-out-of-college crowd, making you cringe at every “OMG!” and “DUDE!” that wafts over your table.

And then there’s the food. Starting with an attempt at parker house rolls that didn’t even best some of the school cafeterias I’ve eaten in, fear was on the march, goose-stepping across my tongue with a reign of tyranny in the form of a blasé cod brandade. I’m shocked that the waiter even recommended it, because the dish is so lacking that I honestly found the air I was breathing had more flavor in it.

Equally unimpressive was the kale salad, with roasted sweet potatoes and granny smith apples served with a cream-based bleu dressing that not only defeated the purpose of a kale salad, but was so bland that it also defeated the purpose of being a cream-based dressing!

The charcuterie board might’ve been only slightly better than the previous zeros, but it was the smoked chicken over a barley risotto with spinach and bacon that finally registered a pulse on the taste-o-meter. Sadly, however, it was too little to late, because by that point, we had already written off The Writing Room, a story that ideally should’ve never been published.

1 tooth

NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

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No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

3 teeth

Cask & Larder

565 W Fairbanks Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789(321) 280-4200caskandlarder.com

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Having been to the Ravenous Pig, Cask’s sister, I sort of knew what to expect and those expectations were pretty high. Then, after some fellow foodies hyped it up even more, those expectations ballooned higher than Cheech & Chong smoking Whitney Houston’s ashes. Too soon?

The point being that Cask had a LOT to live up to, and live they did. Thrived actually. From the moment we entered I loved the gastro pub vibe with a chef’s table set amidst the beer kettles.

I also want to give a big shout out to service. Everyone was great. Not just our waiter who was actually training, but to his trainer, and to the chefs in the kitchen, who invited my son back for a tour, just because he was curiously looking in through the kitchen window. Sentimental gestures aside, after all, as a Ferocious Foodie I am immune to such ploys, the food really was great. Not all of it. But enough to plant a wow firmly on face.

The biggest wow coming from the duck ham. What? Yes. It’s duck prepared like an old school dinner ham. Served over a bed of harvest grains. And speaking of beds, I loved it so much I wanted to crawl in bed with it and make sweet, sweet love to- Getting weird? Well, it’s glazed in ecstasy I tell you! And it’s an Ultimate.

The kale salad was another superb bowl of blessedness. Garden fresh and loaded with goodies like Florida peaches, avocado and walnuts. Nowhere near as original as the duck ham, but sometimes it’s the simple things.

A hair below these two dishes I would put the grilled octopus and the strawberry angel food cake for dessert. Both are very good and very worth ordering as well.

After that would be the bread pudding for me. It’s a touch on the dryer side of things, which is not how I like to roll, but the layering of chocolate and caramel flavors makes up for a lot.

Down from there is the flounder. A bit of a snore to be honest. Almost as if it came from a different restaurant.

And worst of all were the roasted oysters. Shoulda gone with the deviled eggs. Saw a tray go by right after we ordered and the pangs of buyer’s remorse swelled inside me like tidal wave of sub-par oysters. But ohhh that duck ham… If beating a dead horse is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

4 teeth

Highball & Harvest

4012 Central Florida Pkwy. Orlando, FL32837 • (407) 393-4422highballandharvest.com

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The JW Marriott and the Ritz Carlton are both so massive on their own that when you connect them it creates a structural morass the likes of an MC Escher drawing. And while you might wish you had Google maps to find your way through the Shining-like halls of this behemoth, there’s gold in them, thar hills! The treasure I speak of is Highball & Harvest a contemporary Southern restaurant located somewhere in the belly of the Ritz.

The décor is a little all over the place, but ultimately passes as nice and the service is suspiciously friendly, perhaps I think that because I’m from New York City where most people that jolly are heavily medicated.

But our waiter’s chipper demeanor aside, he was also spot on with the recommendations, the first of which being the Parker House rolls . They are so good I actually recommend NOT ordering them, because the temptation to fill up on bread will be immense. Which means you’ll need to dig deep, mustering up some serious willpower so that you can enjoy the things to come. Things like the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes and remoulade. An ultimate worthy dish to the second power, proving tops in both the crab cake category as well as the fried green tomato.

Another dish I highly recommend is the blackened grouper. Cooked perfectly and placed over a bed of hominy ragu, adouille sausage and pickled okra.

On the mortal end of the spectrum I would place the kale salad the sticky toffee pudding and the donuts. None of them were bad or even mediocre, but they just didn’t wow like their predecessors.

I do, however, feel the need to expound upon the donuts as I applaud the presentation. Dusted cinnamon sugar donut bites served warm in a paper bag next to a tube of Nutella which you use to inject the donuts full of chocolaty wonder. It’s definitely good, but just shy of great.

But I don’t want to end things on a blah note, because I really did love this place. So, I have saved one of my favorite things for last, the cocktail. Called the Doc Holiday it comes in a copper mug filled to the brim with Tito’s vodka (not something I believe was around during Doc’s existence, but I’ll let it slide), ginger beer, grapefruit and blueberry jam. Plus hand-cut ice. Now I’m not exactly sure how hand-cut ice actually influences the flavor of the drink, but they seem to be very proud of it at H&H. And while I kid the things I love, I can’t say enough about this drink. In fact, it’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. As is Highball & Harvest in its entirely. Run. Don’t walk. Assuming you can actually find it.

4 teeth

Quality Italian

57 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 390-1111 •  qualityitalian.com

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The name of this restaurant, and its sibling Quality Meats, might be the least alluring names in the restaurant industry other than maybe Fatburger. It reeks of defensiveness. “Ohhh, so you have to say that you’re high ‘quality,’ which obviously means you’re not.

Well, doubters be silenced, because the name is not defensive. It’s accurate. And it’s also quite nice. Again, nothing you would ever glean from a name that evokes images of neon yellow starbursts, but the décor really is well done. Cool and industrial with its exposed cement ceiling (which does make it a bit noisy) and iron beams, mixed with beautiful lighting fixtures, glass walls of wine and rich mahogany.

And speaking of wine, they have a terrific sommelier who buys exceptional wines in such large quantities that they can offer them at incredible prices. For example, we enjoyed a 2009 Brunello at two-thirds the price of what it should’ve been.

Our server, a poor man’s Galifanakis, was also very good, sporting a touch of that New York bite, while still managing to be very attentive and good with the suggestions.

Delving into the menu, which almost reads like part steakhouse, part Italian, I went with the most hyped up dishes I could, while stealing bites off of other plates at my table.

Of those hyped dishes the one I was the most skeptical about was the sausage and pepper toast. It didn’t even sound all that great on paper, like going to see a movie with a boring trailer. Always scary. Scary delicious that is. Sort of a take on a Chicago style hotdog or bratwurst, loaded with onions and hot peppers. Hard to go wrong there.

Unfortunately it was easier to go wrong elsewhere. Two of the other three starters at the table were sub par. The breaded oysters were disappointingly bland for something so loaded up with caloric goodies.

And the shrimp crudo was also a bit of a snore. Granted it tried to be something more, with the use of an herb infused marinade, but it just didn’t impress. On the plus side, the kale salad did.

The next hyped dish to arrive was the dry aged porterhouse agnolotti, and while it is most certainly good, it was the weakest of the three hyped dishes. Cooked al dente and loaded with wonderful flavors from the meat, it was undercut but dryness. And when I compare it to the likes of Manzo’s meat filled agnolotti, it is merely an apprentice in the presence of a master.

As for the non-hyped dishes, the bucatini with clams is very good and I highly recommend. Also served perfectly al dente, but done in a nice red sauce with some kick. The other was a filet cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice char on it, sidled next to a crispy bone marrow presentation that definitely made every bite of the meat sing.

But ohhh the sides. To even call them “sides” is actually a slight, because they are anything but supporting roles, they are Ultimates. And nobody puts baby in a corner, so move them away from the edges of the table- both the corn créme brulée and the Tuscan fries belong center stage. The corn, just as the name implies, is the love child between cream of corn and créme brulée, playing it faithful right down to the hard caramel top. So good you’ll want to shoot it into your veins. And as for the fries, they’re thick cut, with a nice dusting of herbs, salt and pepper. Crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy everywhere else.

Ending strong, our waiter braved the potential comparison to Marc Forgione recommending the s’mores dessert, and while Marc’s still reigns supreme, Quality Italian does a quality job. Served two ways, first as a chocolate tart with graham cracker crust and marshmallow topping, and second as an ice cream. Both are good, but I recommend eating them as separates, not together.

Not without its misses. Not without its hits. But the hits won the day, even in the face of surmounting hype, which brings us to the finally tally of…

4 teeth

 

Yardbird

1600 Lenox Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 538-5220 runchickenrun.com

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This place makes me happy. Just one toe through the front door and I knew we were dancing. Great contemporary, rustic Southern décor. Awesome music, like Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight,” pumping out of the speakers. And when it came to service, textbook Southern hospitality.

Every slurp, sip, gulp and bite was a crowd-pleaser and judging from the menu, there’s more where that came from. Fortunately I live over 1000 miles away or I’d be getting my arteries bilged about every other week.

Served in mason jars, the cocktails are as potent and flavorful as they are irresistibly charming. I recommend both the Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade, if you want something more refreshing, or the Bloody Mary, if want something spicy… and packed with goodies (like okra, a pickled green bean, a cornichon stuffed olive and a crispy strip of bacon, because how could you not?).

As a starter we shared the fried green tomato BLT with pork belly (pictured), tomato jam and a homemade pimento cheese. It’s got a little something for everyone. The refreshing acidity of the tomatoes. The savory decadence of the pork. The spice of the jam and cheese. I highly recommend next to the kale salad.

The kale salad being my wife’s idea to be fair. It’s made with cheddar, apple, golden raisins, red onion and cornbread croutons. Definitely one to add to the Ultimate Salad list, I mean c’mon- corn bread croutons!

And I had the eggs benny. Two poached eggs served in a skillet, casserole style, along with a buttermilk biscuit crumble, cured bacon, and cheese grits I believe – just awesome!

Thankfully we were too full to take the waiter up on his suggestion for a maple glazed bacon donut, otherwise I think we’d still be trying to crawl out from under the table.

I’ll tell you what though, next time I’m in Miami, this place is at the top of my list. And that donut is going down… into my belly (to be read in a thick Scottish, Fat Bastard accent).

5 teeth

il Buco

47 Bond St. New York, NY 10012(212) 533-1932 • ilbuco.com

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I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the problem, and all of these 4 star restaurants on Yelp really are great and my taste buds are just old and crotchety. That, or maybe the value of the star has fallen drastically against the knife in the foreign currency exchange? Well, I might’ve felt this way had it not been for the fact that the three other people who dined with me were equally underwhelmed.

Dare I say it, but I honestly think NYC Italian restaurants are more often than not, not all that. I know that’s a confusing double negative, so to clarify, they suck more than they sing. I’ve had better Italian in Westchester for Christ’s sake! Seriously. I challenge anyone to eat at Il Buco and then at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry or Fortina in Armonk and tell me Buco is better.

L.A. also has SEVERAL Italian restaurants that blow this away. C’mon New York! WTF?!? Get your Italian shit together.

As for our meal, we started with the croquettes, which proved to be nothing I would ever recommend ordering. Not cringe-worthy however, unless you consider how much money they cost, without returning to you an ounce of joy on your investment.

The kale salad came next and was painfully overrated. It’s like no one has ever had a kale salad before on the Il Buco review thread. Please people… go to The Fat Radish on the Lower East Side or to Yardbird in Miami. Both of their kale salads puts this one to shame.

The octopus was the only thing I would actually say was great. But if you truly want your eight-legged world rocked, try Pera near Grand Central, Gato in Noho or Pearl & Ash on Bowery.

As for entrees, the penne was overpowered by the cheese, so much so that you couldn’t even taste the other ingredients in the dish, such as Brussels sprouts, which aren’t exactly an easy flavor to drown.

The rabbit pappardelle was good. But a mere shadow compared to the glowing praise it receives on the Interwebs. And the homemade sorbets for dessert were so flavorless, we couldn’t even decipher what flavors they were, basically all tasting like balls of ice.

Fortunately the service was good. And the decor is quaint. But sadly, you can’t eat either of those. Unless you’re a cannibal, I suppose. Which might bode well for you, because the servers probably have more flavor than most of the dishes.

2 teeth