Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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The Breslin

Ace Hotel • 20 W 29th St. New York, NY10001(212) 679-1939thebreslin.com

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Because it’s located in the Ace Hotel I have to give it instant points for cool, but the decor of the restaurant itself is truly nothing extraordinary, falling somewhere between an old world pub and a Bennigan’s. Yet somehow it also feels just right for what the place offers, nose-to-tail done gastro pub style (not to be confused with Gangnam Style).  So to that end, I ordered myself a pint of Guinness and the highly acclaimed lamb burger with thrice cooked potatoes (pictured).

Well, apparently someone forgot to serve me the cool aid with it, because while I definitely found the burger to be good, it most certainly wasn’t great. And the fact that I ate it at 12:30am without having ever had dinner (except for the liquid kind), you’d think I would’ve been an extremely easy target. After all, everything tastes incredible when you’re starving and drunk. But to honest, I’ve made better lamb burgers at home, and I’m far from a chef the likes of April Bloomfield. In fact, if I were ever on Chopped, I’m pretty sure I would curl up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. But giving props where props be due, the fries were actually pretty wonderful.

I’ve also been back a few times since, for work functions and what not, but I can’t say anything else on the menu wowed me either, especially when I compare it to places like Animal, which is my favorite nose to tail in existence. Or Minetta Tavern which is truly a gastro pub for the books. But if you’re staying in the hotel and it’s raining or freezing outside, you could do a lot, lot worse for hotel food.

3 teeth

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth

5Church

127 N Tryon St. Ste 8 Charlotte, NC 28202(704) 919-13225church.com

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From the moment you walk in the door you feel like you might be in NYC as opposed to NC. The décor and energy are both great. Modern industrial with very unique lighting fixtures, a bit of a brocade vibe and the entire novel “The Art of War” is written in chalk on the ceiling- presumably not to be outdone by Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.

Service was good. And the food impressive, depending on what you got. So choose wisely. Here’s a list to help you do just that…

First, the starters. Skip the jerk chicken lettuce wraps. They do not live up to the heat of their Jamaican roots. The wedge salad is a solid good. But the perogies were my favorite. Nothing was sensational, however, just yet.

But the lamb burger, now that’s a different story. So well seasoned with a complex blend of herbs and spices. The cheese. The bun. It was excellent. The fries were also pretty great, but less fry-like and more like a 2×4 of potato. And the sauce they give you to dip them in is a beautiful aioli of flavors. I put it on my burger too.

As for dessert, completely skip the Peanut Butter cake. Not worth it. And the Banana Pudding is just okay. But the S’More- ohh the s’more.  It’s campfire heaven in a glass.

So, 5 Church gets 3 knives. A touch hit and miss, with a slight edge going to the hits.

3 teeth