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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IMARA

Eppendorfer Weg 186 – 20253 HamburgGermany • +49 40 42918080 • restaurant-imara.de
 

I found Imara to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night, because the Aladdin-esque vibe is actually kinda cool and the food, for the most part, is very good. It’s also a great place for large parties, particularly on short notice, primarily because few people know about it, I suppose?

On the flipside, I’m guessing the reason it’s so empty is the service- painfully slow on the drinks, yet painfully fast when it comes to the tapas- like eat or die fast! So, don’t be fooled by the size of the ginormous tables, because they disappear beneath an army of plates faster than you can say dankeshen.

The best things IMNSHO are the spicy shrimp (so good we ordered seconds… and thirds… and fourths… and I’m not exaggerating). Other crowd pleasers were the bacon wrapped dates and plum, the spinach rolls and the lamb rolls with yogurt sauce. I also dug the mini lamb tagines, forgiving the fact they weren’t served covered.

Misses for me were the horribly dry lamb kebabs and the lame bread with tapenade.

Lastly, I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention the bizarre urinal situation. And trust me, it’s not lost on me that this is the second time I’ve brought up urinals in my reviews of Hamburg restaurants alone, but bare with, because it’s worth it. You see, regardless of the fact that there are three urinals, you basically have to go one at a time unless you like touching strangers while you pee, because they are tightly nestled into a corner, so closely together that you’d have to be thinner than Trump’s alibi with Stormy Daniels to not be rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the dude next to you. Now THIS must be the real reason why the place is so empty!

Cafe Mogador

101 St Marks PlNew York, NY 10009 • (212) 677-2226 • cafemogador.com
 

I don’t mean to sound like that obnoxious guy in the movie BIG, but “I don’t get it.” This place is at the top of virtually every food blog’s list in the city and it is mediocre at best. I mean c’mon, there are SOOO many other middle eastern and mediterranean joints that are far superior. And it’s not like the vibe is anything special either, dressed like your typical bistro. So what am I missing? The tagines aren’t even served in tagines and are decent at best. 95% of menu lacks inventiveness, not to mention excellence. I mean sure it’s good, but since when does good make it amongst the best Manhattan has to offer?

  

The only things that impressed me were the spicy carrot app and the baklava. Both are worth getting assuming you still wind up here. Beyond that, the tagines and the falafels, lamb kebab and the kofte were all quite good, which apparently mean “eh” in England. Just learnt this and trying it on for size. Thoughts? Confusing?  Well welcome to the club, because the love of this place has me almost as baffled as I was after dining at Uncle Boons. 

 

 

Rose Hill

34 E 32nd St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 448-1302 • rosehillrestaurant.com

I know this place is still green, so I will try to muster up a modicum of understanding while they get their footing. And boy do they need it. Starting with the layout of the dining room, which is a bit odd to say the least, situated to the side of a hotel lobby through a current. The room itself is long and narrow and I can only assume it was the coat check or storage once upon a time. Making matters worse, the tables are so tightly squeezed together along a booth that runs the entire length of the subway car dining room (pictured), that if you were sitting to the inside, you simply can not get out without displacing every table within a twenty foot radius, so be sure to empty the bladder before getting locked in. Fortunately for us no one was sitting next to us, but if the place had been packed, you’d probably have to go under the table, suffer the sneers of those around you or become very intimate with your new friends at your neighboring table as your genitals rake across the port side of their mesa.

The thing you will be sure to notice is that the staff comes off like a family of beaten children. All of them are so incredibly timid that the plates are shaking in their hands as they walk one overly cautious step at a time to and from your table. In fact, they were shaking so much one of our servers accidentally got some wine in my friend’s water glass while trying to pour in the wine glass! Fortunately she apologized and replaced it immediately, and truth be told I honestly felt worse for her than us because I can assume this only meant more beatings.

The wine itself though, was excellent. The 2015 Hosmer Dry Reisling from the Finger Lakes. Highly recommend.

But back to the beaten staff. Did I mention that even their voices are a bit shaky and they talk so softly you might think you were in a library?

So now the question becomes, is it worth it? Beyond the comedic novelty (and rarity) of seeing servers in New York act like this, as opposed to self-important, rude assholes. Well, it kinda is. I mean both starters were truly incredible. The first being the wonderful seared foie gras with cherry mostrada and black pepper. Simple and flawless. And second, the octopus was almost every bit as good, jazzed up with merguez, fingerling potatoes and smoked tomato. Again, nothing too crazy, yet crazy good.

Which only made the next course that much more disappointing, because the fall was from such a high. But both the lamb sandwich and the chickpea burger were as timid on the tongue as the servers were with everything else. No goat cheese or fire-roasted red pepper and rosemary aioli could save the lamb, tasting more like goat cheese on bread with some indiscernible meat. And the veggie burger was even blander still, the tzatziki and cucumber fading into the white noise of whole wheat and bland bean.

And so now I was really torn. The starters were a five. The entrees were a two. And the service and décor are teetering between a one and a two. Thus, dessert had to be the tie-breaker!

Well, it broke. The chef’s restraint on the appetizers fully escaped him on the deconstructed Key lime pie. It was so tricked-out that it tasted more like an experiment than it did Key lime. Rendering the final blow to Rose Hill and landing it a mere two knives. That said, I am feeling a rare streak of compassion for some reason. Maybe it’s the poor, beaten souls I feel sorry for. Or that the starters were just that damn good. Nonetheless, give them a chance. I think they will get there.

Pondicheri

15 W 27th StNew York, NY 10001 • (646) 878-4375 • PondicheriCafe.com

Yes, it’s yet another fast casual, meat in a bowl format restaurant. Is it just me, or are we slowly devolving into eating like our pets? I mean take away the fork and knife (or chopsticks) and lower the bowl about 30 inches and voila! You’re a dog.

The degradation of humanity aside, Inday is actually pretty cool inside, clearly taking the bowl concept up a notch to posh pet. The food, however, is not so posh. Quite hit and miss actually with the emphasis on the misses.

For example, the raita was a bit yellow. Yes, I’m sure it was raita I ordered and not mayonnaise. No, I’m not 100% certain they didn’t pee in it. Although it did taste weird. Perhaps it was saffron?

Another big miss for me was the lamb dish. The meat was terribly overcooked and completely lacking flavor. Even the rice was bland as sand. And adding insult to injury was the price of the dish. So not worthy. In fact, it was so unworthy even they realized it and subsequently removed it from the menu. Good call.

The things that are worthy are the garlic naan, the chocolate chip and mint cookie and best of all, the chai cake. It’s the stuff of which dreams are made… and chai lattes. Essentially that’s exactly what it is, a chai latte in pie form. Think of a pumpkin pie and a chai latte having sex and there you have it. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but oh-so perfect for wrapping your lips around. Between that and the cookie this place clearly knows its sweets. Now they just need to get the rest of the menu up to snuff and I’d up this place a knife or two in a heartbeat.

Beauty & Essex

3708 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 737-0707 • beautyandessexlv.com

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Okay, so it’s not the real deal and merely a fabricated replica of the one in New York, but it is Vegas, which means pretty much everything is a fabricated replica of something else with the exception of sand. So put aside any delusions of authenticity and you will very likely find yourself as pleased as punch (let’s make that rum punch, after all, it is Vegas).

Located in the chic Cosmopolitan Hotel on the third floor (as opposed to Essex St. in Manhattan), you will find a pawnshop by the same name, which doubles as a speakeasy entrance through a nondescript turquoise door to the left of the counter. Upon entering you will find yourself swept into a time vortex landing you smack dab in the roaring twenties, complete with a brocade decor and twin, blond, 6-foot bombshell- flappers who cavort around the restaurant and bar along with a parade of burlesque hotties.

Surprisingly, this isn’t to distract you form the food, because almost everything was excellent. That said, it might be distracting to the servers, because I found the service to be a bit sloppy.

The excellent menu of which I speak is made up of shareable small plates, along with a decent list of cocktails and wine. And while most everything was good, there were a few dishes I would steer around such as the lobster roll, which was the only bad thing of the night, served on a warm bun, but filled with canned or even fake lobster meat. Not cool.

The other two dishes I would skip are not what I would call bad, but they don’t exactly pass mustard for me either. For example much better yellowtail sashimi in ponzu sauce with chili peppers can be found at Blue Ribbon Sushi in the very same hotel or at Sushi Roku down the strip. And the French Onion Soup Dumplings are nowhere near as good as the ones at Stanton Social in NYC, nor are they comparable to some of the other stars of the night.

But enough of the Debbie Downers and on to the stars, like both tartars- the steak and the tomato tartars are so good I don’t know which one I liked better and obviously very different from one another so it’s kind of hard to even compare them even though they are both “tartars.” They are also served differently, the steak is done more like a tartine and the tomato more like an hors d’oeuvres. Both, however, are worth doubling down on.

The bone marrow is also superb and only bested by one other dish for me, the Spicy Lamb Bolognese. Made with penne and some serious Italian game this pasta just might’ve been the best thing of the night- no, the best thing I had all week in Vegas. Not too shabby for twin, amazon, blond, bombshell, flappers. Can you tell they left an impression?

4 teeth

Cox

Lange Reihe 68 20099 Hamburg, Germany+49 40 249422restaurant-cox.de

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Perhaps it’s my internal Beavis and Butthead poking through (poor choice of words in conjunction with “cox”), but you have to at least smile at the name of the place, knowing that it is located in the Gay District of Hamburg. I can only assume it’s somewhat intentional, but if not, then I think it’s even more worthy of a chuckle. Granted, if I put aside my sophomoric indulgences for a second, deductive reasoning does also point to a second origin for the name, that of a coxswain in rowing, which is probably a pretty popular site along the Elbe River just blocks away. But that definition isn’t anywhere near as funny.

Further debunking my name theory, there really is nothing else about Cox that plays off of the neighborhood or penile innuendos, coming across as a very traditional bistro with a casual vibe, good energy and lots of inventive twists on the menu, tapping into an array of European cuisine influences (although the restaurant self identifies as German cuisine).

The first being the black sausage with curry spices. A mash up of Great Britain or Ireland and Northern Africa. It’s a tasty combination, but not quite amazing either. Whereas the lamb over waffles was very good. Far better than its poultry predecessor if you ask me.

But come dessert back down we went with a mixed berry sabayon that did little for me, even with the vanilla ice cream on top, which helped, but not enough.

What helped more was the killer Cote du Rhone Syrah we had, but since Cox isn’t a vineyard I can only give them so many props on the pick. And thus, two knives is my call.

2 teeth

 

The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 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