The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

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…

3 teeth

Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

Bedford 234

635 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506 • (914) 234-5656 • bedford234.com

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Brimming with potential, Bedford 234 still has quite a few kinks to work out, mostly in the service department. Well, to be fair, it’s more of an issue with the kitchen than the servers, because the waiters were keeping up. It was the kitchen that failed them. Not in terms of food, however. It was a matter of speed, or lack thereof. They simply can’t handle their own success, having to hold off on seating tables because the kitchen is so behind. A nice problem to have if you’re the restaurateur, but as a customer, not so much. That said, a word of advice to the restaurateur, to help solve this problem moving forward, perhaps you should consider taking reservations? That way you can manage the kitchen’s workload accordingly. Shocking concept, right?

Hopefully they figure it out soon, because everything suffers because of it. Patrons get annoyed, packed in like sardines trying to get a drink at the teeny-tiny bar as they wait for a table. Diners get annoyed by the noise level spilling over from the bar into the dining room. Bread baskets get forgotten and entrees get overcooked.

So now that I’ve told you what’s wrong with 234, here’s what’s right. For starters, the décor is very cool. Rustic cool, with an artistic vibe about it. Lots of energy too. Feels like something you’d expect to see in the city. And the outdoor seating is equally impressive with its brick arches and strung lights. A good place to sit with a drink if you need to wait for your table, which you will if it’s a Friday or Saturday night between 7:00-8:30pm.

In terms of drinks, the rosemary and cucumber margarita with Sriracha salt is very potent, which helps you forget about the wait. But sadly, all of those interesting ingredients don’t really come through and it ends up tasting like a normal, everyday margarita, which isn’t the worst thing I suppose.

For our appetizers, we shared the lobster knuckle escargot (pictured) and the warm mushroom crostini and both were very good. The former is pretty much what it sounds like, roughly half a dozen yummy chunks of lobster served in an escargot dish, each chunk nestled in a cup of buttery, garlicky paradise. The latter is comprised of warm, marinated hen of the woods and enoki mushrooms, along with melted leeks, all smothered in red beard cheese and placed over their house made bread, which is pretty tasty just with the olive oil, so you can imagine how fungalicious it is with this stuff stacked to the gills.

For entrees, the quinoa and rice bowl is surprisingly good, loaded with grilled veggies, avocado, kale, red spinach and spicy lemongrass yogurt all tossed in a citrus, chipotle vinaigrette. The dish is primary made by the freshness of its ingredients, but that little touch of heat is truly what keeps it interesting. Also, I recommend adding king salmon to it for a few bucks more. It really completes the dish. Unfortunately it was a touch overcooked though, but even so, I still found myself enjoying it.

Wifey, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well with the chimichurri grass fed bavette steak, which was delivered three temps over the request of medium rare! I mean, c’mon! I get the occasional medium fuck up, because the kitchen is busy, yada yada yada. But to try and send out a well done cut of meat and pass it off as an attempt at medium rare is borderline unforgivable. Shit, you could probably strap a flamethrower to a jackhammer and set it off in a room next to a piece of meat and get it closer to medium rare. So naturally she sent it back, leaving me to eat alone (Don’t worry, I’m okay). Then, some 15 minutes later, they rushed a second steak to the table, but because they didn’t give it time to rest, the thing bled out all over the plate, ruining the fries served with it.

We asked to speak to a manager about this, but apparently there wasn’t one that night (shocker). That said, the hostess did the right thing and comped wifey’s glass of wine. Not to mention dessert. Now normally you’d think they should’ve comped the steak in this situation, but once I tell you about dessert I think you’ll agree it was a win.

This winning dessert is the best damn coconut cake I’ve ever had. Served as a behemoth under glass, this towering mountain of Ultimateness was so irresistible we managed to put away a good three quarters of the slice. Now I realize that doesn’t sound all that impressive, but keep in mind that the slice started out the size of an adolescent Jack Russell Terrier. Also, waste not, want not was in full effect come the next day, when that final quarter made for a rather tasty stroll down memory lane, post lunch.

My advice, go there on less crowded days or at less crowded times and I would imagine you will be thoroughly pleased as punch.

3 teeth