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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The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

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Morandi

211 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10014 • (212) 627-7575  •  morandiny.com

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If star sightings are your thang or you simply melt over the thought of witnessing barrages of obnoxious air kisses over the shoulders of the maitre’d, you have come to the right place. It’s basically Pastis (RIP), resurrected and turned Italian.

Starting off on the wrong foot, they had us wait for 40 minutes even though we had a reservation, assumingly because they gave our table away to Cameron Diaz who just waltzed in and batted her alien eyes and viola! Miraculously a table just happened to be open in the midst of the dinner rush for the same size table as ours.

Once seated, at the a crap table thrown together with one copper two top and a wooden four top, crammed between the wait station and the hostess stand, they finally got around to serving us up a bottle of tepid rosé (it got better after chilling in the moat).

For appetizers, I actually can’t complain, although trust me, I want too so badly I can taste it. But I’ll be the bigger man and give Morandi the only props they earned that evening. The meatballs are a must. Moist and full of flavor. I’m guessing a ménage of meat (veal, pork & beef). I also enjoyed the buratta, but that’s not saying much, since it’s pretty rare that I don’t. The grilled artichokes were also nice. Simple, but nice. The octopus with celery was just okay, however. So much better pus to be had in the city. And the loser of the lot was the prosciutto and melon. The melon was under ripe and the prosciutto is nothing you can’t buy at any specialty market in the city.

Then the wait came. A full hour between the time they cleared our appetizers until they arrived with our entrees. And this is after making us wait 40 minutes to even be seated at a shitty table. I swear if I wasn’t with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while I would’ve walked out and told the place to take the bill and shove it up their affogato!

But I will exact my revenge toot sweet, because the pastas blew. The carbonara was a tried, overcooked bowl of mush and the hard rolled spaghetti with lemon was only a minute notch above that, clawing its way toward bland.

Suffice it to say we didn’t stay for dessert, otherwise I might’ve had to stab Cameron in the throat with a fork to ensure we got it before sunrise. You can also probably deduce at this point that this review is going south of the mid-line.

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Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse

35 Church St. Greenwich, CT 06830 • (203) 622-4223gabrielesofgreenwich.com

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I’m not exactly sure how I managed to have two children born at Greenwich Hospital and never hear of Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse, just two short blocks away. Had I known, I could’ve easily run down the street and picked up some serious to-go food while we sat and waited in the delivery room for things to get exciting.

Well, woulda-coulda-shoulda’s aside, Gabriele’s is definitely worth running to… and from. Even during if possible. In fact, try to get in as much exercise as you can, because once the feast begins, you can easily down a shopping cart worth of chow. And so I did.

For starters I recommend kicking off the gluttony with the prosciutto and charred pears with truffle honey. It was perfection and such a nice variation from the usual melon accompaniment. The other starter I would strongly urge you to get would be the black truffle crusted scallops floating on a bed of bacon, parsnip puree. Boom!

In the middle of solid goodness I’d put the short rib stuffed arancini (which are massive by the way, almost the size of racket balls), they are a little on the mushy side due, in part, to the truffle cream and the short rib inside is a touch dry, but at the end of the day it’s still risotto and short rib, so what are we talking about? The meatballs and the raw oysters will also handily please your yum box.

On the other side of the table there was also lobster and crab, but those evaporated before I could even lift a fork, so I’ll go on trust and make the assumption that those are also good. As is the sausage stuffed bread that comes even before ordering, because why have bread without meat if you don’t have to?

The one to avoid is the buratta. Very un-buratta like. Not creamy at all. More like a normal, everyday, run of the mill mozz.

I’m actually not the hugest fan of the word ginormous, mainly because it’s one of those trendy, made up, combo words like amazeballs or frenemy. But for me to accurately describe the bone-in rib eye at Gabriele’s, I think I’m going to have to suck it up, because ginormous is the only accurate descriptor I can think of. Like something out of the Flintstones, the bone extends way beyond the beef, clearing a good 18 to 24 inches, hanging off the plate. We’re talking a full grown cow’s rib. I’ve never seen a presentation like it and it’s damn impressive. Fortunately so is the meat, cooked spot on medium rare, the only way to fly, with good char and a nice and simple seasoning of salt and pepper.

The only other entrée I tried was the linguini with clams and it was down there with the buratta. Very flavorless and in dire need of crushed red pepper to give it the something it so desperately needed.

For sides, we chose quite well, between the superb charred broccoli, the wonderfully creamy mascarpone mashed potatoes and the truffle button mushrooms (they obviously have a thing for truffles here, which I fully support).

Last but not least, skip the whole breakfast for dinner movement- Gabriele’s goes one better and offers up a killer breakfast for dessert in the from of a Nutella stuffed French Toast. So god-damned gooey great you either gotta plan ahead for this one, or plan on loosening the belt to make room.

Service was excellent with the recommends (the rib eye, the French toast and a killer Amarone) and all things servicey, but it was Trivia Tony, the maitre’d, who stole the show with his custom catered questions about everything from sports to pop culture.

Décor is a miss for me on the whole with a very large, very underwhelming dining room, jam-packed with about twenty too many tables, not to mention decibels. That said, there is solace to be had, if you should be so lucky as to be offered the option, go for the “wine cellar.” It’s not a cellar by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a wine room. Set apart from the main dining room, it is quieter and much more intimate, with a décor all its own. The walls, as one would expect from the name, are entirely made of in-use wine racks, the tables are massive slabs of polished alabaster and the vibe is old world cozy. The fact that we had this room was a major player in the knife count I’m about to drop, which is much higher than I ever expected walking in.

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