El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.

Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

Uncle Boons

7 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 (646) 370-6650 uncleboons.com

Mieng Kung, betel leaf wrap with ginger, lime, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, chilies and peanuts at Uncle Boons, a newly opened Thai restaurant and bar in SoHo.â€(R)CREDIT: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journalâ€(R)SLUG: HH.UncleBoons Published Credit: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Having waited a stupid amount of time to get into the extraordinarily disappointing Spotted Pig, you’d think I’d’ve learned my lesson with these overrated, no-reservation-taking, wastes of time. But apparently not, because one again I found myself standing there like a puppy dog, panting before the hostess in the hopes of getting a table. But had I been more self aware, perhaps I would’ve noticed déjà vu staring me in the face.

Nonetheless, my stubbornness persevered and on we marched to the back room through a tiki-style décor that did little to put a smile on my face, only to then begin a meal that would have a lot of splainin’ to do (to be read like Desi Arnaz).

Out of the gate, the gripes began with the Frozen Basil Vodka which was very good, but I think they majorly skimped on the portion, serving it in a half-filled glass. Never seen that before and I’m guessing it was because they ran out of the cocktail by 8pm on a Friday night. Something else I’d never seen before and I’m not sure which is the more inexcusable part of the story. To run out of booze by 8pm on a Friday night? Or to charge full price for a half-full glass of it?!

But at least it tasted good, the other drink our server recommended, the Bolan, was so god awful that we sent it back after one sip, opting for the Baa Baa Bo Bo which was a nice, spicy-sweet twist on a margarita.

Getting back to our server, however, she was so miserable that she ruined the experience for us (not that the food wouldn’t have done if for her), giving not one recommendation and lying through her blatantly apathetic teeth, saying everything is amazing. It’s not. Far from it. So, between her piss pour attitude and trying to charge us for that drink that she pawned off on us when they ran out of the one we liked, Uncle Boons was starting to look like that creepy uncle we all try to avoid at obligatory family outings.

Toxic service aside, now for the over-hyped menu, starting with the spicy chicken, which while spicy, was also just okay- oh, and it’s completely mislabeled as a small plate. Unless you’re Andre the Giant.

The mango salad is slightly better, but nothing worthy of the wait we endured and neither is the Thai blood sausage, for that matter, tasting a slight notch above Alpo.

And while I would love nothing more than to go on and on shitting all over this place, my integrity is going to get the better of me as I must give props where props are do, even though it pains me to do so.

The first prop going to the dorade. It is so phenomenal that it just might be the best whole fish I’ve ever had. Charcoal roasted and served with charred leeks and a Nam Prik dipping sauce that is pinch-yourself ah-maze-ing!

And believe it or not, we also stayed for dessert, regardless of the abysmal hit ratio thus far, primarily out of spite for having made us wait so long for the table, so I suppose we felt like holding onto the damn thing as long as we could. A philosophy that paid its dividends quite quickly in the form of a rich, creamy, texture-filled coconut ice cream, topped with fresh-made whipped cream, more coconut shavings on top, as well charred nuts, which kinda steal the show.

But even with the strong ending, Uncle Boons was climbing out of a hole so deep it came out the other side of the world in Thailand.

2 teeth

Rosa Mexicano

61 Columbus Ave. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 977-7700 • rosamexicano.com

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I’ve been going to Rosa for years. All three locations in the city, and multiple times at that. So I think it’s fair to say that we have some history together. And while there are many things I still love about Rosa, like any long-term relationship, we’ve had our rocky times as well.

The first time we met, I was instantly smitten by her fresh-made guacamole right there table-side. But this was back in the day before Dos Caminos and virtually every other Mexican joint copied them. Since then, however, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to spice things up, literally. Although the innuendo does work nicely. So, if you’re like me and you want more heat in your heat in your guac, you can ask them to double or even triple the chopped jalapeno count in the bowl. And if you’re into oral masochism, again like me, you can even ask that they go in the back and grab some habaneros instead, to give it more kick than a mule with a soccer fetish.

But man cannot live on guac alone, and fortunately Rosa does many other things very well. Some classics like empanadas, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and poblano dishes, and some with a modern twist, like their skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta with caramelized onions and cojita cheese or their incredible bunuelos served with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces that make them even more ridiculously addictive than they already are (a borderline Ultimate Doughnut).

Sounds like a Hollywood romance, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t always that way. A while back at their Upper West-ish/Hell’s Kitchen location, I took my cousin and his fiance who were in town for a visit. And let’s just say Rosa treated us like mierda. First they made us wait at the bar for about 45 minutes for our table, and that’s with having a reservation. Fortunately, they have great drinks, but the bar was so over crowded it felt more like being on the subway at rush hour with a margarita in your hand.

Then, once seated, we naturally ordered the fresh made guac, and everything was going deliciously as always… That is, until the entrees came. When a few of us ordered the paella risotto, and while it was tasty for the first several bites, it was also filled with shards of PLASTIC!!! Yes, several bits of plastic were mixed all throughout the dish. And when we told the waiter, they literally did nothing about it! They didn’t comp a single dish. The manager didn’t even come over apologize. Nothing. And just like that they lost a customer for over almost a decade.

However, forgiveness is divine, as they say, and a few years back I decided to let Rosa back into my life. The one near Union Square. And slowly but surely, she earned my trust back and we have been together happily ever since… end scene.

3 teeth

 

El Parador Café

325 E 34th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 679-6812elparadorcafe.com

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I have a warm and fuzzy place in my heart for El Parador. Not just because it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Nor because I had my engagement party here. And not just because my best friend had their rehearsal dinner there either. Not even  because they have some seriously kick-ass margaritas- but mostly because of that last one. These are not just your boring old citrus based margaritas, however, we’re talkin’ frozen tamarind margaritas. And the crazy thing is, I’m not even a frozen margarita kinda guy. I’m rocks/salt all the way! Well, not all the way, I suppose, since I dig on these, but you get my point, they’re good enough to make you a convert.

The other thing I love about this place is the service. It’s always extremely warm and friendly and the owner is almost always there, making sure you’re happy and taken care of, which is key. But at the end of the day, we all know these are “nice-to-haves” and that the only thing that truly matters are the foodstuffs. Well, The Inn (English translation for El Parador) has no problema in that department either. But I don’t recommend going here for your typical cheap Mexican fix. First, because Parador is anything but cheap. And second, because Parador is a bit more of a class act, serving up a mean mole, a succulent ceviche and a plentiful paella. In fact, most everything falls somewhere between good and excellent and the misses are scarce.

Due to its age, it is a touch old-school to be fair, but old-school in an authentic, charming way. Granted some might find the cuisine to be a touch dated compared to the likes of more inventive places such as The Black Ant, ABC Cocina and Cosme, but there’s also something to be said for respecting tradition. Tradition! Tradition! (To be sung like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof).

So head on over to El Parador and pay your respects to a culinary trailblazer. You owe to yourself. And, should you need a great place to throw a party, I do highly recommend the private room downstairs.

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

Back Forty

70 Prince St. New York, NY 10012(212) 219-8570backfortynyc.com

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My experience here was somewhat atypical considering I’ve only been for a private event. That said, most everything they served was off of their menu, so my review should be somewhat accurate.

Starting with the drinks, Back Forty served up some perfect tens. Just awesome, inventive twists on classics. Some margarita inspired, some mojito inspired and others just really-ass-good inspired. Pulling in a host of tricks using ginger beer, muddled strawberries and dare I say love.

As for the food, it was solid good. Nothing exceedingly memorable however, with the one exception being the pork belly fritters- I popped so many of these in my mouth hole it was like I was channeling my inner Harvey Weinstein.

And then there’s dessert. Which are all very good and everything, but let’s cut to the chase. It’s not all about that bass. It’s about the DONUTS!!! (to be read with Homer Simpson inflection). Had I not gone all Jabba on the pork fritters I would’ve easily pounded a half dozen of these suckers.

In other news, staff is friendly, decor is quaint and intimate and I probably should go back under normal circumstances before considering this an accurate review, but since I have no idea when that might be…

3 teeth

The Mermaid Inn

568 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY 10024(212) 799-7400 themermaidnyc.com

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Hi. My name is Ferocious Foodie. And I too am a Mermaid lover. In fact, I don’t think I’ve loved a mermaid this much since Ariel, The Little Mermaid. From the first bite (well, technically “sip”) to the last, everything was great.

The wife and I both started with cocktails. I partook a pair of Pink Dahlias, which sounds more fru fru than it is. It’s actually a spicy margarita with grapefruit. Tart, refreshing, spicy and perfecty. Can’t recall what the wife had because I’m a typical, self-absorbed male, but I know she liked it because I asked… So I’m not a total schmuck.

Everything else we shared, to a symphony of simultaneous foodgasms. The octopus was tender with a nice contrasting char for texture. And it was dressed with wonderful flavors that netted out a touch sweet, but in a good way.

The oysters were fresh an delicious. We did the Kusshi, which, if you’ve never had them are so sweet you’d think they were candy. And the Mermaid Cove, which were delightfully creamy. Great combo for those who don’t dig on the brine.

For entrees we split the lobster “sandwich” and the fish tacos and the reason “sandwich” is in quotes is because it’s a lobster roll. Not sure why they don’t call it that. I’m assuming there’s no copyright infringement since about 1000 other places call it that, but whatever. Maybe that’s not how they roll… oof. Even I cringed on that one. But cast your cringes aside, because the roll/sandwich thingy is up there with the Ultimates. Quite handily better than Luke’s down the street and as good as Pearl Oyster Bar. Yes, I said it. Just not quite as big as Pearl’s though, making it a bit pricier per ounce. But like Fancy Feast, it’s worth it. And truth be told, Mermaid’s fries are better.

The fish tacos were mighty fine as well, adorned with pickled jalapenos and a side of handy fresh made salsa. Together they made for sloppy, fishy bliss.

And finally, for dessert, there is no menu. They simply bring you an espresso cup filled with chocolate pudding and call it a night. No charge. Just as a thank you. Well, Mermaid, thank YOU for a wonderful meal. My only regret is having not tried you sooner.

5 teeth

Truck

391 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506 • (914) 234-8900truckrestaurant.com

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They had me at Negra Modelo on tap. And they’ve held on ever since. It’s literally one of my favorite places in Westchester and tied for the best Tex-Mex in the area. Bar Taco is the other place, but they’re twice as far from my house, so on convenience alone Truck wins by a nose.

But Truck is so much more than Negra Modelo. Even within the drink department. For example their smooth and strong, margaritas (AKA The Power Wagon), which has a special version as well, that changes seasonally. Three of the best being the cranberry, grapefruit and blood orange. They are dangerously good. As in careful driving home.

As for the food, it’s also great. A few misses, but the hits far out-weigh them. My recos of awesome: Pork Taco, the Market Veggie Taco, Oyster Taco. All three are so good it’s hard to choose, so I don’t. I get all three. Skip the Chicken and Beef. They are both bland by comparison. They specials as well, like brisket and fish, but nothing has ever risen to the prowess of my previously stated taco trifecta.

The salads are also quite good, mainly because it’s all farm to table. So everything is fresh and local, and you can really taste it in every dish. Even down to the salsa, served with warm house-made chips. So good! The guac is also good, but a touch blah for my tastes. I tend to like my guac to be more eventful. Herbs, hot peppers, grilled, smoked, etc…

Another starter to consider are the corn dogs. Served with a VERY spicy mustard that I love almost as much as wasabi. Oh, and speaking of spicy, if you likey the heaty, be sure to ask for their homemade hot sauce. It’s muy caliente!

And last but not least, for dessert, I recommend the carrot cake twinkie, the chocolate dipped macaroons or the homemade mallomar/s’more things.  Skip the Devil’s Food Cake.

Also worthy of note is the decor and vibe. It’s rustic cool. With a great energy about it. And as far as the crowd goes, it’s a bit of a chameleon. Early on, from 5 to 7, it’s great for kids. But as the night goes on, it morphs into much more of a mature scene. We’ve come for both and almost enjoy it equally as if it were two different restaurants.

Thank you Truck. You are an AWESOME addition to the area.

5 teeth