Barn Joo 35

34 W 35th St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 564-4430 • barnjoo35.com

348s

So apparently the second time’s a charm, because this one is SO much nicer than the one on 19th street. A décor that is cool, yet also warm and inviting with its raw wood tones. Which paradoxically somehow works, just like their modern twist on Korean classics such as bulgogi tacos.

Speaking of which, the tacos are actually just okay by comparison to the much more impressive kimchi pancakes mixed with bacon. Whoa nilly! They’re sure to have you clamoring like the dog in the Beggin’ Strips commercials.

They even offer their BBQ with a fun zag, done the way of the Japanese, over a hot stone as opposed to the usual Korean MO. We opted for the duck and it was a solid good.

Also good is the price of sake. Downright reasonable if you ask me. What isn’t reasonable, however

Last but not least, for dessert we ordered the churros with vanilla ice cream and I know what you’re thinking. Tacos? Churros? Is this place Mexican or Korean? I believe it’s the latter, but then again, they were some pretty impressive churros, so go figure.

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

Barney’s Beanery

8447 Santa Monica Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069(323) 654-2287 • barneysbeanery.com
 348s

If Baskin Robbins decided to serve burgers instead of ice cream and to become a Hell’s Angel, this would be their restaurant. And I use the term “restaurant” loosely. The word “dive” is much more fitting. But the burgers aren’t bad. And the décor is certainly “interesting.” Perhaps a little out of place on the promenade to the point where it feels inauthentic, so if you’re gonna go, I recommend the original in West Hollywood. It’s the real deal. Plus, at that one they used to have live lingerie models on display once in a while as a nice added perk. I’m not a doctor or anything, but I believe it helps with digestion.

And while the novelty of Barney’s certainly has its merits, the burgers only hold up so much. If you truly want a bodacious bite on a bun, head to Father’s Office instead. There’s one in Santa Monica and Culver City.

But if you’re not in the mood for a burger, not to worry, Barney’s has tons of other options on their menu ranging from salads to sandwiches and pizza to Mexican. I can’t vouch for any of them, but they’re on the menu.

3 teeth

Bar Taco

20 Wilton Rd. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 222-8226 bartaco.com

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I’ve been wanting to try this place for a while, granted the Port Chester location, because I didn’t even know this one existed. So, the hype-factor was dangerously high.

Fortunately Bar Taco rose to the occasion and surpassed it. Everything was on point. Even the service, which seems to get dinged a lot in other reviews. Maybe the managers listened and hired some new staff? Anyways, no complaints. They were even attentive to the kids. The only thing that took an unusual amount of time was the dessert, but the waiter kept checking in with us to tell us it was coming. Seemed like the kitchen had fallen behind with the sudden rush, so hard to blame the waiter.

As for food, it is VERY worthy. For example, starters like the salsa verde were among the best I’ve had. The corn is also something pretty special. The chips however, while adequate, are just chips. As is the guac and the chipotle slaw.

Then there are the tacos, of course. We had many and here is how they fared by stars:
Duck – 5 Stars
Pork Belly – 4 stars
Portabella – 4 stars
Rib-eye – 3 stars
Vercruz fish – 3 stars
Fried Oyster – 3 stars
Baha fish – 2 stars

I feel the need to caveat that the tacos are very small and that we are not a bunch of gluttonous pigs (you need 3 to 5 per person). I also feel the need to caveat that the duck is SO good that when I go back I’m getting three of those and a portabella.

Dessert was also money. The chocolate tamale with vanilla ice cream vanished from the plate like a porterhouse in a pool of piranha.

And last, but certainly not least, the Bar Taco Margarita. Nicely done. A smooth, artful blend with an alcohol kick. If I didn’t have to drive home I would have easily had another.

Oh, the setting didn’t hurt either. Sitting outside overlooking the river- it was the perfect end to a nice day at the beach. Only further solidifying my strong desire to move to Westport one day.

4 teeth