Momofuku Nishi

gou232 8th Ave.  New York, NY 10011 • (646) 518-1919 • momofuku.com

David Chang is a master of the impossible, so it only makes sense that he would create a veggie burger that tastes imperceptibly close to its meaty alternative, hence the name Impossible Burger (pictured). It is deception on a bun. Edible hocus pocus. The patty made predominantly from soy bean, it somehow even takes on the texture of meat.

As for the burger itself, it’s only amazing that it’s vegetarian. But as a burger itself, it’s just okay, coming off more like your classic simple cheeseburger (granted the new version now has truffle mayo and gouda) that isn’t as good as other veggie burgers like the Gouchujong at Cinnamon Snail or meat burgers like the Shack Stack at Shake Shack, The Bash Burger at B&B or my personal fav, The Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern.

Beyond the novelty of the burger, however, Nishi is very hit and miss. The kimchi is just okay as is the beet salad with avocado and a dusting of nuts.

The only other hit you can chew would be the pistachio bundt cake for dessert. It’s far from epic, but it’s a solid choice if you want to end things on a sweet note.

That said, if you really want a hit, do yourself a Gin & Julius to drink. It’s like an alcoholic creamsicle. It’s also like really friggin’ yum and after two or three you won’t have your mind on your money or your mind.

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Salvation Burger

230 E 51st StNew York, NY 10022 • (646) 277-2900 • salvationburger.com

If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you probably already know that I’m not a big fan of the burger at Spotted Pig. Which probably has you scratching your head as to why I would ever come here, well-knowing that this is the same chef.

To which I respond, “fair.” But isn’t our country built on second chances? From Robert Downy Jr. to John Travolta to Anthony Weiner- okay well almost on that last one.

So how’d it go? Just okay. The Salvation Burger is definitely the headliner here for a reason, and while it’s not the best burger I’ve had in the city, it might just eke its way into the top ten. I do recommend getting it with the Holy Cow beer that is brewed specifically to go with the burger, and while it does indeed live up to the mission, it’s not all that drinkable on its own.

The Classic Burger is also good, but because of its thinner patties the meat gets overwhelmed by all the other things going on and winds up tasting a lot like a more refined Big Mac.

Fries are good. Pickles are good. Apple pie is just okay (done like the Classic Burger, a fancy version of a McDonald’s staple)  and service is a train wreck. Also, the food is insanely overpriced for what it is. Don’t think I’d ever go back, because if I’m gonna drop that kinda coin on a burger that will supposedly “save me” I’d rather get the Black Label at Minetta or the Duck Burger at Elan. Now those are some soul-saving burgers right there!

Keens Steakhouse

72 W 36th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 947-3636keens.com

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Keens is an old school New York City steakhouse with a capital “O” and an “e” at the end, that’s how old it is. Dating back to 1885, it boasts the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. Granted I’m not exactly sure there’s a lot of competition toward this distinction, but it does make the ceiling very cool (pictured), littered with over 50,000 pipes that once belonged to historic legends such as Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, General MacArthur and Buffalo Bill. Damn, I love New York for shit like this!

Apparently the pipes were too fragile to carry around, so they would check them in and out of Keens when they fancied a visit and some mutton chops, which is the other thing Keens is famous for.

As for myself, I forewent the mutton and opted for the burger, having heard quite the recommendation from a friend. And while I don’t think it’s in the same league as Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger, it holds its own quite handsomely for such a simple patty. It’s just seasoned to perfection and cooked with tactical precision. Oh, and be sure to get the sharp cheddar on top, it’s friggin’ badass! So sharp you could cut glass with it.

The fries on the side are decent, but nothing you wouldn’t find at a myriad of other pubs. And sadly, the key lime pie is rather lame, even though the waiter practically squealed with enthusiasm over how good it was. Well it’s not. It’s way too sweet. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I am a child.

The dessert that is worth getting is the affagato. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but the ice cream is rich and creamy and the espresso they pour over it is very nice indeed.

3 teeth

The Spotted Pig

314 W 11th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 620-0393 thespottedpig.com

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I have to applaud Yelp for not buying into the hype hook, line and sinker just because James Beard and Michelin apparently have. That said, I still find Yelp’s 3.5 stars to be a bit overstated as well.

Let me explain by starting with the “spotted” service. Not only do they make it painfully annoying to get a table as a result of not taking reservations, they get so crowded that the wait can grow as steep as an hour and 45 minutes by 6:30pm! So right off the bat, you’re basically going into the experience with a this-better-be-fucking-worth-it mindset, which is never good for anyone. I mean, by that point the only way a restaurant is ever going to fair well is if every bite on the menu is on physiological par with an orgasm. But on the plus side, as ridiculous as the wait is, the hosts handle it well. No attitude and they text you when your table is ready so you can go off and drink at another bar until your table is ready. Which also doesn’t bode well for them, because now you’re an angry drunk waiting far longer than is reasonable, only to be seated in an overcrowded dinning room that is so warm you’d swear you were going through menopause, all for food that simply isn’t worth it (more on that later).

As for the actual waiters, they are slow in both senses of the term, getting us the deviled eggs instead of the devils on horseback and then trying to charge us twice for the devils on horseback. But what was especially annoying was the lack of attention to speed of service. After all, wouldn’t one think, “hey, these people just waited nearly two hours for their table, perhaps I should try to make them wait as little as possible from here on out.” But nooooo, not here. It was the longest burger and beer experience of my life, lasting nearly four hours.

Now for the “spotted menu,” which proved to be so disappointing, starting off with the Spotted Pig Bitter, made with bubbles so infinitesimally small that it comes off as flat. But at least it had good flavor to it. Just pales in comparison to Blue Bird Bitter if you’ve ever had it.

As for the infamous Devils on Horseback, they are definitely good, but a bit too moist through and through, if you ask me. I much prefer the contrasty version, where the crisp bacon gives way to the moist, gooey date, like at Boqueria.

The runaway surprise hit of the night was the Apple Salad. It’s just awesome, but bone simple, hence we made a dead ringer of it at home the very next day without even having to look up a recipe online. It’s comprised of Pink Lady apples cut in large chunks, fresh parsley, a bit of arugula, sharp (aged) cheddar or manchego and a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, red chili infused olive oil, Dijon, honey and red pepper flakes to taste.

The most over-hyped dish of the night was easily the burger (pictured). Hidden beneath a tower of shoestring fries in hopes of masking its inadequacies. Sure, the patty is good, but it was so boring without ketchup and mustard, relying way too heavily on the roquefort cheese to carry it to greatness, toward which it falls miserably short. Instead, I highly suggest you head to Minetta Tavern for the Black Label Burger, which actually lives up to its legend. Or the Bash burger at B&B Wine Pub, which has won the best burger in the city five years running. Or even Élan’s Duck Burger, which few know about, but blows the spots off of this pig.

And finally, there’s the Skirt Steak, which not only skirted around our order of medium rare, but came in horrendously chewy, filled with sinew to the point of almost making it off-putting had it not been for the mushrooms and kale on the plate with it.

Unless you have a bizarre foodie fetish and like the masochistic notion of waiting forever for food that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I vote that you skip the Pig and just make that apple salad at home. It really is quite something.

2 teeth

Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

The Breslin

Ace Hotel • 20 W 29th St. New York, NY10001(212) 679-1939thebreslin.com

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Because it’s located in the Ace Hotel I have to give it instant points for cool, but the decor of the restaurant itself is truly nothing extraordinary, falling somewhere between an old world pub and a Bennigan’s. Yet somehow it also feels just right for what the place offers, nose-to-tail done gastro pub style (not to be confused with Gangnam Style).  So to that end, I ordered myself a pint of Guinness and the highly acclaimed lamb burger with thrice cooked potatoes (pictured).

Well, apparently someone forgot to serve me the cool aid with it, because while I definitely found the burger to be good, it most certainly wasn’t great. And the fact that I ate it at 12:30am without having ever had dinner (except for the liquid kind), you’d think I would’ve been an extremely easy target. After all, everything tastes incredible when you’re starving and drunk. But to honest, I’ve made better lamb burgers at home, and I’m far from a chef the likes of April Bloomfield. In fact, if I were ever on Chopped, I’m pretty sure I would curl up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. But giving props where props be due, the fries were actually pretty wonderful.

I’ve also been back a few times since, for work functions and what not, but I can’t say anything else on the menu wowed me either, especially when I compare it to places like Animal, which is my favorite nose to tail in existence. Or Minetta Tavern which is truly a gastro pub for the books. But if you’re staying in the hotel and it’s raining or freezing outside, you could do a lot, lot worse for hotel food.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Restaurant North

386 Main St. Armonk, NY 10504 • (914) 273-8686restaurantnorth.com

Restaurant North

Having never been THAT impressed with this chef’s former stomping ground Union Square Café, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I find North to also be considerably over-hyped.

And after having been there twice now, I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest issue is that they would be much better suited as a bakery or as a casual haunt. But when held to the standards of fine dining, they simply don’t measure up. Blue Hill at Stone Barns and The Inn at Pound Ridge are both much, MUCH better. And for Italian it’s bested by both Fortina (just two blocks away) and The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry.

For me, the misses start the moment you enter the door. First with a decor that is notch or two past minimalist, trending toward unfinished. This is then followed up with a hostess who tried to seat us at the shittiest table by the bar, even though about 75% of the tables in the restaurant were empty. And this is with us having had a reservation for weeks mind you. The excuse, because one of the tables on the other half of the dining room was being reserved for a friend of the chef’s. But what about the other six open tables?!?!

After that, things improved, but never so much that they fell in line with the sterling reputation this place seems to enjoy.  This is not to say that what lies ahead was all bad, by any means, but if your are going to be a top restaurant in one of the wealthiest suburbs on the planet, you’d better be more than just “not bad.”

Not bad, however, was the story from top to bottom. Not one course the first time we went reached what I would call “excellent,” and we each had three. Yet each course lacked that little extra something that takes a dish from good to memorable. And with 6 different dishes and two proprietary cocktails, I’d say they had ample ways to impress, but failed at every one.

The only two dishes from that outing to rise above just a solid good were a pasta dish and the soft shell crabs. Both teetering on great. But sadly, not actually great.

Fortunately, while definitely ferocious, I also try to be fairocious, so I gave them a second chance before writing this review and upon revisiting it, this somewhat only served to solidified my opinions from the first experience.

That said, there were a few shining moments once again, and this time they were shining much brighter. For example, the focaccia they serve as the bread with your meal is phenomenal. It’s also an Ultimate.

Another thing worthy of note is the muffin they give you after the meal to take home. Moist, heavily seeded for a nice contrast in textures, and heavily awesome. So, it would appear that they bookend you well, between incredibly delicious baked goods, but if you just look past the bready smoke and mirrors, mediocrity was once again abound.

For example, the swordfish entree while perfectly cooked was woefully blah. Their hazelnut encrusted variation of a Scotch egg was equally lacking in flavor, begging for some salt to bring out the flavor of the egg. And the “Super Awesome” chocolate chip cookie is “super overrated.” It’s the same typical half baked cookie in a skillet you’d expect to find at Applebee’s with a very mediocre scoop of vanilla on top. You want a truly “super awesome” chocolate chip cookie, head to Sherry B’s in Chappaqua and get the one with walnuts (even if you’re allergic, it’s worth it). Or if you’re in the city, there’s none better than the one at City Bakery.

Another inflated dish is the burger. And while it’s definitely more impressive than the aforementioned dishes, with its creamed kale topper, it also falls WAY short of places like Minetta Tavern, Father’s Office and Burger & Barrel, to which I’ve heard it compared. Blasphemy!

Back on the upside, because I like to end things on a positive note (not really, but I will), the mushroom flatbread was surprisingly good, well balanced between the heartiness of the mushrooms, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the fresh pepperiness of the greens.

And finally, the suckling pig. Definitely not the looker of the bunch. In fact, once shredded amongst the bed of spaetzle it looked more like a cat got a hold of a stuffed animal and ripped it to bits. But the taste was excellent. Accented with a nice touch of heat.

But even with the stronger showing my second time around, it’s still WAY too hit and miss to be playing at the level they claim to be. Especially when they pull shit like pawning us off on the busboy to take our dessert order. Classy North. Very classy.

2 teeth

 

The Ultimate Burger

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Eatery 112 – Minneapolis, MN

Deceptively simple, this burger shines by simply combining two very well thought through toppings. The first comes in the form of its gooey brie, which they somehow magically prevent from making the burger soggy. The second, a vital part of the equation, the sweet bread and butter pickles on the side. You MUST put them on the burger. The interaction between the cheese and the pickles and the meat is divine. All house in an English muffin that manages to stay out of the way just enough to allow the ingredients to take center stage, but present enough to make its contribution felt.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

It’s all about the meat baby. The Black Label burger is the Mona Lisa of ground flesh. Some kind of crazy concoction of prime, and pork and veal and maybe even a little bone marrow folded in. Hard to say. But there is literally nothing else that special about this burger, and yet that patty will grab you by the taste buds, looks them in the eye, and make them its bitch.

Father’s Office – Santa Monica, CA

I know bold, sweeping statements always get you into hot water, but if I’m wrong on this one, boil me alive, because the fact remains, The Office Burger is the best burger on the face of the Earth. Yes, I went there. Granted I haven’t eaten ALL of the burgers on the face of the Earth, but I’m still pretty sure I’m right. Now, just caveat, however. If you are a burger purist, this is not your burger. This thing is a product of innovation. It starts with high quality prime topped with a blend of gruyere and gorgonzola. Then a layer of bacon and caramelized onion compote. Next comes watercress and finally a wonderful Portuguese roll to house its prowess. Now I know what you’re thinking, no tomato? No. No ketchup or mustard either. In fact, you can’t even ask for it, because the place doesn’t allow it. Perhaps a bit authoritarian for a burger joint, but I promise you will never miss these lesser burger crutches. This thing does just fine without. And therein lies its true greatness, and its rightful place at the top of burgerdom.