Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

Mecha Noodle Bar

1215 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 292-8222 • mechanoodlebar.com
 

This just might be the most happenin’ strip mall in America. You’ve got Brick + Wood, Milkcraft and then right next door to that you’ve got Mecha. And all three are so damn good that they all have a long, damn wait.

Wait aside, Mecha is like Mecca for ramen. Worth the pilgrimage for great food. The décor is pretty cool as well, marked by the simple touch of 2×4’s dangling overhead to connote noodles. They’ve also cracked the code between kid-friendly and adult crowds, but sadly this secret is out, so there’s pretty much a wait no matter when you go, unless you just happen to hit the seam between rushes.

For those of you visiting from Westport on south, you’re probably wondering how it stacks up to Kawa Ni. Quite well, I would say, although very different vibes. I’d say Mecha is much more casual and high energy, whereas Kawa Ni is more intimate and adult skewed.

The menu is more noodle-based than Kawa Ni though, but very tasty in its own right. We started with a pair of Thai Iced Teas and the roasted mushroom dumplings, which were excellent, particularly with the brown butter miso sauce.

For noodles, I went with the Pho Shore, which as the name implies is loaded with seafood and other goodies. Speaking of which, be very careful with the thai chili add on. I like heat and this kicked my ass.

Wifey was smarter (as usual) and put the heat control in her own hands, opting for the Veggie Ramen and Sriracha on the side. This was also very good and we will definitely be going back. At an odd hour.

A very, VERY strong 3 knives for Mecha. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Milkcraft is right next door for dessert.

Scarpetta

355 W 14th StNew York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-0555 • scarpettarestaurants.com
 

Making many a blog’s hottest new haunts in the ole NYC, Scarpetta delivers on the adulation serving up some mighty fine Italian in a simple, classy dining room that is so loud you can barely hear your own “mmm’s”

Fortunately, I could still hear our waiter, who was Johnny on the spot with his recos. Including a phenomenal, velvety Morgan Boujelais that complemented everything from the baby tuna crudo, which was pretty great to the soft polenta with mushrooms and black truffles, which was “I don’t want to share” ridiculicious.

And then the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti (pictured) happened and everything in the world slowed down like a Planet Earth documentary. The ecstasy of every chew as palpable as plastering your blissful puss on the jumbotron in Times Square.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the black cod entrée served on a bed of caramelized fennel. It’s enough to make you want to fuck a fish.

Hell, this place even nails the basics, like their spaghetti with tomato and basil. So simple. So right.

Desert held strong as well, representing with a strong chocolate cake. In fact, the only miss (and a huge one at that) of the night came along its side in the form of one of the worst tart tatins I’ve ever laid teeth on.

But I forgive Scarpetta, because it handily restored my faith in the New York Italian restaurant scene. Again. #Blanca #Eataly #Carbone

Matzahbrei

(917) 215-1616 • http://www.matzahbrei.com

Yes, an entire restaurant devoted to Matzah brei. It’s almost hard to wrap your head around, because the concept alone sounds about as flawed as the screenplay for Sharknado, but I stand before you in awe as I write this. A dish normally reserved for Passover time is making a strong case for year-long presence, because I gotta say, it’s pretty friggin’ good. Well, depending on which one you get.

For example, the Monica, is awesome. And no, I’m not talking about Monica Geller from Friends. I was always a Rachel kinda guy anyway. No, the Monica of which I speak is made with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, fresh sliced mozzarella and honey Dijon.

Or there’s the Jasmine with eggplant, herbs and tahini, which I also liked. Whereas the Xavier (pictured) with avocado, mango salsa and cheddar jack is actually just eh, even though it looks and sounds like it’d be the best of the three.

But no matter which sammy is your pleasure, definitely do yourself a solid and pair it up with a side of their Sunshine Salad, made with sweet potato, chickpea and tomato, tossed in a date dressing. It’s enough to make the Trix rabbit swear off of cereal in favor of salad, because it really is magically delicious.

P.S. One caveat. If you go to their site you will notice that they don’t open a brick and mortar location until the fall. But until then, if you keep your eye out at food stands like Broadway Bites and Madison Eats, maybe you’ll get lucky.

Little Barn

1050 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8501 • littlebarnct.com

I dig the roadhouse vibe of this place, but unlike the Patrick Swayze movie, this one dispenses with the bikers and the topless women and replaces them with a setting that’s civil enough to take the kids. Service is also kid-friendly and attentive. Making it a solid go-to for a family dinner with the young’uns.

I partook in the Shroom Burger, which I have to say was very good. Everything you would want, but nothing more than you might expect. Served with decent helping of sweet potato fries that’ll hit the spot.

The fish tacos were messy as all get out and lacking in the salsa/heat department, but the fish was perfectly cooked, so at least there’s that. Not the place I would go for Tex-Mex though when you’ve got Bar Taco just up the road.

For beer, I tried the Mama’s Yella Pils, a Czech inspired pilsner that could use a little more inspiration, because it ain’t no Urquell or Staropramen.

Hit and miss for certain, but I’m definitely a fan… in the right context.

La Boulangerie par Jean Luc Pelé

104 boulevard Sadi Carnot06110 Le Cannet, France • +33 4 93 45 36 32 • www.jeanlucpele.com/fr/

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Located on a tiny, pedestrian-only rue, sits this bakery/grab-and-go café with a few tables outside and pretty decent looking pre-prepared food. For example, the roasted veggie sandwich on a long narrow focaccia roll filled with peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and squash, dressed with a pesto spread looked mighty tasty from the other side of that glass case. But after taking a bite, I was quickly reminded that even in France, pre-prepared food that’s been sitting around in a case is seldom life-changing. So don’t be Francophooled.

Also, along with the sandwich, I tried a cup of their avocado gazpacho, which sounded and looked very intriguing. Sadly, the flavor of avocado was quite absent, or taste in general, for that matter. Perhaps the sweets are better.

All in all, it’s not terrible, but why settle when you can just head to Cocoon around the corner- it’s less than a two minute walk and easily two to three knives better. Plus the name is a lot shorter and easier to pronounce.

2 teeth

Mmm Enfes

70 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018 • (212) 827-0801 • mmmenfesnyc.com
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As I have stated before, I’m not typically a fan of build-your-own concepts, because I sort of feel like it’s the restaurants job to come up with interesting combinations. Otherwise I could just make it myself. But since it was their way or no gozleme ( hey that rhymes!), I shelved my principles and started pointing at everything like a kid in a candy store. Spinach, cheese, olives, hot peppers, corn, mushrooms, more spinach and more cheese… And ya know what I learned that day? I make a damn good gozleme foreman.

And to drink, they have ayran, which is a salty yogurt-based drink that goes perfect with spicy food and even perfecter on hot days. So the fact that it was both, made that ayran go down like an elixir.

3 teeth

Chez VIncent et Nicolas

92 rue Meynadier 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 93 68 35 39 chezvincentetnicolas.fr

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Just before the bottom of the hill on the main drag in Old Cannes, there is a little alley to the left or right depending on which direction you’re heading, and within that alley you will find three more restaurants tucked away from view. Now I can’t speak about the other two, but Chez Vincent was a nice find indeed.

The night started off with a great bottle of Syrah and very friendly service, and as for the meal, it started off with a gooey, baked Camembert served with sliced green apples and toast. Unfortunately the apples were sliced razor thin and didn’t hold up to the cheese at all. Also, the toast was actually a bit stale. Fortunately, the baguette in the breadbasket was incredibly fresh, so we used that to sop up the cheese instead and it was nummy, nummy.

We also did the scallops wrapped in bacon, which is an oldy but a goody. And finally another classic starter, a whole artichoke served with Dijon for dipping. Both were also very good, but nothing game-changing.

For entrees it was a mixed bag. My mushroom and chicken risotto being extraordinary, the elbow pasta being interesting and the salmon tartar being a touch bland as the fish itself was overpowered by the dill and onion within. And while the French fries served with it were quite soggy, they were actually the best thing about the tartar. That said, if you want the fries without the salmon, I’d suggest going with the burger. It looked crazy good. As did the moules frites (pictured).

And speaking of crazy good, the tart tatin for dessert is another must get, nearly equal to the risotto and between the two enough to have me flirting with the thought of 4 knives. Unfortunately the dessert medley was not-so fantastic, keeping things firmly supplanted at three.

3 teeth

Black Iron Burger

333 7th Ave. New York, NY 10001(646) 666-0071 • blackironburger.com

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If there’s one thing the Herald Square vicinity isn’t short on, it’s Korean and Pub food. But judging from the name, you can probably already surmise that I’ll be referring to the latter in this case.

Yes, our beer mug runneth over in these parts, with jalapeno poppers, potato skins, French fries and burgers. So much so that it almost becomes off-putting on days other than Saint Patrick’s. But amid the morass of mediocre bar grub lives a pleasant surprise disguised as just another burger joint. Yes, Black Iron’s Mushroom Truffle Burger (pictured) is all that and a side of fries. Great flavor. Good balance. Not too gut-busting ginormous. And just the perfect amount of messy. Topped with mushrooms duxelles (aka minced) and sliced black truffles (duh), but also with Swiss cheese, bacon bits, caramelized onions and truffle mayo.

The fries also do the trick, but I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, so it’s not exactly worth taking that to the bank. What is worthwhile, however, is another trip for that truffle burger. As for the rest of the burgers there, the jury is still out. Stay tuned.

3 teeth