Bruno Pizza

204 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 598-3080 brunopizzanyc.com

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As a rule, it’s generally frowned upon to like your in-laws, much less love them, but when they find you gems like Bruno’s it’s kinda hard not to love the bejesus out of them. A “hot list” mention in Turkish Vogue (yes, there’s a Turkish Vogue), my mother in-law decided to give it a whirl. And then another and another, and before she knew it she was a dervish going back and forth to this restaurant five times in an eight week period. And while I had never even heard of the place myself, if it’s one thing my in-laws know- well, it’s probably diplomacy. But if there are two things, it’s food. So, I made it priority and grabbed wifey to head down for a bite.

The place is much hipper than most pie places, but the subway car-shaped dinning space with white on white box seats that double as a torture device and a music selection that does the same, it starts to make you feel like you’re in Guantanamo being forced to balance your ass on a cinder block whilst being exposed to shrieks and shrills that try to pass themselves off as music.

So already docking one star for setting, the food was going to have to do a ton of work to climb back out of the hole they were starting in. And my glass of wine wasn’t helping things either. Not because the wine itself was bad, in fact it was a very nice Syrah, but it was served in a glass reeking so heavily of the detergent it was washed in that it took away form the bouquet of the vino.

And then suddenly Bruno went on a tear, opening with an Ultimate Brussels sprouts, every bit as good as Ilili, but without the fried guilt, which so many other restaurants are doing now, loading up the sprouts with bacon and other goodies to the point where they are more like French fries than vegetables. But not Bruno. They let the sprouts shine through, with just the right amount of pizazz to make them special. Pizazz courtesy of apple butter, shishito peppers and puffed black rice.

As for the pies themselves, both were outstanding and both were served up on a whole wheat crust, shockingly enough. But not your typical, earthy, over-powering whole wheat. This is done in such a subtle way that you get all of the good and none of the bad, leaving you with a crust that rivals some of the best you could ever name.

The first of the pies was the Tasso Ham topped with smoked blue cheese, thinly sliced Fuji apples, sage and shallots. It’s excellent, but being the heat-seeker that I am, I found that it needed crushed red pepper to give it balance.

On the other hand, the Mushroom pie doesn’t need a thing other than your mouth, and is the best shroom pie I’ve had since Oenotri in Napa, CA. Topped with a blend of locally sourced fungi ranging from shitake to cremini, paired with a decadent béchamel, chives and chiles.

And to finish off, while the options are slim, they prove to be all you need. A refreshing duo of gelatos of which we opted for the Meyer lemon variety. But Bruno doesn’t do anything expected, serving it up with freshly sliced kumquats, mulberries, lemon curd and meringue brittle. It was so much more than we expected, capping the night on the highest of highs.

If you fashion yourself as a pizza connoisseur, then you need to hop your bones in cab and head to Bruno’s, presto!

4 teeth

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Marta

29 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-1900martamanhattan.com

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So, while Danny Meyer is busy reconstructing Madison Square Park to accommodate a bigger and badder Shake Shack, apparently he decided to take up thin crust pizza as a hobby in lieu of burgers.

Located in the Martha Washington Hotel lobby, hence the origin of the name, the restaurant feels a little homeless, not being its own thing. Granted it takes up about 95% of the lobby, so perhaps it’s the lobby that’s truly homeless? All of that aside, they do a nice job with décor. Open and contemporary with a sizeable amount of seating. But don’t let that fool you. You practically have to sell a kidney to get a table for dinner. Fortunately for my internal organs, lunch reservations come much easier.

A quick bite, however, it most certainly is not. The service runs at an escargot pace, so if you’re doing a business lunch, I recommend blocking a good two hours, because two Diet Cokes took over 30 minutes to hit our table. Lucky for me I went with a glass of Brunello, which only took about a third of that.

The pies also take quite a while, nearly 45 minutes, but I’m happy to report that most of them were worth the wait. Especially the Testa made with pig face and celery. It’s so inventive and just as scrumptious. A close second was the carbonara. Just as the name implies, it’s topped with bacon and egg and fontina. And it’s damn fine.

The least impressive of the three was also the least inventive, the funghi, made with hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s certainly good if you have your heart set on shrooms, but compared to the likes of the funghi at Oenotri in Napa, this tastes like something you can get in the freezer section at Whole Foods. And I mean that with all due respect.

Now, assuming you’ve cleared your calendar and venture on towards dessert, here’s what you should know- it’s nowhere near as great as other reviewers claim. The affagato was easily the better of the two, but be warned, it’s very untraditional, made with honey and kumquats as opposed to espresso. The ice cream is incredible, however, and truly makes the dish shine. On the other hand, the chocolate and pistachio ice cream sandwich with mascarpone ice cream was significantly less radiant. About as basic as it gets, tasting like something you could get at TGI Fridays… back in the 80’s.

All in all Marta is certainly good for lunch, I cannot tell a lie. But definitely don’t sell off any vital organs to get in. There are droves of better pies all over the city.

3 teeth

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

1327 Railroad Ave. St. Helena, CA 94574(707) 963-1200cindysbackstreetkitchen.com

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Hearing that this place was the sister restaurant of Mustards, expectations were immediately high. And those expectations only increased by our extremely effusive waiter who hyped up the menu so high, you’d think he was high.

For example, his gushing recommendation of the oysters bingo, which tasted like something you’d expect to be served at a Bat Mitzvah on Long Island. Same goes for the octopus, which was so flavorless it should almost be illegal to serve in a foodie mecca like Napa. In fact, of all the appetizers we had, and we had all of the appetizers, only one managed to rise above ho-hum, the shellfish pot with jalapenos. The polenta fries would’ve been good too, but they serve them dry and they desperately need something to dip them in. So, if you do order them, please ask for the honey mustard that comes with the burgers, it’s got a nice kick to and makes the fries worthy.

And speaking of the burgers, the duck burger was one of only four highs within the meal, served with a shitake mushroom ketchup, it made for a very unique, Asian take on an American classic. The other entrée that was good was the pork shoulder, but it paled in comparison to our waiter’s presell. What worked about it was the moist, savory pork mixed with the sweet caramelized peaches. What didn’t work was that only about 20% of the peaches were cooked. The raw ones were hard and chewy and tasteless. Apart from those, every other entrée at the table was a big whatevs.

Unfortunately the hit/miss ratio didn’t improve on desserts either. Only one is worth getting if you should still choose to dine here. The Campfire Pie tastes like a s’more right out of the sleep-away camp textbook. So A+ good it made the inadequacies of all of the other desserts on the table that much more severe. But if you must get two, go with the fig tart. It’s no campfire, but at least it’s not a complete waste of calories.

Sorry Cindy, but this is literally the worst dinner I’ve had in Napa. But thank you Mister Sommelier, your recommendation of the Hope & Grace Pinot Noir was wonderful. I just wish the rest of the meal lived up to it.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Steak

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French Laundry – Yountville, CA

If you know anything about steak, then you probably realize by now that the best steaks are most certainly not served at steakhouses. Sure, they do a good job of it when you have to consider pesky things like quantity, but when quantity is no longer a factor, the sky’s the limit.

And speaking of the sky, the stratosphere is where this steak lives. A rib eye so selectively chosen it’s probably easier to win at Powerball than it is to make it onto one of Thomas Keller’s plates. This is no exaggeration. They literally only source one farm and from that farm, the cut they use is only the most tender portion of the rib eye, making it about a third to a quarter of the size you might find at other restaurants.

Now, all of this pomp and circumstance might seem like a bit much when all you want to do is sink your teeth into the side of a cow already, but I promise you that it is worth it. Because in that split second that your teeth penetrate the outer layer of steak heaven, it’s as though you have never truly eaten steak before in your life. And then you cry… tears of joy.

The Ultimate Eggs Benny

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Of all the meal times, I think breakfast/brunch is probably my favorite. And of all the breakfast options I would have to say that Eggs Benny is probably right at the very tippy top. Sure I eat other breakfast foods more often, but that’s only because I don’t want to die. But if I could, I’d eat Eggs Benny at least 3 or 4 times a week. But enough about me. Let’s get down to brass tax. Here are the best Benny’s I’ve ever had:

Coast – Santa Monica, CA

This is a traditional Eggs Benny. No twists. Just perfectly done. Eggs are always nice and runny. Hollandaise isn’t too overbearing. And the consistency of preparation is remarkable. I mean, I’ve been getting this Eggs Benny for over 20 years and not once have they ever dropped the ball. That’s pretty impressive.

Joseph Leonard – New York, NY

It’s actually a Salmon Benny, but wow is it something special. For starters, they skip the Hollandaise and use a scallion crème fraiche, which is so much lighter, yet every bit as decadent somehow. Even the scone beneath the salmon and egg was a nice surprise, bringing a complexity of texture to the dish, while still letting the smokiness of the salmon shine. Not to mention the perfectly cooked eggs- oh yeah, them.

Boon Fly Café – Napa, CA

While the two above are truly sensational, this last one is perhaps my favorite of the lot. Mainly because I am a heat seeker, so anything with a little kick to it usually wins my heart. And this Benny definitely won every little piece of my heart now baby. The heat I speak of comes from their jalapeno Hollandaise, which is drizzled over the wonderfully poached eggs, which sit atop thick country ham so fresh I could swear I heard pig squeals as I bit into it. And then all of it rests on a homemade country bread foundation. But to truly put its awesomeness into context, it’s been 4 years since I ate there and I still dream about it.