The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

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Bistro Bis

15 E St NW Washington, DC 20001(202) 661-2700bistrobis.com

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Located in George Hotel this is a great option for those who want convenience of location without sacrifice on awesome. The décor is very nicely done, as one might expect from the chain. Elegant and classic, yet somehow also modern.

As for the food, I kinda blame out waitress for getting us off on the wrong foot, claiming the steak tartar with quail egg and a porcini mushroom aioli, to be the best she’s ever had. Obviously she’s never been to Manzo in New York or Pastis in Cannes, because both of those destroy Bis’ very lame attempt at an Ultimate. As John Bender from the Breakfast Club would say, “Not even close, Bud!”

Now what she should’ve recommended was the seared foie gras over a hazelnut pain perdu with pickled rhubarb and spiced rhubarb gastrique. It was so friggin’ yum it almost restored my faith in Capital Hill… almost.

The other dish our waitress could’ve gone with was the octopus. My second fave of the night, perfectly charred and dolled up with chorizo, sweet peppers and spring onions placed over a bed of squid ink pasta and drizzled in a white bean emulsion. This is one of those dishes that sounds too complicated for its own good, but they somehow manage to pull it all together.

Another pleaser, not quite at the level of those other two starters was the frisee salad with applewood smoked bacon, duck confit and a poached egg dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette. It won’t quite rock your world, but if it’s what you’re craving then you’ll definitely be happy.

For entrees, I tried both the sea scallops and the trout and I have to give it to the trout, no contest. Made in a classic prep with a twist they use capers, lemon, crisp ham and parsley brown butter and then accompany the fish with haricots verts and a pommes chateau. It was moist and flavorful and exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I have a doctorate in eating.

The sea scallops, however, failed to bring the zazz that one might expect from its preparation. Again, a twist on a common thai black rice dish, made with the additions of coriander roasted carrots, smoked shitake mushrooms and a ginger-port wine reduction.

I like what this chef is made of though, reaching for the stars and catching just enough to make me want dessert. But sadly I had to rush to catch the Acela home so I guess I’ll have to return for seconds, especially for the apple tart (pictured). Damn does that look good!

3 teeth

Pastis

28 rue du Commandant André 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 92 98 95 40 pastis-cannes.com

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No, the one in New York City didn’t reopen, sorry to get your panties all in a bother. But the one in Cannes is still inexplicably going strong and as packed as ever. The reason for my puzzlement is that I never really liked the one in NYC either. Gasp!

Yes, I found it horribly overrated and the apple doesn’t fall far from the Big Apple. The other thing I found horrible is the service. First they made us wait 30 min for a table when we had a reservation. Then, once we sat down they had the gall to tell us that we couldn’t order appetizers because the kitchen was closing soon, which was utter and complete bullshit because they proceeded to serve everyone else in the entire restaurant appetizers throughout the duration of our meal.

So, after calling bullshit on his bullshit, our waiter caved and let us have two apps, and lucky for us, because they were the best things we had. Starting with the better of the two, the beef tartar. It is bright and lemony, with excellent seasoning and flavor. But, still he had to fuck us, docking us the caper berries that were served on top of everyone else’s in the entire place. Oh the French!

The other decent appetizer was the foie gras terrine served with a fig jam and crostini. It’s pretty typical in these parts though, so it’s hard to get to gushy, especially when it’s followed up by a pair of losers like the linguini with shrimp and the gnocci with black truffles. And while the gnocci was the better of the two, it was overly creamy to the point where you couldn’t even taste the truffles.

Adding insult to injury, the “not worth the wait” gnocci arrived 20 minutes after everyone else’s entrees, meaning he probably forgot to put in the order. But rather than fess up to it, he lied to me repeatedly that it was coming in two minutes. Well, either he was lying or he’s horrible at math.

Although, to be fair, it’s very possible that he’s gone deaf, because the music was so goddamn loud in there that they even made The Gypsy Kings and Michael Jackson grating, both of which I love.

2 teeth

Four Seasons Sultanahmet

No. 1, Cankurtaran Mh., Tevkifhane Sk., 34122 Sultanahmet-Eminönü/Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey+90 212 402 3000 • fourseasons.com/content/fourseasons/en/properties/istanbul
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For those of you still hung up on Midnight Express, the notion of dining in a Turkish Prison is probably not high up on your Istanbul bucket list, but rest assured, your fears would be sorely misplaced, because this prison is the Four Seasons of prisons. No, seriously. It’s actually a Four Seasons. With prison yards turned into lush gardens, cells turned into rooms and the cafeteria turned into an expansive restaurant atrium.

Like all Four Seasons restaurants, the food falls somewhere between good and great, although I would temper your expectations toward the lower end of that spectrum, because compared to the Four Seasons in New York it’s not even close. I mean that food-wise. In terms of décor it blows New York out of the water. Crazy to say about a prison, I know, but true nonetheless.

The food itself is a classic array of the usual suspects, mezes and iconic Mediterranean dishes ranging from whole sea bass (levrek), to dolma (stuffed grape leaves), to kufte (meatballs), to lentil soup (lentil soup). And while they all hold strong, there are better to be had throughout the city. But the food is not why you’re heading here, it’s for the one-of-a-kind experience, and on that The Four Seasons Sultanahmet delivers in spades.

3 teeth

La Bourgogne

Alvear Palace Hotel, Ayacucho 2023, C1112AAK CABA, Argentina • +54 11 4805-3857 • www.alvearpalace.com

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The Alvear hotel is an icon of Argentina, located at the end of one of the ritziest streets in the city, overlooking the cemetery where Evita is buried (I guess the truth is she did eventually leave them). Which is nowhere near as macabre as that sounds. In fact, they somehow mange to turn it into a selling point.

It’s like what The Drake is to Chicago or The Waldorf Astoria is to New York. Historic, grand and stupendous. So, it would only make sense that the restaurant within need live up to the reputation surrounding it. And live it did, with a veritable feast of greatness ranging across three appetizers, two entrees and three desserts. Oh, but this was not a tasting menu. This is actually how much we ordered to split just between two people. Not to mention two bottles of wine and a finale consisting of two glasses of their finest, most expensive 70-year-old port. It was truly a meal for the ages.

But surprisingly, the most remarkable thing about this meal was not the food, albeit excellent. It was the price in US dollars. Are you sitting down? Fifty. No, not fifty thousand. Fifty dollars a head. And this is with seared foie gras, filet mignon and the works. I mean, holy favorable exchange rates Batman! Ya know, I hate to use a cliché here, but at prices like these, you really can’t afford not to eat here. So book your ticket and your reservation at the same time and bon appe-gluttony!

5 teeth

The Ultimate Baklava

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I’m nuts about Baklava. So much so that it forces me to write involuntary puns. The thing I suppose I love most about it is that it’s like a textural amusement park in your mouth with the light, flaky phyllo dough and the crunchy pistachios or walnuts or hazelnuts (depending on who’s making it), all packed in so densely it’s almost like mortar. Then you’ve got the sticky, syrup or honey holding it all together like Elmer’s. There’s so much effort crammed into every square centimeter you’d almost have to be an asshole not to appreciate it. That said, my two Ultimates aren’t exactly what one would call traditional baklavas. But this is my blog and as far as I’m concerned they are close enough.

Gulluoglu – New York, NY

The true name of the first Ultimate is actually sutlu nuriye, which means “glory with milk” and I concur. Glorious it is. And milky. Giving it a creaminess that most other baklavas lack. I’m sure we’ve all had our share of dry baklava and I think we can all agree it’s unacceptable. But not to worry here, because Gulluoglu doubles down on moisture with ample doses of syrup and milk, turning these magical blocks of brilliance into both the dessert itself and the glass of milk to wash it down, at the same time. Top that Momofuku Milk Bar!

Yalçin – Gölkoy, Turkey

Considering the Ottoman Empire birthed the dish, it only makes sense that after hundreds of years of tinkering there would be droves of baklava variations. And while they are inherently similar in many ways, the slight nuances from one to another can make all the difference. Be it in proportions, textures or flavor. And then you have to factor in who’s making it. In this particular case, it’s a little bakery right on the main strip in Golkoy called Yalçin, and the baklava of which I speak is called sarigi burma (pictured), which means “sultan’s turban dessert.” I assume the name is derived from the twisted appearance of the dish, which vaguely resembles a turban, coupled with how amazing it is, thus a dessert worthy of a sultan. And if ever there were a baklava deserving of royal billing, it’s ironically the one served up by a surprisingly humble-looking bakery. Their secret lies in not overdoing the sweet honey, but also in the densely rolled shreds of green pastry that almost resemble round bails of hay more than a turban, but I’m guessing that didn’t sound as sexy to the marketing team.

Anderson Bakery

50 Post St. San Francisco, CA 94108(415) 262-0079andersenbakery.com

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Not sure what standards people are judging these croissants by on Yelp, but it’s clearly a highly delusional one. The almond croissants are WAY too bready. Like something you’d find at virtually any chain in the airport. This doesn’t even make my top 100. Hell, Au Bon Pain is better!

In fact, I don’t even live in a major city and my local bakery makes an almond croissant that would make Andersen himself cry. Granted, it’s also one of the best croissants I’ve ever had, period, including Paris and New York, but enough about better places that are too far away to do you any good.

My closer recommendation, walk around the corner to Bread & Cocoa. It’s the real deal.

2 teeth

Aureole

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino • 3950 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89119(702) 632-7401charliepalmer.com

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About 10 years ago the wife and I ate at the original in New York and while it was good, I still recall that it didn’t live up to the hype. Well, 2000 miles away and 3650 days later, it still doesn’t.

Sure, it has its moments- well, two really. The first being the wine. No, not the gigantic 40 foot wine tower in the center of the restaurant, complete with wine angels soaring into the sky on ropes to fetch your bottle- because in Vegas, why simply just step into a wine cellar to fetch it? But that’s not what I was getting at. We were an extremely large party and the Cabernet they served us was excellent. So kudos for not giving us the crap stuff, which so often happens at large functions.

The other major win was the French Onion Soup. Made with foie gras, truffles and gruyere. I mean, if a restaurant can’t stick the landing with that line up, it might as well close its doors. You want this. Trust me.

The filet mignon with bleu cheese, however was just okay. Slightly over medium rare and a bit salty. Yet, somehow still better than the salmon entrée, which, while cooked perfectly was very lacking in wow.

To finish, Aureole really let things slide on the molten chocolate cake which was far from molten. Basically just chocolate cake. They should hop a flight to LA and eat at Sushi Roku to learn how it’s done.

The other dessert, however, was pretty good for what it was, a piña colada brulee. Which is a nice way of saying pudding. Made with pineapple and shaved, dried coconut. A solid good, but apart from bread pudding, I’m not the biggest pudding guy. Apologies to Bill Cosby.

3 teeth

Blue Ribbon Sushi

The Cosmopolitan Hotel • 3708 Las Vegas Blvd S. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 698-7000 · blueribbonrestaurants.com
 
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The fact that it’s located in the Cosmopolitan Hotel is definitely a plus. It’s the most tastefully done Casino in Vegas. Granted the competition isn’t exactly what one would call steep, but it does make your journey both to and from the restaurant much more seamless by comparison to something like Aureole, where you are in a beautiful setting inside the restaurant, but then the moment you set foot outside, you feel like you just stepped into the middle of a pissing match between Walt Disney and Donald Trump.

So, now that I’ve drifted way off topic and evoked a bodily fluid, I’m sure most of you are no longer reading this. But for those who still are, Blue Ribbon is awesome! Better than the one in New York on a number of metrics. The first being décor. I know, shocking that Vegas could outdo anywhere on aesthetics, much less New York, but it outdone it was.

And the outdoing kept doing from start to finish. The first thing being the open-faced Wagyu sliders. Perfectly cooked and a great way to offset your Vegas drinking bender. Another solid starter was the duck potsicker app. Also nice and substantive compared to the sushi side of the equation.

And last but not least, the grilled octopus started, which was also good, but definitely the weakest of the three.

Then came the main event. The Blue Ribbon as they called it. No, not the Blue Ribbon maki, which is lobster and caviar, the Blue Ribbon chef’s tasting- aka plank of awesome. Apparently inventive naming things isn’t their strong suit, but let me tell you, most of what was on that platter was. Covered with inventive maki, artfully brined sushi pieces and blissfully fresh (yes, in a dessert) sashimi.

Even the service was better than the Blue Ribbon Sushi in New York, which got me thinking, maybe they should move the Vegas one to New York and the New York one to Vegas. Thoughts?

4 teeth

 

The Ultimate Fish

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La Chevre D’or – Eze, FR

If you’re going to pay 90 Euros for a piece of turbot, it had better be the best friggin’ turbot you’ve ever had. And so it was. Flaky, moist and cooked to perfection. Yet more flavorful than you would ever think a white fish could be. Plated in such a way that even your eyes feel like they are getting in on the action.

Craft – New York, NY

Chollicio is the man. There’s no denying it. Ever since Craft hit the scene over a decade ago it has been one of New York’s finest. And it does so through very unconventional means, simplicity. He doesn’t go crazy with the sauces and accouterments. He doesn’t try to get all techy with foams and shit. He keeps it clean and let’s the fish shine in all its fishy glory.