Match Burger & Lobster

580 Riverside Ave. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8800 • matchburgerlobster.com

Fortunately, there is no affiliation to the Burger & Lobster in New York city, because I’m not a fan. As for this one, I am in love. What gives? “Match’s” which is written in teeny, tiny letters on the logo, but it makes a world of difference, let me tell you.

So, what does the “Match” mean, well, if you’ve been to Match in South Norwalk, this is a sister restaurant, and if you ask me, she’s the much hotter of the two. And while I was extremely sad to see Fleisher’s Kitchen go, RIP, I- wait, what was I saying? Huh. I already forgot, because Burger and Lobster is amnesia-inducing good, boasting both the best burger and the best lobster roll in town. Can’t decide which one to get, fuggetabouit! You can get both with the Mini Combo- a slider version of the bigger Match Burger anda mini version of the lobster roll as well.

Now let me break it down for you. The burger meat is sourced from the amazeballs butcher Fleisher’s, next door, then smothered with sweet and sour onions, bacon and cheddar dip. It’s not for the faint of heart. Granted, if you’re really bold, you can go for broke with their top-of-the-line burger also topped with lobster and truffles (pictured).

As for the lobster roll, it’s Connecticut style, duh, served buttery and warm, with a slight zag, served on a round bun in the larger full-entrée form, yet in a mini hot dog roll for the combo, paying more faithful homage to tradition.

The steamers are also strong. Fries and onion rings are decent, but everything is served with potato chips so you really don’t need ’em. Plus, I personally wouldn’t waste your time or caloric intake on any of them, because they crush it on the desserts. Both the Key lime pie and the warm chocolate brownie a la mode will have you cramming your face into the metal tray like dog to his bowl. Game. Set. Match.

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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

Plage Belles Rives

32 Boulevard Edouard Baudouin 06160 Juan les Pins, France+33 4 93 61 02 79 • bellesrives.com

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According to legend, the Hotel Belles Rives is where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night back in 1925 and while that may very well be true, it has little to do with the food at their restaurant, which at the end of the day is all I really care about. Sorry Scotty.

Funny coincidence, though, this place seems to be attracting famous writers ever since, because I actually dined with Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Two writers I infinitely admire and while that alone should be worth 5 knives, the restaurant was not, even with its unprecedented writer juju.

The other thing Belles Rives has going for it is the view, but if you’re going to head all the way over to Antibes from Cannes, then I’m not exactly sure why you would stop here as opposed to Eden Rock, which is far more stunning on every metric imaginable.

But since this is where I was, and not at Eden Rock, I partook in a feast of average, starting with an octopus salad, tossed over potatoes, tomatoes and onion. This was chased by an unmemorable sea bream with potato puree, roasted tomato and passion fruit.

The unexceptional performance persisted through dessert with an inventive sounding sea urchin lemon meringue. And while you are probably wondering what kind of Chopped basket brought upon this insane combo of sea urchin in dessert form, please don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out, because the dish is nothing of the kind. It’s just a lemon tart in dome form, with meringue spines poking out all over the place to make it sort of loosely resemble the shape of a sea urchin. Sort of how the restaurant sort of resembles a place you might actually think was worth the money, but it isn’t.

Nonetheless, it will still be a meal I will never forget, because how often is it that you get to hang with geniuses the likes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen friggin’ Dowd?!

2 teeth

Husk

76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-2500 • huskrestaurant.com

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Charleston just might be the only place on Earth where heading down a deserted alley would be sage advice, because when you do, you will find some of the most charming buildings, forested crypts and even parking lots that will take your breath away! In fact, the alleys are so stunning that they put the streets to shame. Granted that’s not saying much, since most of the main drags are swarming with a touristy hell.

But within this swamp of tank tops, mandals, and baseball caps that promise to “Make America Great Again,” there is a beacon of hope that goes by the name of Husk. Located in an old historic landmark, the building has been impeccably refurbished and decorated to the nines inside, my guess is by a SCAD alumni.

But a secret she ain’t, in fact, the news has spread so far and wide that I heard about this place from two different people in Cannes, France, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance, because this James Beard winning haunt packs ‘em in as if they were selling the antidote to Walkers (I felt it fitting to have a Walking Dead reference, being that much of it is shot in the Carolinas). And they flock here for good reason, because it doesn’t take long for them to impress, kicking things off with a magically refreshing Blueberry Hill cocktail, made with tequila, blueberries (obviously), orange juice and jalapeno for that nice little hit of spice to balance the sweet. Granted it’s more refreshing than it is anything else.

Another early crowd-pleaser was their bread. Baked with salty goodness in the form of bacon, I haven’t had anything like it since Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP). But try to contain yourself, because you’ll want to save room, and lots of it, after all, this is the South, and land of the lighter fare it is not.

For our appetizer, wifey and I split the hushpuppies based on the waitress’ recommendation, and while I liked her very much, I think she missed it wide on those puppies. I’ve had droves of better.

Also disappointing for me was the panzanella salad with fried chicken. The salad, was rather basic and while the chicken had great smokiness, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. Plus, I hate to say it, but I’ve had MUCH better fried chicken in Orlando at Highball & Harvest as well as in New York City (blasphemy!) at ABC Kitchen.

But just as the hype started to exceed the reality, the shrimp and grits rose to the occasion, done in such a way that almost tasted more like a sweet corn polenta, topped with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was in a legue of its own and only bested by one other, at Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately Husk is not exactly the storied success it was built up to be, but it also had its moments. Therefore I think it’s a worthwhile stop amongst your visit, should you grow hungry in your search for alleys.

3 teeth

Pat LaFrieda

The Pennsy 2 Penn Plaza New York, NY 10121 • http://www.thepennsy.nyc

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Well known as one of the best meat purveyors in the tri-state, Pat has been putting more smiles on restaurant goer’s faces than the all-you-can-eat buffet at Scores. But being the man behind the man is one story. Being on the stage all alone is another. Nonetheless, Pat has decided to take a stab at playing the front man at the Pennsy with a meat-a-palooza sandwich stand.

Now obviously the meat is gonna be on point, there’s really no disputing that. But as we know, one ingredient does not a sandwich make. I believe that lesson is in the Bible under Hoagie 25:17. A sin I find LaFrieda somewhat guilty of with his ham and brie sandwich. Now obviously it has other ingredients in it, but the balance is completely off and there is not an ounce of inventiveness to make up for it. So it ends up tasting like a torpedo of bread and brie, with a little bit of pig… no Gerald.

Improving from there is the steak and cheese Sammy with caramelized onions is strong. A classic for certain, but it hits all the right notes. Particularly in wintertime when comfort food is more en vogue.

And speaking of putting on the winter weight, the Chookies are also pretty darn joy inducing. Essentially half-baked chocolate chip cookies in cube form, or more to the point of the name, chunks. Get it? Chunky cookies = Chookies. Lame as it may be, it obviously sucked me in.

2 teeth

Rebelle

218 Bowery New York, NY 10012(917) 639-3880rebellenyc.com

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As soon as I learned that Pearl & Ash had a sibling, I started drooling from places I never even knew existed. But I’m not gonna lie, the other half of me was as nervous as a Albert Brooks in Network, because what are the odds that they could pull it off again?

Upon entering, once again, they managed to stick the landing on a cool, yet casual décor (granted I think P&A is still nicer). But when it comes to the service, not so much. They are so slow I would strongly advise that you not make any after-dinner plans other than retirement. On the upside, however, they are pretty spot on with the recommendations.

Exhibit A being from the equally slow sommelier who redeemed herself with a killer bottle of wine that was a quarter of the price of what I was going to do, and it was every bit as amazing. Glad the tradition of a brilliant vino list made it’s way up the street.

Then came the food and the presentations were gorge from start to finish. Speaking of, definitely skip the bread and do yourself a solid by getting the duck ham. It comes with some bread of its own and it is very worth the wait. Not at all like the version of the dish I had at Cask & Larder in Orlando, which was more of an homage to a candied ham, whereas this one is much more like a prosciutto. But while the two are very different, they are both stellar in their own ways.

The other STARter was the lobster with cabbage and herbs. Probably the best lobster dish I’ve had since Marc Forgione’s, which if you follow that link, you will soon learn that this is some very high praise.

After that, I would say the next best app of the night was the beef tartar, made dead sexy by the addition of sunchoke, horseradish and garlic. The only snore of the openers being the white asparagus salad with beurre blanc and summer truffle.

For the entrees, shockingly the chicken ruled the roost. A unique presentation in a juicy rectangle of love, made all the lovelier with a bright lemon preserve, sorrel and some killer potatoes.

The duck three ways, with frisee, pistachio and pearl onions. It was my second favorite, but the duck sausage was really the high mark of the dish. Had the entire plate just been the sausage I think it might’ve been the belle of the ball.

The weakest of the mains was the pork with romesco, Brussels sprouts and piperade, which is a Basque dish made with onions, peppers and tomatoes. It’s a noble attempt that’s just not at the level of anything else- other than the asparagus salad.

For dessert, the coconut cream tart is cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs-drop-dead-tastic. Simple and flawless, with nothing more to it than passion fruit, lime and the key to happiness.

The chocolate torte, on the other hand, was seriously upstaged, but not for a lack of trying. Made from a caramelia ganache and accompanied with sheep’s milk sorbet it just doesn’t get’r done. I say skip it and focus all of your efforts on the coconut tart. It demands your attention.

So the verdict is in. Pearl and Rebelle go two for two. Which, as we all know, equals four.

4 teeth

Costas

30 W 35th St. New York, NY 10001 • (646) 564-3545 costasnyc.com
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I have only gotten take out from here and I can’t say I recommend doing that, because arepas do not travel well, turning into a soggy, sloppy hockey puck of meat.

But beyond the mess, the flavors didn’t make up for it either. The hot sauce wasn’t hot. I could barely tell the difference between the short rib and the pork. And if they put any of the other things I asked for on it like onions or mushrooms, I honestly couldn’t say, because I was more focused on trying not looking like Jaba the Hutt horking down a frog as I gobbled them down in a meeting.

And while I’m never above messy food, it definitely wasn’t worth the damage it did to my reputation at the office, as everyone now refers to me as “Wilber.”

2 teeth

La Sirena

Maritime Hotel 88 9th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 977-6096 lasirena-nyc.com

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Had I not been staying in the Maritime Hotel, I don’t think I would’ve ever given this restaurant the time of day. But now that I’ve eaten here, I will be counting the days until my return.

The setting itself is somewhat odd, two pod-like dining rooms at opposite ends of a massive, oven bar area that feels like the lido deck aboard a cruise liner, but with trendy booze and cocktail tables as opposed to a swimming pool and corpulent sunbathers. But within the pods both left and right, The Siren is serving up Italian that sings like a choir of angels achieving multiple orgasms.

Bursting out of the gate like Sea Biscuit (the horse, not the atrocious movie), they serve up a fresh-baked loaf of piping hot Italian bread that is so good it will vanish quicker than Lindsay Lohan’s career. But be sure to order a second one, because there’s sopping up you’ll be wanting to do ahead.

For an appetizer, I seldom swoon over salad, but I gotsta hand it to the frisee with poached egg, spicy pepperoni and warm potatoes. It is excellent, made so by the skillful balance of all its ingredients, but I think a special shout-out is in order to the pepperoni. Cut thick and packing so much heat you’d think it was a soppressata.

With 80% of their pastas being homemade, go figure that I would pick one of the only two that wasn’t. But for whatever reason, regardless of the waiter’s caution, I pressed on, because I had pus on the brain. That came out completely wrong, but the pus I’m referring two has eight legs, not two. A beautifully prepared al dente bucatini, loaded with tender, thin slices of spicy octopus, roasted peppers and onions all tossed in a delightfully fresh red sauce. Again, so surprisingly good I started questioning myself and everything around me. Was it the fault of food critics for not giving La Sirena the rightful kudos it deserves? Or was I just coming down with a sudden case of the easy-to-pleasies?

Ending with the pine nut tart for dessert, I was hoping for a strong miss to help make sense of the world again, but sadly things will have to remain a mystery. Drizzled with a red wine caramel and topped with an olive oil gelato, the tart walks a razors edge between savory and sweet making it unique and curiously pleasing in unexpected ways.

I would easily go five knives on this one, but I didn’t hear a lot of oohs and ahhs from the others at my table so I’m guessing the chicken and the clams with linguini aren’t at the same level as the bucatini, which might help explain the surprisingly mortal star count on Yelp.

4 teeth

 

The Clocktower

5 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 413-4300 • theclocktowernyc.com

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The Clocktower is so damn good, time stands still. From the moment you walk through the door, you are hit by a bar so insanely hip that you almost don’t want to head up the equally stylish spiral staircase. But please do, because b-b-b-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Upstairs, the décor is simply magnificent. Like a grand, ritzy social club with high ceilings, huge rooms and stunning walls covered in a smattering of incredible black and white photography. And while the setting alone goes a long way in making you feel richer than you actually are, so does the staff, from waiters to hosts, you feel catered to like a Russian oligarch.

And that’s not just the booze talking, because I hadn’t even had a drink yet. But once I did, Whoa Nilly! I only tried two of the cocktails but both were excellent. The first going by the name The Cereal Killer, served in an old-fashioned mini milk bottle, complete with a red striped straw. It’s made with bourbon and Cheerios milk. Need I say more?

On the flip side from rich, the other end of the cocktail spectrum is nailed with comparable skill in the refreshingly light, Dill or no Dill. It’s comprised of gin, cucumber, lemon and dill, of course. Speaking of which, I love the touch they add to the glass with a teeny, tiny clothespin on the rim holding a sprig of fresh dill to the brim.

While we’re on the topic of hooch, the wine list is quite impressive as well, although the majority of the options are a bit steep ($200+), but luckily there are some solid affordable options on the list, even if they’re the minority. Like the Prisoner Cabernet blend (Syrah and Zin both play supporting roles) which I only just discovered days earlier. Great wine and an even better deal.

Firing on all cylinders, the food proves to be every bit as exquisite as its surroundings, plated with an architect’s eye, the presentations keep wowing one after the other, as do the bites. The first being the bread and butter, which might very well be an Ultimate, served warm, right out of the oven with a soft churned, salted butter that melts into every nook and cranny, making it a moral imperative to “get it while it’s hot.”

Going four for four on starters is also great way to get into my good graces, as all of them were shades of fabulous. In fact it was like Sophie’s Choice trying to decide which one was the best. The risotto with chanterelles, crispy veal sweetbreads and lemon confit was an Ultimate, so I tend to lean there, but that should take nothing away from the steak tartar au poirve with horseradish cream and charred onions which was superb. As were the pan seared scallops done up with cauliflower, pickled raisins and burnt butter. The native lobster might’ve been the least amazing of the bunch the more I think about it, but only in terms of flavor, because the presentation stole the show, served over ice, still in the tail, then mixed into an apple, mussel and fennel salad.

In terms of entrees, however, the winner was much more cut and dry. The lamb was the runaway champion, slow cooked and served with spiced eggplant and roasted salsify. Such a mastery of flavors on the fork, you have to stand in awe at the artistry. Following the lamb as a distant second would be the halibut with pink peppercorn sauce, seaweed and a carrot puree. And bringing up the rear was the filet mignon, which is a complete missed opportunity in my opinion (although the fries were good). Skip the steaks. There are so many inventive preparations on the menu that truly showcase the chef’s skill, so why would you ever go for something you could just as easily get at a Smith & Wollensky or Morton’s?

Closing strong, the dessert course also delivered yet another Ultimate, the best tart tatin I’ve had since La Goulue closed down (RIP). It’s made with pink lady apples and topped with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and if I could have children with a dessert it would most likely be this one. The other two desserts didn’t fare as well for me, however. I thought the pistachio soufflé with chocolate ice cream sounded amazing, but somehow fell short in execution, tasting less nutty and more chalky than one would hope. And the grapefruit sorbet with hazelnut streusel and fennel marmalade also proved to be better in theory than in practice.

But no place is without its misses and The Clocktower had very few. Surmounting its hype and outshining its next door neighbor Eleven Madison Park. Sure, them’s fightin’ words, but bring it on. I’d be happy to go toe to toe with any dissenting foodies out there who say otherwise. And I’m not just saying that because Clocktower is my new restaurant crush… Okay, that’s exactly why I’m saying it. But so what?

5 teeth

Cosme

35 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 913-9659 cosmenyc.com

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Zagat’s? You don’t need no stinking Zagat’s. Cause I got the skinny right here. And while it’s true, the hype definitely runs high on this place, Cosme still manages to put the “can” in gourmand-worthy Mexican cuisine.

The setting is more trendy than dressy, but tastefully done in a timeless way. My only gripe is that the barstools are so high you practically have to do a Fosbury Flop to get on top of them. Service was pretty darn bueno as well, although you can tell they have a tinge of New York tude at the host stand. Granted after one or two El Ninjas, their gin and mezcal cocktail, you hardly notice and are mostly worried about falling from the dizzying heights of your barstool.

At the table, things are more or less tapas-style with a twist, the first of which was the uni tostada with bone marrow. And yes it’s as good as it sounds. In fact, if God was a tostada, he would probably be this one.

Another excellent starter is the crispy octopus served over a bed of hazelnut mole and accented with pickled potatoes and watercress. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but just about as close as you can get.

Our vegetarian option of the night, the mushroom and squash barbacoa, was also good, but not quite at the same level as everything else, tasting more or less like a solid market veggie taco when all was said and done.

And as the main event, we had to go with the storied Duck Carnitas (pictured), which as the name implies is done like a giant pork roast with moisty goodness seeping out of every corner. Then, they top it with onions and radishes and serve it up with soft tacos and salsa verde. Sadly, as good as it was, I’m not sure it’s quite worth its steep price tag, though. And while I can appreciate the inventive twist of treating duck like pork, I’ve actually seen it a lot lately and done even better at places like Cask & Larder in Orlando. Whereas this one was in dire need of the hot sauce before giving it my stamp of approval.

For dessert we forwent the other “must get” meringue and opted for the manchego cheesecake served crumbled up in a bowl over a pineapple drizzle, topped with popcorn. Not the exclamation point I was hoping for, I gotta say. And that’s true about Cosme on the whole. As hard as this place is to get into, and as hyped as it has been, I have to concur with Yelp on this one and say that 3.5 stars is pretty spot on. But since I don’t do halves, as we know, it comes down to which way am I rounding… up or down? Well, they don’t call me ferocious for the nothin’…

3 teeth