Cask Republic

99 Washington StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 354-0163 • caskrepublic.com

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Located on the hip, main drag in SONO where you have no shortage of cool places to eat, you will find Cask Republic, which I’m not too sure I would ever label as “cool” based on its décor. But compensating for the ambiance Cask pushes the pendulum handily in the other direction when it comes to the consumables.

Kicking things off, the Christmas in Kentucky cocktail is a must get, made with Eagle Rare Bourbon, Luxardo Plum Triple Sec, Fernet (an Italian form of bitters), mulling syrup and even more bitters, of the black walnut variety. Now I’ve never actually spent Xmas in Kentucky, but if this is how they roll, book me a ticket!

For starters wifey and I shared the Bavarian pretzel with cave-aged Amish cheddar and grain mustard ale sauce. It’s not exactly light, but it’s pretty darn good. As are the roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta, carmelized onions and maple glaze.

Also labeled a “small plate” for some bizarre reason, unless you are Gulliver and all this time I’ve been blindly ignorant to the fact that I’m a Lilliputian, the beer braised beef short ribs with grilled bread and an egg yolk on top are a massive triumph. Best thing we had (pictured).

The IPA marinated freebird chicken also held its own, but head to head with the short ribs, it’s no match. Not for a lack of trying though, sexed up with a black truffle risotto and a foie gras demi glaze.

Closing arguments were strong as well, delivering the second best thing we had, two scoops of Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory’s finest. Never heard of it before in my life, and now I’ll never forget it. It was out of this world… and cue the pun groans.

4 teeth

Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

All’onda

22 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 231-2236 allondanyc.com

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Hype strikes again! Damn YOU HYPE!!!!

I swear this place must’ve made it onto at least half a dozen top lists in NYC, from Thrillist to New York Magazine. Well, unless you’re caught up in some cockamamie Brewster’s Millions scheme where you’re trying to squander your hard-earned coin, I’d say skip it, because it’s almost all’unda whelming.

From the moment the first starter hit the table things were off. The arancini with black truffles were so lacking they should be blacklisted. Not even the faintest hint of earthiness from the truffles, which most likely didn’t come from France. And no butteriness or creamy cheese to make the risotto shine from within.

The polenta crisps had their issues as well, served with a baccalà montecato dip (cod salad) that was so incredibly salty no one was able to endure more than a single bite.

The best of the lot was easily the duck crostini, but that was in large part due to the lack of competition. Almost like a foie gras terrine, the duck was silky smooth, spreading over the toast like a blanket of richness, sweetened with pickled Asian pear and contrasted with a little hazelnuttiness.

I shared the short rib risotto for two (pictured) with a friend, and fortunately she didn’t disown me after talking her into it, because it was a huge mistake. Both in physical and conceptual terms. Starting with the physical, let’s just say that I think they misprinted the menu and it was supposed to be for 20. That, or Fred Flintstone was in the kitchen and no one ever bother to discuss portion control with him. Also, it’s not a risotto dish. It’s the friggin’ side of a cow on a plate next to a drizzle of tomato mostrada and a tiny bowl of Arborio rice, so don’t be fooled by the misleading description. Also, just don’t order it, because it’s too expensive for what it is and how it’s served, “sous-vide” as they like to call it. Or “raw,” would be another way to describe it. The server tried to convince us that the color was a result of the sous-vide process, but I can assure you that the texture didn’t lie.

The garganelli was much, much better, prepared with peekytoe crab, citrus and tarragon. But somehow it still didn’t reach the level of expectations. If you want a truly special crab pasta try NoMad or Frankies 457.

Then, just when all hope seemed lost, All’onda rallied with an Ultimate. The Brussels sprouts are as good as the reigning champ Ilili. But this is no copycat. All’onda goes its own way, using candied pancetta and bottarga (dried mullet roe) to harness greatness. It was so incredibly good, the Japanese eggplant turned green with envy.

Another surprise came from the dessert course and while I usually don’t recommend olive oil cake, this was the best I’ve ever had. But considering it’s still just olive oil cake, it’s hard for me to get so excited that I can declare it an Ultimate. I suppose it is though, trouncing the likes of Maialino and The Inn at Pound Ridge.

The apples were also good, basically a deconstructed crumble. And the sorbets were delicious as well, the best being the kiwi.

And last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. The basil gimlet was nice and refreshing and the La Serenissima was nice and spicy. But while it had its moments, it had its misses. Too many, if you ask me, to ever call it one of the top new spots in the city.

2 teeth

Finalmente Trattoria

31 Beekman Ave. Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591 • (914) 909-4787

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It certainly helps to come here with a healthy dose of skepticism, because 4/4.5 stars it ain’t. In fact, less than a handful of restaurants in all of Westchester are worthy of that kind of praise.

That said, Finalmente did give a solid showing. The dining room is cozy and tastefully done. And the menu is loaded with some very unique preparations.

For apps I had the suckling pig stuffed mushrooms with black truffles and chickpeas, which was a solid yum. The other app we had was a pseudo salad served with giant balls of breadcrumb-dusted cheese and a chianti jelly, which I also quite liked.

Next came the pastas. Both were perfectly al dente. I had the wild boar ragu and wifey had the straw pasta with peas, pancetta, and… I forget. Both were good, but I think mine was a tad more interesting.

And for dessert, we did the ole standby, gelato. The chocolate is AMAZING! Not sure if they make it or just buy it, but WOW! Actually, if they do buy it and you know from where, please do tell?

Unfortunately, the chocolate gelato was the only “wow” thing of the meal. But everything else was a very respectable “good,” and nothing was bad.

Service, however, was a tad off. Pleasant for sure, but pulled a few cardinal sins. The biggest one being that he came and took the bill while we were still seated at the table. A huge no, no if you are trying to play in the leagues of 4 and 5 stars.

The other nit would be no bread/olive oil. Pretty rare at an Italian joint to leave you without a single nosh until your apps arrive. Heck, even the Olive Garden gives you unlimited salad & bread sticks. What’s with the no hospitaliano.

So, as I said before, 4.5 stars (or in my case knives) is a bit of a stretch, but for 3.5 it’s pretty perfecto!

3 teeth

Ox Wine & Burger Bar

Kumbahce Mah., Cumhuriyet Cad. No:155 Bodrum, Turkey • +90 532 356 7652 • www.oxburgerbar.com
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The BaconChevre is the bok (shit). Rivals most burgers back in the states. Decked out with goat cheese as the name implies. Pancetta, sort of like the name implies. And caramelized onions. The bun is soft and a touch sweet almost like a brioche or potato bread and together with an ice cold Efes (Turkish Beer) and you’d be hard-pressed to keep your fast going through Ramadan.

Other burgers there also range from okay to great depending. The Cheddarburger being on the higher end of that range and the Truffle burger being at the okay-er end. Yes, the most expensive burger on the menu is a big pass if you ask lil’ ole me. There are much better, much cheaper options.

They also have ox, chicken and veggie burgers, none of which I’ve tried. Fries and pickles make for passable sides. But one condiment you don’t want to miss is the spicy Turkish brown mustard. Gulden’s shmuldens.

Also, between my first and second visits they have opened tables on the beach, which at sunset offer a beautiful view as the sun dips behind the castle.

Service is also very friendly and accommodating and English speaking, which is a plus for semi-Turks such as myself.

4 teeth

NoMad Restaurant

1170 Broadway New York, NY 10001 • (347) 472-5660 • thenomadhotel.com

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While the Flatiron already runneth over with great restaurants, it just got more flooded. NoMad is absolutely sensational. From the décor with its incredible skylight to the service to the drinks to the food. This place didn’t miss a single beat.

For drinks I had the La Piña, and if you like spicy cocktails like I do, this one is a winner. Looks very cool too. My friend ordered the basil lemon drink (can’t recall the name), which was also quite solid. Bright and refreshing.

For appetizers, I had the egg with pancetta and corn. So creamy and savory, which is perfect for sopping up the sauce with their amazing fresh baked bread.

Also as an app, my friend ordered the cauliflower with almonds, grapes and manchego. Such a surprise winner. The carmelization of the cauliflower creates a wonderful sweetness that is accented by the grapes, yet contrasted by texture. Then, there’s the creamy saltiness of the cheese, which is both equaled and contrasted by the almonds. This dish is masterful.

Then came the entrees. I won this round with the tagliatelle. Bone simple, but simply brilliant. The acidity from the lemon, the cracked black pepper and the freshness of the crab. Not to mention the buttery, silkiness of the pasta. Absolute perfection.

As for the other entrée, the Butternut Squash, it was good. But not great. Granted, it truly relied on being the sum of its parts. For example, any bite without the green apple was just eh. Too much of one note. It really needed the balance of bitter to sweet to make it memorable. Although, to be fair, the dish is supposed to come with sausage instead of mushrooms, but because my friend is a veggie we had to suffer 😉

And last but not least, dessert. Perhaps the least impressive course of the meal, but that’s still high praise. The dessert cart is astounding (granted, presentation across the board was stellar). We had what is basically a croissant soaked in simple sugar to create a hard outer shell, then served that to us with a fig compote.

What else can I say? I’m mad about NoMad.

5 teeth