il Buco

47 Bond St. New York, NY 10012(212) 533-1932 • ilbuco.com

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I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the problem, and all of these 4 star restaurants on Yelp really are great and my taste buds are just old and crotchety. That, or maybe the value of the star has fallen drastically against the knife in the foreign currency exchange? Well, I might’ve felt this way had it not been for the fact that the three other people who dined with me were equally underwhelmed.

Dare I say it, but I honestly think NYC Italian restaurants are more often than not, not all that. I know that’s a confusing double negative, so to clarify, they suck more than they sing. I’ve had better Italian in Westchester for Christ’s sake! Seriously. I challenge anyone to eat at Il Buco and then at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry or Fortina in Armonk and tell me Buco is better.

L.A. also has SEVERAL Italian restaurants that blow this away. C’mon New York! WTF?!? Get your Italian shit together.

As for our meal, we started with the croquettes, which proved to be nothing I would ever recommend ordering. Not cringe-worthy however, unless you consider how much money they cost, without returning to you an ounce of joy on your investment.

The kale salad came next and was painfully overrated. It’s like no one has ever had a kale salad before on the Il Buco review thread. Please people… go to The Fat Radish on the Lower East Side or to Yardbird in Miami. Both of their kale salads puts this one to shame.

The octopus was the only thing I would actually say was great. But if you truly want your eight-legged world rocked, try Pera near Grand Central, Gato in Noho or Pearl & Ash on Bowery.

As for entrees, the penne was overpowered by the cheese, so much so that you couldn’t even taste the other ingredients in the dish, such as Brussels sprouts, which aren’t exactly an easy flavor to drown.

The rabbit pappardelle was good. But a mere shadow compared to the glowing praise it receives on the Interwebs. And the homemade sorbets for dessert were so flavorless, we couldn’t even decipher what flavors they were, basically all tasting like balls of ice.

Fortunately the service was good. And the decor is quaint. But sadly, you can’t eat either of those. Unless you’re a cannibal, I suppose. Which might bode well for you, because the servers probably have more flavor than most of the dishes.

2 teeth

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Bohemian

57 Great Jones St. New York, NY 10012 •  playearth.jp

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Similar to RAO’s, Bohemian enjoys a frustrating, yet cool exclusivity. You can’t just make a reservation. First you need to have already been here. But how is that possible? It’s like the chicken and egg quandary.

Simply put, you have to be invited by someone who was once invited themselves. So, now the big question is whether or not it’s worth all of the cavorting to get in.

Maybe. If you get off on feeling special and in the know, Bohemian easily checks that box as you walk down its long, nondescript hallway, past the butcher shop that faces the street, only to arrive upon a frosted glass door with a buzzer on it. You ring it and wait. Then, someone answers and asks if you have a reservation, and only after confirming the name will they buzz you in. It’s like the restaurant version of an underground sex dungeon. Not that I would know anything about that, but now I’m probably going to have quite the time convincing the wife of that.

Unfortunately, if you are going for the food, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Especially when you compare it to other elusive Asian-American fusion hotspots like Momofuku Ko or Pearl & Ash.

We started with the array of garden vegetables and fondue, served in a purposefully rustic bucket of ice next to a flaming ramekin of fondue. It seemed reminiscent of the way a meal starts at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, only Blue Hill actually manages to pull it off. These veggies were nothing of the sort. Quite tasteless actually. Thankfully the fondue resuscitated them as they were in desperate need of the due.

The oysters were good, but raw oysters are more a dimension of sourcing than they are culinary cred.

The “mini” burgers (pictured), while not all that mini were perfectly cooked and among the highs. But not anywhere near an Ultimate.

Another strong player was the bacon served with a gigantic honey, raisin crostini, which was key. Because once you put that salty bacon on that sweet crostini you know happiness is the truth.

And last but not least, the branzino. Probably the best thing of the night, but specifically VERY familiar to me as it is prepared in an extremely similar manner as a Jamie Oliver recipe that we make at home all the time, which I love. It’s baked with a medley of vegetables and in Bohemian’s case, with roasted garlic as well. It’s very good, but because I have it all the time at home, it was hard for me to get too excited about it.

I wish I had more jubilant praise to report, but when you are pulling in 4.5 knives on Yelp and closing your door to the masses, I think you have to be held to a higher standard. And currently, that standard is too high for Bohemian.

3 teeth

Pearl & Ash

220 Bowery, New York, NY 10012(212) 837-2370 • pearlandash.com

octopus, sunflower seed, shiso

Here it is. The review that started it all:

I think this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am finally going to start my own food blog, when I find the time (summer), so that I can right all of the yelping wrongs. To give this place 3.5 stars is simply a travesty. I mean, if this isn’t 5 stars, what does a place have to do? Chew your food for you?! And with so many shit places out there getting 4 stars on Yelp, it basically renders the site useless to me, because they are SO wrong, SO often now.

But I don’t like to just drop bombs and leave. I’m a substantiation guy. So here is why the 138 person consensus is wrong and I am right…

The décor alone is stunning. Clean, contemporary, artful and romantic. All within a very small space that doesn’t feel like it. And while the décor would seem to imply that the place is snooty, it is far from it, perhaps due in large part to the staff, who keep things very light and casual. But not to the point of unprofessional. Our waiter was excellent. On point with recommendations, attentive and friendly.

And not to be outdone by the décor, the food is excellent. The octopus alone is worth a one-pager, done with a sauce derivative of the kind used on spareribs in Chinese restaurants. Perhaps the best octopus I’ve ever had. The scallop ceviche with corn nuts is a culinary clinic on textures and flavors and how to truly get the most out of your mouth’s potential. And the banana dessert was the sweet equal to the scallops- just as complex with its masterful blend of flavors and textures- including parsley. Yes, parsley.

So that covers the immortal side of the coin. The rest, slipped to a mere “excellent/ great.” For example, the pork meatballs. Absolutely delicious, but Little Owl might have them beat. Not a bad standard to be held up to mind you. The Cauliflower with shishito peppers while also very good, doesn’t hold a candle to Tamarind and Ilili’s. But again, high praise to even be compared.

Last but not least, the only two I wouldn’t get again- but not because they were bad, but because they just weren’t SO good that I HAVE to get them again, were the lamb belly and the potatoes.

Oh, and I almost forgot the booze! The wine list is impeccable and the cocktails aren’t too shabby either. We had two of the Murder on the Ebullient Express, made with white port. So good. So refreshing.

I just can’t say enough about this place. Such a treat. And what makes it especially wonderful is the pan-Asian thread you can see brought into every detail and dish within the restaurant- and yet it pays strong homage to so many other cuisines.

Well done Pearl & Ash. In my book, you deserve a recount. Either that or Yelp deserves a rethink.

5 teeth