Fuku

163 1st AveNew York, NY 10003 • eatfuku.com

Normally I’m a pretty big David Chang fan, but Fuku is definitely missing the Momo mojo. The concept is fried chicken. In sandwiches, fingers and bites, with various builds in between. I went with the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich and despite the pickles and supposed habanero, it’s hopelessly bland. In fact, I emptied an entire ramekin of Saam Sauce (David’s answer to Sriracha) just to make it worth eating.

For those of you thinking, but Ferocious, it’s figgin’ chicken, how much flavor can you expect?! MUCH more. Just try the one at Son of a Gun and R+D Kitchen, both in LA. I realize neither are very convenient for a New Yorker, but if you’re ever out that way, my case rests in the City of Angels.

The bites are in the same bland boat, so let’s not waste your precious time reading about these balls of blandness either.

There is a silver lining on the TryCaviar menu however, should you choose to ignore my advice. The salad. Yes, salad. It’s a kale base, loaded with broccoli, shishito peppers and edemame peas. It’s the bomb.

And speaking of explosions, the Compost Cookie is always a strong go-to. Granted I feel like it’s not quite as good as the ones at Milk Bar. And even if it were, my advice to you, if you’re ordering on the aforementioned TryCaviar, get your cookies Dominique Ansel Bakery instead. You’ll thank me.

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Reins New York Style Deli

435 Hartford TpkeVernon, CT 06066 • (860) 875-1344 • reinsdeli.com

Calling this place “New York Style” is either an affront to New York City or the loosest use of the word style since the 80’s.  Oh, and please don’t ask me why I was in Vernon, Connecticut. Also, don’t ask me why the Republicans have a headquarters in this strip mall, flanked only by minority businesses which Republicans are actively working to screw over in every way possible (love thy neighbor fail!). And whatever you do, do not ask me why there is a line out the door to eat here… granted I think I can surmise the answer to that last one, because I’m guessing the pickens are mighty slim in Vernon (the people, not so much).

The food is your very basic kosher deli fare. And I can only imagine that the reason this place is packing ‘em in is because these poor souls don’t know that Russ & Daughters has shipping (not to mention they don’t know Russ & Daughters, period).

But catty jibes aside, if your heart is set on this place, I vote for the corned beef Rueben (pictured). Easily the best thing I had. After that it’s a slippery slope with the pickles and the potato knish ranking in at decent, the latkes ranking at Jimmy Dean and the kugel at futile.

All of that said, once you wash it all down with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda who really cares? Am I right?

The Salt Lick

18300 Fm 1826 Driftwood, TX 78619 • (512) 858-4959 • saltlickbbq.com

I haven’t seen a restaurant of this scale since Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa.

It’s like a compound with a parking lot that rivals most shopping malls and lines so long they could teach Disney a thing or two; the wait for a table was two hours long, yielding an outdoor waiting area that is the size of most large restaurants. Even the line to return your buzzer when you actually do get a table was crazy long. In fact, the only reasonable wait was to place a take out order, which only took a mere 35 minutes. And then we ate at our “waiting table.” Also, fortunately the line to get booze while you kill time is much more civil.

Naturally after all of that hype and anticipation, you have to be wondering if it was worth it? And my honest answer would be… ish. The sausage is a bit of a letdown. As are the pork ribs. And the slaw and bean sides are nothing more than placeholders. But hot damn are the beef ribs good. As is the brisket with bread as soft as a baby’s bottom and the pickles to boot.

For dessert the chocolate pecan pie is decent, but is no competition to the one at Chili (not the chain, the restaurant in Austin). Whereas the blackberry cobbler proved to pack some serious complexity in it. Mucho me gusto!

But food aside, that’s not why you have to go to The Salt Lick. It’s just one of those seven wonders, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kinda places. There’s a vineyard and a bocce court and live music and a grilling pit the size of a Sherman tank (pictured). Sure, it’s a bit of a drive and in the middle of nowhere, but the scale and awe will make it all worthwhile. Particularly if you stick with the beef ribs and the brisket.

 

Salvation Burger

230 E 51st StNew York, NY 10022 • (646) 277-2900 • salvationburger.com

If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you probably already know that I’m not a big fan of the burger at Spotted Pig. Which probably has you scratching your head as to why I would ever come here, well-knowing that this is the same chef.

To which I respond, “fair.” But isn’t our country built on second chances? From Robert Downy Jr. to John Travolta to Anthony Weiner- okay well almost on that last one.

So how’d it go? Just okay. The Salvation Burger is definitely the headliner here for a reason, and while it’s not the best burger I’ve had in the city, it might just eke its way into the top ten. I do recommend getting it with the Holy Cow beer that is brewed specifically to go with the burger, and while it does indeed live up to the mission, it’s not all that drinkable on its own.

The Classic Burger is also good, but because of its thinner patties the meat gets overwhelmed by all the other things going on and winds up tasting a lot like a more refined Big Mac.

Fries are good. Pickles are good. Apple pie is just okay (done like the Classic Burger, a fancy version of a McDonald’s staple)  and service is a train wreck. Also, the food is insanely overpriced for what it is. Don’t think I’d ever go back, because if I’m gonna drop that kinda coin on a burger that will supposedly “save me” I’d rather get the Black Label at Minetta or the Duck Burger at Elan. Now those are some soul-saving burgers right there!

Charlie Bird

5 King St. New York, NY 10012(212) 235-7133charliebirdnyc.com

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It’s tough to get a reservation at Charlie Bird. Too tough if you ask me, because it simply isn’t worth the aggravation. Hell, even if it were easy to get a table here I still don’t think I could honestly say it’s worth the money or your time, falling into that ever-growing pile of over-hyped Italian restaurants in New York.

The décor is an intimate sliver on the Soho fringe with exposed brick and a floor to ceiling windowed wall, which tends to make the place quite noisy and thus less intimate because you constantly have to break the flow of conversation at your table by saying, “Wha?” The service was good though. Friendly, unaffected and most importantly attentive.

But Charlie choked where it counts, serving up a ho-hum string of dishes seven deep, made up of three starters and all four pastas. The only bright spots being the focaccia they serve as their bread and the painfully simple, yet surprisingly delicious faro salad (pictured).

So starting positive, let’s talk focaccia, which once served you might ask, hey, where’s the olive oil for dipping? But take just one single bite and you will soon learn that ample amounts of oil are already in the bread. It’s very good, but let’s just say you’re napkin is going to look like you had a run-in with one of those Turkish wrestlers and lost.

Apart from the focaccia, the only other thing that managed to impress was the faro salad I mentioned above, made with a colorful array of roasted cherry tomatoes, pistachios, mint and Parmesan. And while it’s very good, why bend over backwards to get a reservation at 6:30pm for a dish you could easily make at home?

So now that the backhanded compliments are out of the way, it’s time to get nasty… The grilled octopus saltimbocca with Tuscan beans and prosciutto is okay, if not a touch dry. Also, after hearing that it was the best in the world, I feel it is my moral duty to bring those hypers back down to Earth, and correct this injustice by setting the record straight. This pus wouldn’t even crack my top five in New York City alone! Pearl & Ash, Gato and Pasha all handily trouncing this lame attempt at an Ultimate.

Far more disappointing than the octopus, however, was the burrata, served up with baby romaine and pickle accompaniments that did absolutely nothing for the dish. In fact, this dish was so boring it makes watching golf on TV seem riveting by comparison. Yet even as boring as the burrata was, I think the cauliflower with hazelnuts might actually be able to out-bore it in a bore-off.

Then came the pastas, and all four tasted like the chef had developed an acute case of flavor-a-phobia. The best two were the corn parapdelle with leek fondue and the linguini with uni, bortarga and lemon. But saying they were the best is like claiming bragging rights after winning a foot race versus a corpse. The corpses being the gnocci, (Élan’s is WAY better, not to mention Frenchier), and the Chitarra Nero with crab and chili, which was just flat out too salty to be enjoyable. And so was the entire experience for that matter. Especially when there are scads of other places out there that are easier to get into and are infinitely tastier. Sorry Charlie (couldn’t resist a little old school Starkist ad humor).

2 teeth

NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

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No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

3 teeth

The Blazer Pub

440 Rt 22 Purdys, NY 10578 • (914) 277-4424theblazerpub.com

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I think legislation needs to be passed to hold Yelpers accountable for gross negligence of opinion. I mean to call this burger the “best burger in Westchester” is criminal. Worse still, some dolt actually went so far as to say “in the world.” Yes, maybe in your tiny little world that stretches from Purdy to Croton to Yorktown Heights, but in the ACTUAL world, this burger is terrorism on a bun.

For starters, the meat itself is egregious. Dry, overworked and overcooked, crumbling apart like Tom Brady’s alibi. Plus, the patty is way too small for the hard roll they serve it on, throwing the balance completely off. Well, that would’ve been the case had there been any semblance of balance to begin with, because all of the proportions are FUBAR on the Blazer Burger (pictured). Too much of everything except the actual burger itself, drowning in caramelized onions, a thick, flavorless beefsteak tomato, jarred pickles, crispy bacon and romaine.

The Celsius Burger might’ve been even worse, because it didn’t even have the benefit of syphoning moisture off of the onions. Luckily I had a plethora, so I shared. Otherwise I think we would’ve eaten even less than we actually did.

Oh, and speaking of not finishing, don’t even get me started on the “French Fries.” Basically a pile of two by fours made of potato with zero seasoning. We ordered a medium plate for four people and after we were finished there was still enough fries to serve our leftovers as a medium portion to four people, and that would’ve still been considered a large portion in my opinion.

The Guinness on tap is bitter, the lemonade is Snapple and the décor is a dump. Granted that’s intended to be part of its charm. It didn’t work (charmed would not be a word I would use to describe how I felt). About the only thing that was working at The Blazer was our waitress. No complaints on service. But why people flock here is beyond me. And flock they did. Gobbling up this dog food as if the antidote was in it. And perhaps it is, because you’d have to be sick to think this place is deserving of four stars.

1 tooth

2nd Avenue Deli

162 E 33rd St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-9000 • 2ndavedeli.com

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Forget for a moment that it’s not on Second Avenue. It used to be, but some greedy landlord hiked up the rent and they moved. Yes, it would’ve been ideal for them to find a new location somewhere along Second Avenue, but I’m assuming they tried that. And in hindsight, I’m guessing they probably wished they had chosen a different name for the restaurant, but I imagine they never thought this would ever happen to them. Guess they should’ve maybe read a few history books, because being displaced is hardly a foreign dynamic to the Jewish people.

But enough about the move, because regardless of where this place is, it will always be the quintessential New York deli experience in my eyes.  Corn beef sandwiches the size of your head (pictured), but quality meat. Not just packed on there for gluttony sake like at Carnegie or Stage Deli. Same goes for their pastrami. Knishes and potato pancakes as good or better than Bubby used to make. Their eggs with lox and onions is killer. The best rugelach in the city. Best matzoh ball soup. Even the pickles and pickled tomatoes sitting their free, right on your table are worth writing about, hence I am. If you are a Jew, and live within 50 miles of this place and haven’t been there yet, you should be ashamed of yourself.

5 teeth

112 Eatery

112 N 3rd St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 343-7696112eatery.com

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Oh my friggin’ wow! I was not expecting this. Sure, I was hopping for it to be good, but this place in the Little Apple could easily hold its own in the Big Apple.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing of the dishes was the fresh ricotta with honey and white truffle oil. Simple? Yes. Simply amazing? Hells yes!

The lamb scottadito with mint yogurt and the pasta with foie gras meatballs were also both very good, but the other big standout of the night was the burger. Crazy good. But the key is to put the pickles on the burger and not eat them separately. The sweetness mixed with the salty brie, on that Portuguese roll… Trust me.

4 teeth

Umami Burger

500 Broadway Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 451-1300umamiburger.com

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At first I didn’t get it. I mean one bite of their veggie burger and you will most likely exclaim the same baffled response as I did, “What is all the hype about?!”

Granted, I didn’t have any of the meat burgers, but that veggie burger was pretty lame. Mushy and tasted a bit like dog food. I also had the smushed potatoes because they looked good at the table next to me. Unfortunately they were about as flavorless as the burlap sack they once came in.

On a positive note, the presentation is good. But with In and Out is just minutes away down Lincoln I wasn’t about to rush back. Fortunately a friend convinced me to give it a second go on one the meat burgers, so I rolled the dice.

Yahtzee! Okay, so I was wrong. Well, sort of. I still standby the fact that everything I had that first visit was indeed shameful, but what I ordered that time was also miserably wrong.

This time I went with the Truffle burger and the sweet potato fries and both were VERY good. As was the pickled plate (an assortment of, you guessed it, all things pickled). Also, they had one of my favorite beers on tap, Allagash White. So, I guess we learned a lesson today, Umami and I… That everyone, even burger places, deserve a second chance.

3 teeth