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

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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

Her Name is Han

17 E 31st St. New York, NY 10016 (212) 779-9990 hernameishan.com

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Even though his name is Ferocious, I was pretty much set on at least three knives before I even had my first bite. Starting with the name alone, it’s just friggin’ cool and somehow already tells you that you’re not in for you’re typical Korean culinary experience. Then, once you enter, the setting manages to keep carrying that baton, done in a rustic-chic that sort of bridges the gap between a Le Pain Quotidien and ABC Kitchen. And as I write that I’m realizing that’s quite the chasm, but go and you’ll understand.

Also, once you get a looksy at the menu, I think you’ll come to the same conclusion as I did, you just instantly have to like the place. I mean everything looks good, so I threw a dart and partook in the spicy raw tuna bowl, which is essentially a nice twist on a bi bim bap, made with sashimi grade tuna, brown rice, poached egg, avocado, carrots, peppers, green onions and spicy sauce. Not only is it good. It’s good for you. And it’s good for your wallet, being that’ll probably set you back less than a sandwich and drink at Pret!

Looking forward to going back soon. But on the earlier side, because they don’t take reservations and they do make you wait.

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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.

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Alice’s Tea Cup

102 W 73rd St. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 799-3006 • alicesteacup.com

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New York can be so annoying with its Stalin-esque reservation rules, which seem so out of character for a place like this. Charming, whimsical, themed like something pulled straight out of Alice in Wonderland, hence the name. But unless your tea party is six people or greater, prepare to wait, because the Queen of Hearts is apparently running things.

That said, should you have a party of six or simply wait long enough to get a table, you are in for a treat that will have you grinning wider than the Cheshire Cat. It starts with their “wonderful” assortment of interesting and unique teas such as apple-cinnamon and chocolate chai, each served in its very own color-coded pot the size of your head. Which you then pour into a mixed English tea setting comprised of hand-painted floral china. None of the teas were amazing, however. It was actually the food that stole the show.

Stolen with a surprisingly limited brunch menu, but if everything’s good, then who really cares, right? The scones are excellent (pictured), some of the best I’ve ever had. Thick, not too dense, moist and yummy. The French toast is also very good, served in cubes, casserole style, with an amazing drizzle of chocolate, syrup and berries around the perimeter of the plate.

The salmon benedict isn’t too shabby either, although the eggs were a touch overcooked, which is benny blasphemy and borderline worth docking a knife, but because they served it over one of their amazing scones I’m gonna let it slide.

The tower of breakfast is pretty great too, if you’re looking to try a bit of everything, adorned with a poached egg, scone and a nice homemade granola served with fresh berries and vanilla yogurt.

But Alice is also a bakery, making it an ideal place to celebrate birthdays, particularly if you have young birthday girl with you, deep in the princess phase. Mine is a bit of a chocoholic, so we obviously went with the chocolate cake, which I thought was just okay by comparison to the rest of the meal, but that didn’t seem to stop my daughter from wolfing it down like a champ.

All in, a highly successful outing worth the wait and the special trip, because that’s exactly what Alice’s Tea Cup offers… A special experience.

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Lola

2000 4th Ave. Seattle, WA 98121(206) 441-1430 tomdouglas.com

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When you’re staying at a hotel and you ask the concierge for restaurant recommendations, it’s always a bad sign when they recommend the one located in the hotel, just off of the lobby. It’s like, “Suuuure, and I bet your mother thinks you’re quite the catch as well.”

Well damned be my pessimism, because Lola in the Andra hotel is actually rock solid. Now, I only had breakfast there, but that was easily enough to see that Lola has serious skillz. How serious? Let’s just say Dick Cheney is hilarious by comparison.

But as serious as it is, I was giddy as a schoolgirl with my order of Tom’s Favorite Breakfast (that Tom being Tom Douglas, a Seattle restaurant icon). It’s grilled octopus, sliced purple potatoes, tender greens, bacon and green garlic yogurt capped with a sunny side egg. It’s also fan-fricken-tastic. And sure, I was like you going in, “Octopus for breakfast?” So, I asked our server if it was worth the experimentation and she responded with an emphatic yes. And now I can see why. Live and learn people, octopus is the new breakfast of champions.

However, one trick pony Lola is not. Oh no, no, no. The omelette with morels, English peas and minty feta is also dope. Made doper still by thick, meaty slabs of bacon and squashed garlic fried potatoes.

Even the tea here is worth a shout out. No run-of-the-mill mint for these cats. They mix it with licorice and it was fantastic. Normally I’m more of a juice guy, but this was so good I downed the pot like it was the cup of life.

So after such glowing praise, why not 5 knives you ask? Well, after I go back for lunch or dinner, check this review again and we’ll see…

UPDATE: So, after going back for lunch, once again Lola served up an impressive performance with their delicious sockeye kebabs, served with a yogurt, dill cacik-like sauce, a fresh Greek salad and warm, fluffy pita. It was truly awesome. So now why not five knives? Well, I went back again for breakfast and this time I tried the eggs benny and I have to say it was a miss. Sure, the eggs were poached to perfection. And the ham they use is wonderful. But the fresh baked muffin from Dahlia across the street was chewy and hard to cut through. So much so that it brought the whole dish down with it. Not to mention the knife count.

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Pizzology

608 Massachusetts Ave. Indianapolis, IN 46204(317) 685-2550 • pizzologyindy.com

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Having just been to Libertine and lovin’ it, we decided to double down on the sibling – sadly, like something out of the movie Twins, Pizzology is the Danny Devito to Libertine’s Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Not aesthetically speaking, however, the décor was spot on with an industrial, clean vibe that didn’t try too hard to be cool. It just was.

And service was actually far superior to Libertine, surprisingly enough, although you’ll have to read my Libertine review to understand why.

But as for the food, this is where Pizzology needs to spend a little more time in the lab, because there was really only one dish that managed to impress me, the roasted kale salad. Topped with fried chickpeas, grilled zucchini and goat cheese. Simple you say? Simply awesome!

Sadly, things were all downhill from here. The grilled octopus starter, while also good, was extremely garlicky, so if you think this review stinks, it’s probably that.

The other starter we shared was the warm spinach salad, which proved to be relatively pedestrian compared to others I’ve had. Same bacon. Same poached egg. Bacon was a touch over-cooked and salad under-yummy.

And then came the pies of which we did four. The best for me was the tallegio, fig and prosciutto. Now you know, I get weak in the knees at the mere mention of tallegio, so if you’re not a fan, buyer beware. I do recommend it with a healthy dose of red pepper flakes though, so as to play off of the sweetness of the figs, which in turn play off of the saltiness of the prosciutto. It’s a very playful pie.

Next up for me would be the Romano, topped with cremini mushrooms. It was nothing revolutionary, but sometimes you need a fastball down the middle.

Then there’s the brussell sprout pie, which sounds SO much more interesting than it actually tastes. Not sure what got lost in translation, but flavor was among them.

And bringing up the rear was the fennel sausage pie, assumingly influenced by Batali’s pizza joint, Mozza in LA. The difference is that Mozza makes it 10 times better. One of the best pies, if not THE best pie in the joint. Here, not so much.

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Seasonal

132 W 58th St. New York, NY 10019(212) 957-5550seasonalnyc.com

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While Seasonal is not a runaway success and there are many misses to be had on the menu, the highs are so very high that it’s hard to give it just 3 knives.

First off, the amuse bouche was quite good. A creamy truffle soup that even a Soup Nazi could envy.

The breads, however, were a touch on the dry side- but the spreads they served them with made up for it. One red pepper, one green olive, both delicious.

For the apps, please, please, please listen to me on this one. The sweetbreads are INCREDIBLE! Forget that they are glands for just a second and appreciate them for their complex, sweet- almost fried oyster-like brilliance. It far surpassed every other app on the table, including the lobster with poached egg, which only wishes it could die a quick death and be reincarnated as this sweetbread dish.

As for entrees, the schnitzel comes just like it does at Edi & the Wolf, which is very good, but if you’ve had it there, I urge you to forgo it for the Skate. Yes, fish. Not a big “Austrian” dish, but WOW was it amazing! Layered with rich flavors worthy of a red meat dish.

As for the veal cheeks with spaetzle- skip it. It was the weakest entree at the table.

And as for dessert, while the strudel is good, it pales in comparison to Peter Luger’s, which is easily the best apple strudel in the city. That said, the apple pancakes were very good and the far better choice of the two.

As for service, I thought they were quite good. Friendly and attentive.

Decor is also nice, clean and simple- but it’s the layout itself that is kind of a bummer. First, the place is very narrow and when coupled with a long bar that is probably too big for the space it literally makes it so that there really isn’t a truly “nice” table in the entire restaurant. Even the room in the back is windowless and almost claustrophobic.  Fortunately we were with good company and we weren’t facing the bar, but the fact remains we were basically sitting right on top of it..

So, despite Seasonal’s shortcomings, its longcomings? make it definitely worth a visit. Especially if you’re seeing a show in midtown.

4 teeth