Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

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Zafra

Dorado Beach Plantation Village Dorado, Puerto Rico • 00646 • (787) 626-1054 doradobeachclubs.com

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If you’re staying at The Ritz Carlton in Dorado Beach and want to mix it up a little from the resort restaurants, don’t. I can completely empathize with the desire for adventure, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Located in the “Plantation,” which I suppose is Puerto Rican for “clubhouse,” as in the clubhouse you’d expect to find at many a golf resort (not to shit on it too much though, it is a rather grand clubhouse, taking cues from its name and looking a lot like a giant house on a plantation), but a clubhouse is still a clubhouse and our dread started creeping in fast as we approached.

Situated in a corner on the top floor the dining room sorta shat the bed. Totally depressing. Away from the water. By the golf course, part of the clubhouse (can you tell I don’t like clubhouses yet?), the dining room is just small and somewhat dated, populated by a lifeless crowd. So, we opted to sit outside where we were attacked by mosquitoes and a bat (guess this explains why we were the only ones sitting outside), who circled around our table for the entire meal. Lucky for me I don’t have much hair left for it to get tangled in. Wifey wasn’t too happy though.

And the unhappiness only swelled from there. The pork chop was dangerously under cooked and even more dangerously boring. As for the salmon entrée, it was also under cooked with a smidge more flavor than the pork.

On the upside, neither of us was bitten by the bat (just the mosquitoes). On the downside, I shoulda listened more closely to the story of Solla Sollew, by Dr. Seuss, when I was a child. Well, lesson finally learned. Even Nirvana has its misses.

1 tooth

 

Plates

121 Myrtle Blvd. Larchmont, NY 10538(914) 834-1244 platesonthepark.com

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I know this won’t come as any great epiphany to most of you, but the restaurant industry is inherently a service-based industry, and the reason I feel the need to point this out is not because I worry that you might’ve forgotten it, it’s because I believe some of the restaurants have. My most recent case in point being Plates, where not only did our waiter seem like he didn’t know what he was doing, it also seemed like he wasn’t even entirely sure where he was.

But amateur service aside, the décor is nice, yet a touch simple, with nothing truly unique about it, in a standalone structure that has a slightly homey vibe to it, save the white walls.

The food itself is a bit of a mixed bag with a slight lean toward the positive. The positive-est being the mini-est, the bite-sized short rib tacos. But quite the bite they are. The other big plus of the night was the NY strip entrée, cooked medium rare, of course, and definitely sourced by a pro.

A notch below the highest of the highs, was a very good pork dish, that only missed on the woeful mistake of overcooking it. The preparation, however, was quite toothsome, served with bok choy, prune and vanilla to sweeten the deal and a caraway, garlic spaetzle to make things interesting, in a starchy kinda way.

In the middle of the road I’d put the tuna tartar served in the same old cylinder you’ve seen a thousand times, atop the same old cylinder of avocado that’s been served a billion times over since the 90’s. Along side the tuna I’d also put the amuse bouche of duck croquettes, which also failed to wow. As did the restaurant’s self-proclaimed area of expertise, smoking. Having heard that the bird is in fact the word, I chose the smoked duck legs and I don’t know what people are smoking, but the smoking here is not all that. Head up to Portchester and go to Q if you want to taste what I call smokin’ smoking.

But let’s not end things on a down note, shall we? After all, I did like Plates on the whole and a huge reason as to why is their wine list. Not very extensive mind you, but it’s more of a list of quality, not quantity, which is my preference 99 times out of 100. The only exception being when the small list happens to be so pricey that it backs you into a pricey corner. Not here though. The Chateauneuf du Pape was not only stellar, it was under a C note. And just enough to hand Plates three knives.

3 teeth

Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

K Restaurant

1710 Edgewater Dr. Orlando, FL 32804(407) 872-2332kwinebar.com

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Having spoke lovingly about Cask & Larder and Highball & Harvest (I have a thing for ampersands), I was told K put them both to shame, so naturally it became a moral imperative for me to visit K and see if the chef could put his menu where his mouth is. And at the onset, things seemed very promising, I liked the décor inside and out. It’s located in a house with a charming wraparound porch for the outdoor seating and inside it was equally charming and warm, with just the right hint of modern.

I also thought our waiter was excellent. Knowledgeable and passionate about every dish, not bashful with the recommendations and as an added bonus, he was studying for his level two sommelier exam so he was Johnny on the spot with the suggestions on vino. In fact, he didn’t stop there either, bringing out a few extra freebie pairings along the way, to help some of the dishes shine. And help shining they most certainly needed, because not one single dish was amazing and many were underwhelming.

Starting with the better half, I would recommend the K filet, cooked spot on medium rare and perched on a tasty brick of au gratin. But truth be told, the au gratin really made the dish, so a bit of a backhanded compliment on this one.

The heirloom tomato salad was farm fresh and mighty all righty. The beet salad was also nice, but both salads are very common dishes and neither were inventive, so I’m not about to climb a mountain to espouse their praises.

Next up, the deviled eggs were very good, done with a clever recreation of bacon bits, but having just had the best deviled eggs in my life less than a year ago at a place called Libertine in Indianapolis, I found it hard to swoon too much over these.

And last but not least, the pork chop. Just barely making it across the mid-line, it was two inches thick in a preparation that made it flavorful, with sweet potatoes at its side and a red cabbage slaw on top. Sadly, its own flavor was a bit lost due to the fact that it was a hair overcooked and therefore on the dry side.

Now for the rejects, and some of these are going to come as a shock to the K faithful. The shrimp and grits, while served in a nice barbeque sauce with some good kick, actually wound up backfiring in my opinion, because it overpowered everything in the dish. The shrimp were two small to hold up and the meager portion of grits didn’t do much better. As a result, the dish tasted more like a bowl of spicy barbeque sauce with chunks. Maybe they were going for a variation on etouffee? Well, they choked. Get it? Etouffee means “to choke.” …At least I amuse myself.

Speaking of choking, the crab salad over fired green tomatoes (pictured) was so far beneath the one at Highball & Harvest I think K should have to stop serving it out of principle. And whoever dared to compare the two dishes- I’m not going to point fingers or call anyone out by name (my mother), should be absolutely mortified.

And while we’re busy taking things off the menu, let’s also nix the mahi, which was overcooked and absolute crap. But even worse was the gnocci, tasting like a bowl of mush drowning in a sea of over-preparation.

Now the smart money might guess that we cut our losses at this point and passed on dessert, but never let it be said that I always do the smart thing. Besides, this is for posterity and a sacrifice I was willing to make for you, my followers.

Of the three we tried, the French toast bread pudding was the clear winner. The peanut butter cake would be a distant second, partly because it deserves it, but also because I’m not the hugest fan of peanut butter in the dessert form. Not sure why, but I’m sure it’ll come out one day in therapy. And last, and actually least, the budino was lame-o.

A tough call between two and three knives, but I’m going with a rare lean toward the positive, mostly because of the service. That said, K is definitely more of a C in my book.

3 teeth

Elizabeth on 37th

105 E 37th St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 236-5547 • elizabethon37th.net

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Widely considered among the top three restaurants in Savannah it obviously became a ferocious obligation to dine here during my visit. And with hype at a steady boil, the odds were definitely not in Elizabeth’s favor as we entered the picturesque mansion.

When I say picturesque, I only mean this form the outside. Strongly. Just Google the restaurant and you are bound to see scores of exterior photos, but a meek sampling of interiors. This is with good cause. The interior is very run down and outdated. I know this is partly a purposeful homage to the historic Savannah structure, but there are droves of other historic icons all around the world that are older, and yet FAR more up-to-date. Take the Louvre in Paris for example. Esma Sultan in Istanbul. Or even the Poetter Hall right down the street in Savannah.

As a result, I found that the place fell shy of romantic, or even dressy. Service, however, was quite good. Attentive, knowledgeable and relatively good with recommendations.

As for the food, let’s start at the start, with a Prince Edward mussel amuse bouche, which definitely got things off on the right foot. This was followed by a pair of scallop oriented appetizers that we thankfully shared, because wifey’s was definitely the better of the two. Both were specials so if you don’t go soon, chances are you missed the boat, literally. The winner was a vidalia onion cream soup made with two types of the onion- the traditional Georgian ball of sweet goodness. And baby vidalia onions as well, which are a bit greener, yielding a touch of grassiness. It was awesome. As were the buttery chunks of scallop swimming amidst the onion pond, seasoned with a nice peppery kick.

With the other scallop app, it was a lone, perfectly seared mollusk perched atop a potato salad that sounds more underwhelming than it was, but still not up to the high standards set by the soup, thus it was the red-headded step child of the mollusk twins.

After that, the transgressions continued with another chef’s offering that would’ve probably done less damage to our perceptions had it remained in the kitchen. A salad sourced from the local garden with micro greens, herbs and clementines. Very pedestrian.

The Savannah Red Rice, while not as lackluster as the other misses, still didn’t make the grade by reputation. And when you’re a top restaurant in the South, one expects a pretty dazzling jambalaya. This was passable at best, mostly because it was very lacking in heat.

But then Elizabeth showed she was “woman, hear me roar,” serving up the best pork chop I’ve ever had. Cooked to grillmaster standards with a crisp char on the outside, tender and moist on the inner, and served up with one of the best slaws I’ve ever had, along with a five cheese mac that brought a creamy decadence to every bite. And when all three of those were on your fork at once, it was like a holy trinity of porky delectableness. You simply must get this. If you don’t, quite frankly you should be arrested.

And speaking of misdemeanors, the worst miss of the night came on the heels of such a soaring high. The Savannah Cream Cake is soooo over explained and complicated that it tricks itself into thinking it’s something more than it tastes like, which is angel food cake with strawberries. If I could have only one do-over it would be this. And I’d probably use it to get a second order of that friggin’ chop!

So, while the soup and the chop were definitely dishes for the books, the misses were one too many to go five knives and the decor inside was too dated to go four. So guess that leaves us with…

3 teeth

 

NOPA

560 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117 • (415) 864-8643nopasf.com

20120226-fancy-pants-burger-nopa

Great space and vibe. Contemporary, airy and open. Lots of energy. Even at 2am. And just about the only place open after midnight in SF to get a bite to eat. But not just a bite- a pretty damn good bite. The flat bread starter was awesome and the pork chop was stellar. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. Solid beer and wine list. The only miss was the bratwurst, but what can you expect so far from Wisconsin?

Service was also friendly and attentive, to which I give added kudos, after all, at 2am I would imagine that not only are you tired, but you are also tired of dealing with inebriated customers. So, to be as pleasant as she was is admirable. Well, that or I was just too drunk to notice.

4 teeth

Bar Americain

152 W 52nd St. New York, NY 10019(212) 265-9700 baramericain.com

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If it pleases the court, I would like submit exhibit A into evidence, that Bobby Flay is stretched WAY too thin. The menu, while quite promising in theory, falls flat on its face in execution. Maybe he should retire from Iron Chef, or stop throwing down and get back in his restaurants to make sure they are living up to his name, because quite frankly, they aren’t. Mesa (RIP) has fallen and Bar Americain can’t get up. I hear Gato is supposed to be good, but after eating here, I’m definitely skeptical.

First, the airplane hanger-sized dining room doesn’t do much in terms of making you feel like you are in for something special. On the contrary, you feel more like cattle being herded into a money-making machine. This is not to say that all large dining rooms are bad and all small ones are quaint. I happen to like the dinning rooms of Cipriani, Tao and Guastavino’s very much. And all three are equally grand. But that’s just it, they are grand. Not just big.

Anyways, enough about the decor. I’m sure you want to hear about what sucked, so without further delay I will say almost everything. Well, not “sucked,” that’s unfair, but underwhelming for realz.

From the triple greens salad to the tuna tartar to the pork chop to dessert, which was so impressionable I can’t even remember what it was, none of it was worth the time or money… with one exception.

If you have to have to go here, then the cioppino is your salvation. If you don’t know what the hell that is, it’s basically an Italian bouillabaisse. It’s spicy and the bread that comes with it is diptastic. Sadly, that’s the only thing I had, in two separate visits, that is worthy of the “tastic” suffix.

2 teeth

The Little Owl

90 Bedford St. New York, NY 10014(212) 741-4695thelittleowlnyc.com

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Just walking to the place already put a smile on our faces. Located on a charming corner in the village, Little Owl is equally charming with its modest size and friendly staff. And speaking of “friendly,” as a little pop culture trivia, it’s in the building from the famous TV show “Friends.”

As for the food, it was a touch hit and miss, with the hits winning soundly in the end. Here’s the breakdown:

The meatball sliders (pictured) live up to the hype and beyond. They are so damn good they could literally convert a vegan.

The gravlax, however, which was recommended by our server, was just okay. Nothing special. The pear salad, while better than the gravlax was also nothing special. In fact, my wife makes a similar one at home all the time. That said, in both of these dishes, the ingredients are very fresh, which is nice. But that only goes so far.

Now for the main event. The pork chop is up there with the best I’ve ever had. Blows away Vinegar Hill House– which I also love. But I gotta give it to the Owl. Perfectly seasoned. Perfectly cooked. As if it were grilled by God himself.

Unfortunately, the pork was my wife’s dish though. I went with the other Yelp reco, the crunchy lemon chicken, and what a disappointment. Not that it was dry or anything, but again, nothing special at all. If you want an amazing chicken, go to ABC Kitchen. Best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

Now for dessert. Both were very strong. We had the cinnamon bengiets with Nutella and the strawberry rhubarb crisp. Both disappeared in seconds. I recommend either or both.

And last but not least, the wine. Also recommended by our server, it was an appley Chenin Blanc, and I do have to say, it worked perfectly through the meal.

It’s a hard one to give less than 4 knives with such high highs (two Ultimates), but with so many misses, it’s also hard to give it more than 3. Guess I’ll have to go back to be certain I chose wisely. 😉

4 teeth

Vinegar Hill House

72 Hudson Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11201(718) 522-1018vinegarhillhouse.com

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Two words: Short ribs. My God! I know everyone raves about the chop, but my wife and I had them side by side and the chop paled by comparison. Served as a stew with a medley of vegetables and Gorgonzola, it was one dreamy bite after another and among the best short rib dishes I’ve ever had. And what an incredible feat to put out such mastery from a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet.

As a whole, everything was excellent that first meal. I had the octopus app and wifey had the watermelon salad. Both solid. Then the mains came, and we know who won that battle (see above).  But the okra & zucchini side we got was also pretty killer.

And for dessert, the Guinness Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting held it’s own as well, managing to satiate our sugar cravings, but without being all that sweet necessarily. Tempered by the beer I suppose. Oh, speaking of booze, even our cocktails were quite good.

In fact, the only nits we had were it’s location, which isn’t the most convenient on Earth, and the hostess who is often sporting a bit of a tude. Upon returning, however, a bit of spottiness has arisen. The menu has changed to be much more hit and miss, but when it comes to the pork entrees they still seem to know how to wow you just enough to keep you coming back.

So, in summary, what might’ve been five knives once upon a time has slid to four. It’s still fantastic and totally worth the wait, as they don’t take reservations, but the misses as of late have pulled it back a hair from perfection.

4 teeth