Scotchies

Falmouth Road, Montego Bay, Jamaica • +1 876-953-8041 • scotchies.restaurantsnapshot.com
 

Widely considered a jerk chicken legend, Scotchies manages to pack them in from locals to tourists and from sit down to take-out. What I love about the place is that it’s far from touristy. Mostly because I think it would scare them off. It’s a down and dirty roadside shack that seems to have sprouted some outdoor tables and a roof deck.

And while it is definitely an experience, I have to say this chalks up as one of those legends that is better left a myth. The chicken and pork were both dry as the Sahara. Fallout, I’d imagine from the rather archaic grilling method of bamboo grills and a corrugated sheet of aluminum as the lid (pictured). Fortunately though, it was nothing a little jerk sauce couldn’t spice up and moisten in compensation. But the only truly great dish was the roasted fish. I also enjoyed the yams, but everything else from the rice and peas to the breadfruit to the festival (banana and flour) all came off very dry.

The other thing that kinda (sarcasm) took away from the experience was when the machete-wielding cook confronted us for his own tip, asking us why we didn’t give him his own gratis like we did for the waitress? Obviously, this isn’t customary on the island, just as it isn’t a tradition anywhere else in the world, including the most tip-happy culture on earth- America. It is, however, very customary to leave the restaurant with all of your limbs still attached to your body, so we succumbed to the extortion and probably won’t be back here again any time soon.

Tacombi

23 W 33rd St. New York, NY 10118 • (212) 967-5555 • tacombi.com

Tacombi looks and feels like a carbon copy of El Presidente about ten blocks south, in the Flatiron. Sadly, it doesn’t taste like it. Not that Tacombi is bad, but almost everything needs copious doses of hot sauce.

The best thing we had was the guac and chips. Fresh and well-seasoned with strong tortilla wedges that don’t easily break, have a slight char to them and solid depth of flavor.

Of the tacos, I’d say it was almost a three-way tie for mediocrity. The fried fish perhaps edging out a win simply due to the generous portion size. The shrimp was a very close second, and probably the most flavorful and balanced of the lot (which isn’t saying much) and bringing up the rear was the carnitas. So dry and lack-luster, Wilber would be embarrassed. Fortunately there’s an array of hot sauces on the table to make for the transgressions.

Not at lot of other players in the hood like it though, so I’ll probably give it another try come summer once the kinks are ironed out, after all, El Presidente was a little rough around the edges at the start as well.

 

El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

Maison Premiere

298 Bedford AveBrooklyn, NY 11249 • (347) 335-0446 • maisonpremiere.com

 

More like Maison Meh. And to think this place was actually considered for a James Beard! It’s not even worthy of a James Buchanan. Sure, the setting is nice in the back garden and the oysters are money, especially with that marvelous mignonette, but just because the serve absinthe doesn’t make them 4 stars (unless you got really drunk on the absinthe and meant to actually click 2 stars). This over inflation of culinary prowess makes Brooklynites look desperate, trying to keep claiming that all the really good restaurants are now in Brooklyn and not Manhattan. They aren’t. I’m sorry to break it to you. Okay, so you’ve got Vinegar Hill House, Blanca, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Peter Pan Donuts, Peter Luger– Okay, fuck it. So you have a lot of good restaurants. That still doesn’t change the fact that Maison isn’t one of them.

The crudos are crapo. The cod brandade is blandade. The sardines and olive starters are passable at best. And even the octopus is a rubbery mess. And I wish I could say things got better but apart from the Atlantic Cod served over Tarbais beans and the pork porterhouse with mashed potatoes and shrooms, they got so much worse. The lobster roll would be considered a crime in the state of Maine. And the duck au poivre is so inedible it could almost start a war again with France.

But the atrocities against our mouths weren’t quite done yet as the monster rose back up from the dead for one final blow, in the form of empty calories. Both the cheesecake and the absinthe pana cotta were bunk, sealing the fate of MP with a firm two knives.

La Casa di Nonna

41 rue Hoche 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 97 06 33 51 • lacasadinonna.fr

Welcome to Grandma’s House, my newest Cannes crush. Yes, I suppose I have a thing for older women. Shhh! Don’t tell my wife. Actually, she has crush on Nonna too, because this place is just so damn charming. You just want to squeeze the bejesus out of its cheeks. From the servers to what they are serving, brace yourself for a healthy dose of amoré.

Whether it’s just a quick, afternoon snack over a frothy cappuccino and a wonderfully fresh-squeezed juice or a fully-fledged three-course dinner you are in for a treat, because they don’t miss. Particularly if you incorporate their chocolate ganache cake into whatever meal occasion it is. That alone is like a panacea for all of life’s troubles. Ultimate alert!

The other thing they nail eight ways ‘til Sunday is parma. I don’t know where they get it from, but oh lordy is it pigilicious! We had the melon and prosciutto starter and I think it might just be the best I’ve ever had. The melon was perfectly ripe and sweet. And that ham! I’m not even sure how to describe it, and I’ve even had the acorn-fed, quattro-legged stuff before and this is better.

The other dish the shined on the shoulders of this porky perfection was the carbonara, an Ultimate and only bested by the one at Blanca in Brooklyn, NY, mainly because of it’s superior pepperiness. But Nonna knows her shit, keeping the eggy coating just light enough to allow the pig and basil pop from the dish. And while I know basil is no-no to you purists out there, I say Nonna beats a no-no and you should try it before you deny it.

On the mortal side, I found the artichoke salad, the gnocci with tomato sauce and the spaghetti to all be, well, mortal. But nothing is bad and with THREE Ultimates, I’d put this tops on your list for your next visit to the Cote ‘d Azur. Plus, as I said before, if you end with that ganache cake, you’ll be crooning like old Dino… “When you walk down the street and you have this to eat, that’s amore!”

Kerby Lane Cafe

2606 Guadalupe StAustin, TX 78705 • (512) 477-5717 • kerbeylanecafe.com

Just steps away from the University of Texas campus, Kerby gets a ton of business from students who are either nursing a hangover or feeding the munchies. And as a result, the reviews on Yelp are insanely skewed if you ask moi.

The queso is not the second coming. It’s just okay and nowhere near as good as the hype makes it out to be. It’s way too watery and compared to Torchy’s, let’s just say it gets torched.

The pancakes are crap. Dry and flavorless. Don’t let that picture fool you. The Cinnamon Roll being only marginally better than the Lemon Poppy, but that’s not saying much. In fact, I think Kerby owes my stomach a formal apology for these discs of disappointment.

Also unworthy of my jaw muscles was the Cuban benedict, which sounds great on laminated paper, but is so overcooked you’d think they were try to kill the chicken who laid the eggs.

The only thing I can say was even mildly decent was the green chili mac & cheese with fried chicken. It’s good. But even that needed extra chili to give it enough kick. I did like how the fried chicken remained crispy even though it sat in a bowl of creamy mac though. What I did not like is that the mac and cheese is school cafeteria grade. And what I actually hate is when a typical diner gets inflated into a legend.

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.

 

The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

Chingu

1107 Broadway New York, NY 10010(917) 647-5911chingunyc.com

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Let me just say that I am a Bigbimbap fan. In fact, I like it virtually any way it comes. With beef. Pork. Raw fish. Chicken. Tofu. I like it every way but bad. And unfortunately Chingu, despite it being very close to the name of one of my favorite beers in the world (Xingu), served up about the only bap that I thought was bibimblah. In fact my wife makes MUCH better at home. So don’t get lured in by the booth at Broadway Bites, either that or be sure to douse it with healthy amounts of Sriracha. Fortunately there are so many better options to be had at the other booths, not to mention Koreatown.

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