Marea

240 Central Park SNew York, NY 10019 • (212) 582-5100 • marea-nyc.com

Poetry comes in many forms and at Marea, that form is fish, named after the stunning Tahitian island and for good reason, this place is stunning. Not so much from a décor perspective, although it is clean and elegant. The food, however, handily solidifies this as one of the top places to get your fish on in the city.

And oh boy is it on. Starting with the seared yellowtail, blistered carrots and potatoes. It is so ridic, I can’t even remember how to spell the other half of that word.

Also swoon-worthy is the lobster caprese, which is essentially as it sounds, in other words, really friggin’ good.

The octopus starter is also very good, but I did find it to be the least inventive of the three and not quite at the same caliber.

For entrees, I only had my one, but one is all it took. So good I’m glad I didn’t share. Perfection on a plate, although when I tell you the accompaniments you’re going to think I lost my marbles. Lettuce and pistachio. Yah! That’s it. How it could be so good can only be described in a word, magic. AKA butter.

Come dessert, this is my only caution, because there is a miss in the midst. The affagato is made with WAY too much coffee to the point where it throws the who thing off balance and basically tastes like a cup of coffee with cream in it. For true affagreatness, I recommend Fortina in Westchester and Stamford, CT. But fret not, dessert is not a total bust. Case in point, the donuts, warm, deep fried proof dipped in lemon crème and chocolate. Oh daddy!

Now for my only real gripes. The wine list, while decent is a bit pricey. And although I sincerely appreciate the wait staff’s sensitivity to hovering by letting us have our space, it is at the peril of attentiveness, because if you don’t ask for things your meal can easily turn into a seven-hour time vortex. Which brings up a very real dilemma, because as you know, I HUGE pet peeve of mine is being rushed out of a restaurant for turnover sake. But I guess my frustration lies somewhere in the middle. Can’t we find a happy medium?

That’s really it though. Marea is pretty perfect. No need to come off as one of those people who is so bored with life, they have to find shit to bitch about. So I’ll shut up now and you go to Marea.

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Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

Pearl at Longshore Restaurant & Bar

260 Compo Rd SWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6260 • pearlatlongshore.com

Four!!!! That’s the knife count I’m giving, because it is very seldom that country club food is ever this good. Not even remotely. But once again, Westport manages to buck suburban expectations to show the world that you can have your crab cake and eat it too.

Like most country clubs the setting is a stunner, after all, you’re usually sitting amidst an immaculately landscaped golf course. But very few clubs are on the ocean, overlooking the water. Which decidedly takes things up a notch as you sit on the outdoor patio, overlooking a sailing class as they practice in the channel between there and Saugatuck Island. Also, a little know secret, Westport is apparently where Great Gatsby was inspired, looking across the Long Island Sound to the houses on the other shore. And while I sat there having my brunch, I must admit, I felt pretty great.

Things did start off a little rocky, however, with poor service and the Nutella cinnamon buns that tasted a lot like Pillsbury. Not that I have anything against the Dough Boy, but when I go out to a restaurant I expect them to up the game over things my kids could make.

But after that, Pearl went on a tear. The warm, fresh-baked bread and olive oil was so good you could tell it was the start of something special. Then came the Maine lobster benny which was absolutely superb! The eggs, runny, the potatoes spicy and the lobster…lobster-y?

The egg white frittata was also delish, although a bit inconsistent. My wife’s was loaded with all sorts of goodies and full of flavor. Whereas my mother’s was anemic with ingredients and the lesser of the two. So if you get gipped, I’d send it back for a do-over.

The French toast is also really good, soaked like a baller, dusted with confection and berries and hard to resist wolfing it down before anyone asks for a bite.

The only miss for me was the Belgian Waffle. It’s pretty pedestrian compared to the other options.

As for dinner, I haven’t actually been yet. Only for drinks, but watching some of the dishes go by, I have very high hopes.

Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

4 Park Ave. New York, NY 10016 (212) 889-3369 • http://wolfgangssteakhouse.net/parkave/

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Just when you think you’ve been to every steakhouse in the city you learn that there are more. Like Wolfgang’s. And apparently there are four of them! In Manhattan alone! Who knew? Okay, just me? Well, did you also know that the founder was a former waiter for many years at Peter Luger? Oh… You knew that too. Okay then. Apparently I need to get out more.

Well, for those of you not in the know, Wolfgang is an entire chain of steakhouses, not just in New York State. That said, I have only been to the one on Park Avenue and if that location is indicative of the entire franchise, I have to say, he learned well from Peter.

The first thing he learned, obviously from someone else, is that décor adds to the experience. And while it might’ve been more of a happy accident, the ceilings are absolutely stunning (pictured). My best guess is that it was an old subway station entrance/exit, judging from the tile work.

Servers are your usual steakhouse suspects, career lifers who come on strong and confident but yet somehow manage to come off likeable at the same time. Not sure about the Somm, however, didn’t need him because I managed to find the diamond in the pricey rough on the wine list, the Turley Fredrick’s 2013 Zinfandel. It’s a keeper. And it’s maybe one of a dozen reds under a C note.

Kicking off the food stuffs, I gotta say that the bread was a bit of a miss and certainly not worth filling up on. There will be plenty of other things worthy of that. For example, the bacon, which is so massive and so fatty that one slice is easily enough for two people, if not three. Otherwise it’s a little much on top of chasing it with a steak. On the lighter side, but still quite good are both the shrimp cocktail and the oysters.

For steak, I went with the rib eye, and it was perfection. Cooked spot on medium rare and bursting with salty, butteriness. Whereas the filet mignon tasted like it was stolen from an airplane tray. First Class mind you, but from airplane tray nonetheless.

For sides, all of them were solid. From the creamed spinach and potatoes to the asparagus and onion rings. None of them epic, but all very nice supporting roles.

Sadly, we pressed our luck at the end though, going with a Key Lame Pie. Typo intended. Serves me right for getting greedy with the gluttony.

3 teeth

Plage Belles Rives

32 Boulevard Edouard Baudouin 06160 Juan les Pins, France+33 4 93 61 02 79 • bellesrives.com

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According to legend, the Hotel Belles Rives is where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night back in 1925 and while that may very well be true, it has little to do with the food at their restaurant, which at the end of the day is all I really care about. Sorry Scotty.

Funny coincidence, though, this place seems to be attracting famous writers ever since, because I actually dined with Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Two writers I infinitely admire and while that alone should be worth 5 knives, the restaurant was not, even with its unprecedented writer juju.

The other thing Belles Rives has going for it is the view, but if you’re going to head all the way over to Antibes from Cannes, then I’m not exactly sure why you would stop here as opposed to Eden Rock, which is far more stunning on every metric imaginable.

But since this is where I was, and not at Eden Rock, I partook in a feast of average, starting with an octopus salad, tossed over potatoes, tomatoes and onion. This was chased by an unmemorable sea bream with potato puree, roasted tomato and passion fruit.

The unexceptional performance persisted through dessert with an inventive sounding sea urchin lemon meringue. And while you are probably wondering what kind of Chopped basket brought upon this insane combo of sea urchin in dessert form, please don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out, because the dish is nothing of the kind. It’s just a lemon tart in dome form, with meringue spines poking out all over the place to make it sort of loosely resemble the shape of a sea urchin. Sort of how the restaurant sort of resembles a place you might actually think was worth the money, but it isn’t.

Nonetheless, it will still be a meal I will never forget, because how often is it that you get to hang with geniuses the likes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen friggin’ Dowd?!

2 teeth

Rebelle

218 Bowery New York, NY 10012(917) 639-3880rebellenyc.com

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As soon as I learned that Pearl & Ash had a sibling, I started drooling from places I never even knew existed. But I’m not gonna lie, the other half of me was as nervous as a Albert Brooks in Network, because what are the odds that they could pull it off again?

Upon entering, once again, they managed to stick the landing on a cool, yet casual décor (granted I think P&A is still nicer). But when it comes to the service, not so much. They are so slow I would strongly advise that you not make any after-dinner plans other than retirement. On the upside, however, they are pretty spot on with the recommendations.

Exhibit A being from the equally slow sommelier who redeemed herself with a killer bottle of wine that was a quarter of the price of what I was going to do, and it was every bit as amazing. Glad the tradition of a brilliant vino list made it’s way up the street.

Then came the food and the presentations were gorge from start to finish. Speaking of, definitely skip the bread and do yourself a solid by getting the duck ham. It comes with some bread of its own and it is very worth the wait. Not at all like the version of the dish I had at Cask & Larder in Orlando, which was more of an homage to a candied ham, whereas this one is much more like a prosciutto. But while the two are very different, they are both stellar in their own ways.

The other STARter was the lobster with cabbage and herbs. Probably the best lobster dish I’ve had since Marc Forgione’s, which if you follow that link, you will soon learn that this is some very high praise.

After that, I would say the next best app of the night was the beef tartar, made dead sexy by the addition of sunchoke, horseradish and garlic. The only snore of the openers being the white asparagus salad with beurre blanc and summer truffle.

For the entrees, shockingly the chicken ruled the roost. A unique presentation in a juicy rectangle of love, made all the lovelier with a bright lemon preserve, sorrel and some killer potatoes.

The duck three ways, with frisee, pistachio and pearl onions. It was my second favorite, but the duck sausage was really the high mark of the dish. Had the entire plate just been the sausage I think it might’ve been the belle of the ball.

The weakest of the mains was the pork with romesco, Brussels sprouts and piperade, which is a Basque dish made with onions, peppers and tomatoes. It’s a noble attempt that’s just not at the level of anything else- other than the asparagus salad.

For dessert, the coconut cream tart is cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs-drop-dead-tastic. Simple and flawless, with nothing more to it than passion fruit, lime and the key to happiness.

The chocolate torte, on the other hand, was seriously upstaged, but not for a lack of trying. Made from a caramelia ganache and accompanied with sheep’s milk sorbet it just doesn’t get’r done. I say skip it and focus all of your efforts on the coconut tart. It demands your attention.

So the verdict is in. Pearl and Rebelle go two for two. Which, as we all know, equals four.

4 teeth

Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

The Commoner

458 Strawberry Way • Pittsburgh, PA 15219(412) 230-4800 • thecommonerpgh.com

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Located in the basement of the tastefully done Monaco Hotel, lies an equally tasteful restaurant with an industrial loft vibe about it, cool lighting fixtures and elephant-sized steel beams, showing off the pride of Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately the taste doesn’t go much beyond the décor however, serving up some of the worst pancakes I’ve ever had. I know they look cool, stacked high and thick with a huge knife stabbed through the center, but they taste doughy and sad. Equally disappointing is their Arnold palmer which gets too tricky for its own good, yielding floral notes and other hints while leaving behind the flavor of lemon and tea. So what’s the point?

On the plus side, the green juice is made fresh to order and you can really taste it. And I mean really. For better or worse, because if you’re one to like your juice with a little sweetness or chill, you won’t find it in this glass of celery.

But in The Commoner’s defense, they do serve up a few things that aren’t so common (or average). For example the Messi Benny is pretty darn tasti. Made with chorizo, potatoes, peppers, onions and stewed tomatoes, all topped with a pair of perfectly poached eggs. It’s a tad on the oily side, but way on the kickin’ side. Good heat, great flavor and by far the best thing on the menu.

Back on the missy side though, the French Onion Soup Burger does everything right but taste good. Topped as the name suggests with caramelized onions, gruyere and aioli, but then stacked on a brioche bun way too big for its britches, overthrowing the burger and causing you to abandon ship, going open face just to get the balance back in order.

And last but not least, the final nail in the coffin is the painfully slow service. There were only six tables seated in the entire restaurant at the time and yet it took over an hour to get our food. Which I blame mostly on the kitchen, but then again, our server did little more than apologize as opposed to compensate. So I will do little to compensate on their knife count and give them what they deserve, two.

2 teeth