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!”

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The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

Nico Osteria

1015 N Rush StChicago, IL 60611 • (312) 994-7100 • nicoosteria.com

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Nico is probably much better for lunch or dinner than it is for breakfast, so to be fair, please take this review with a huge grain of salt, after all, I had plenty to spare considering how insanely salty my eggs were. Between the prosciutto and capers I think my blood pressure rose a good 50 points on the spot, not to mention the salt they probably used in the dish itself. It was so strong I had to scrape off all of the mix-ins and just ate the eggs by themselves so that my arteries didn’t pop like water balloons.

On the plus side, the orange juice and the tea were both good and the décor is chic enough to hold up to the Thompson hotel it calls home. As for service, it was a touch non-attentive considering I was only one of two people in the restaurant.

1 tooth

Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

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Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

Prova Pizzabar

Grand Central Terminal • 89 E 42nd St. New York, NY 10017 (212) 972-0385provapizzabar.com

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First of all, Pizzabar isn’t even a word. Granted neither is bigly, but that apparently didn’t stop 60 million people from voting for Trump, so go figure. But putting aside frivolous things like the the English language, let’s get down to brass tax (which will also be lower under a Trump presidency- sorry, just can’t help myself).

Tucked away in a corner of Grand Central’s lower level you will find a new pizza place on the site where Two Boots used to reside (RIP). So sad too, because this place is nowhere near as good. Granted Two Boots lost a shoe over the years, particularly after they retired the Night Tripper, which was my favorite. Followed by the Bayou Beast. I’m getting all emotional just thinking about it.

As for Prova, it proved to be quite a step down from its predecessor, starting with the most important ding of all, it’s thick crust. WTF?! This isn’t Chicago people! As a result, the dough overwhelms the toppings, particularly on the veggie pie which was virtually tasteless, even with copious sprinklings of red pepper flakes. Slightly better is the namesake pie, the Prova, topped with truffled burrata, cherry tomatoes, arugula and proscuitto. But not even the truffled burrata was good enough to ever bring me back.

2 teeth

David Burke Fabrick

Archer Hotel 47 W 38th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 302-3838 • davidburkefabrick.com

Chocolate-hazelnut Burke-n' Bag at the David Burke fabrick restaurant in New York, June 11, 2014. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

While there’s definitely some truth in the old saying “the clothes make the man,” sadly it doesn’t work that way for restaurants. If it did, I believe I would be giving Fabrick much higher marks for their trendy, conceptual twist playing off of its Garment District locale with desserts like their chocolate purse thingy (pictured) all the way down to the smallest details such as a fabric swatch cocktail menu.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend the Honey Badger. No, not the badass scavenger on YouTube that doesn’t give a shit. The spring 44 honey infused vodka cocktail that goes down so easy you’ll down two or three without giving a shit either. Made all the tastier with lemon, cinnamon agave and black pepper.

But sadly I only had one, so I did actually care about the food and it saddens me to say that the inventiveness of the preparations doesn’t come through on the palate, for example the burrata small plate with fig, prosciutto, mache and concord grape vinegar all disappears in a sea of blah aboard a plank of country toast.

Equally disappointing in light of its promise was the crab cake BLT, served on challah with candied bacon and a chipotle aioli. It was slightly more flavorful than the burrata, but nothing to get yourself all worked up over. However, if you’re staying in the Archer Hotel and just want to grab a drink and/or a quick bite, I’d say go for it. But if you were planning on making this a destination unto itself, I’d set a course for a different destiny.

2 teeth

L’Amico

Eventi Hotel • 851 6th Ave. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 201-4065 • lamico.nyc

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The best the Evanti hotel has to offer. Forget Lupulo and Vine, L’Amico is where it’s at. And yes, I just ended a sentence with a preposition. I’m bat-shit crazy like that.

Apart from the overly sweet Arnie Palmer, there really wasn’t a miss to be had, starting with the special summer appetizer, the zucchini pasta. It was, well, very light and summery. But still fresh and full of flavor.

On the heavier side, the prosciutto and artichoke sandwich with mayo and harissa is L’Awesome! Also on the heavier side, but just not quite as good, is the sopressata pizza. It holds its own, but it just wasn’t that interesting, compared to everything else.

3 teeth

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 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

Bar Pitti

268 Ave of the Americas New York, NY 10014 • (212) 982-3300

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No longer in its heyday, Bar Pitti is still trucking along, doing its thing and keepin’ it real. And by that I mean the real deal authentic Italian, not trying to cover things up with inventive culinary gimmicks or posh smoke and mirrors. This is just bare bones belissimo.

Now I want to reiterate that when I said “authentic” I meant it. Like as if you were in Italy. As in the specials menu is just a chalkboard that they prop up on your table sans translations. So, you either better be Italian, understand Italian, have Google translate warmed up and ready to go on your smartphone, or be prepared to be insulted by your waiter who will also ask if you know what lasagna is. This is not me trying to be clever, this is them being assy. And yes, they actually asked me this with a straight face. So not the kind of service that’ll give you the warm and fuzzies. The food, however, is.

Simple is the theme top to bottom here and the ingredients carry the day quite capably. For example the arugula salad with tomatoes and parmesan is so damn basic, merely dressed with a touch of garlic, oil and lemon, and yet it sings with simplicity.

The prosciutto toast is also deceptively plain Jane, but the prosciutto they use is so phenomenal it puts anything you can buy in Eataly to shame.

The pastas are also tremendous, both in taste and portion. Of the two we tried, I found the lasagna (yes, I now know what it is) to be the clear winner. So layered with flavors and ooey gooey goodness. The artichoke and leek spaghetti with olive oil, on the other hand, was a touch bland for my tastes.

But all of the above went down quite nicely with the Multipuciano they offer by the glass.

The only other miss for me was the affagato. I found the espresso to be too strong and bitter, as opposed to rich and flavorful. I MUCH prefer the one at Fortina in Armonk, because not only is the coffee better, but I love the textural addition of amaretto cookies. But all in all a very admirable showing from a long time NYC icon.

3 teeth