Paradise by way of Kensal Green

19 Kilburn Ln. London W10 4AE United Kingdom • +44 20 8969 0098 • theparadise.co.uk

Yup. That’s actually the name. And it’s quite a mouthful. Unfortunately the food, not so much. But more on that later. Let’s start by talking digs, because I’m starting to get the feeling that you can pretty much walk into any building in London and it will be stunning. Hell, I bet even their meth labs are tastefully appointed, dripping with old-world charm and yet somehow contrasted with just the right amount of modernity and eclectic flair. And Paradise carries that torch handily.

They also carry a healthy bevy of tasty cocktails like the one I had which I can’t even recall the name. All I remember are flashes of mint and gin, which are so deceptively refreshing they will knock-you-on-you-ass before your appetizer ever hits the table.

The food, however, was in stark contrast and a bit of a bore. Not by preparation, but by taste. The burrata and beet root salad with hazelnut and watercress pesto was as flavorless as the food on the flight over. The lamb shoulder was the best of my three courses mostly due to the flavors of the parsnip puree, spiced Swiss chard and Marsala jus, but the meat itself was pretty dry and overcooked. And come dessert, I didn’t even both to finish the ginger pavlova with marscapone mousse, blood orange and red currants. A blasphemous use of Pavlov’s name, because the dish is hardly drool-worthy.

Yes, there’s trouble in Paradise, but nothing a new chef couldn’t fix, because they’ve got it going on just about everywhere else.

Aqua

The Westin Tampa Bay 7627 Courtney Campbell Causeway Tampa, FL 33607(813) 675-8700 • aquatampa.com

aqua

Located in the Westin Hotel, and on the water (as the name suggests), this restaurant manages to pack a few surprises ranging from sushi, which one might expect based on its affiliation with the H2O, all the way to flatbread, which has very little to do with water by my estimation.

The first surprise coming in the form of a California roll. And probably one of the best I’ve ever had, mostly because the crab wasn’t that canned shit. Or that fake crap either. Oh no, they go for the real deal and you can definitely taste the fingerprint of the ocean in every morsel. Along with fresh avocado, cucumber and flying fish roe.

The Tuscan flat bread was also a winner, proving to be more well balanced than one might expect, topped with artichokes, grilled onions, asparagus, and oven-dried tomatoes, all smothered in mozzarella and sauced with a bright, basil pesto.

Then the missteps waltzed in, like the brioche crusted mahi. The crust is so overpowering that I had to scrape it off, just so I could actually taste the fish. Also, the fregola couscous and spiced red pepper puree do little for the dish as well. That said, don’t miss the watercress and pumpkin salad to the side. That’s the real star on the plate. I recommend pealing off the crust and pairing up some of that salad with every bite and you’ll be a much happier camper. Or take the easy way out and just order the scallops.

The scallops where prepared in a dark, almost squid ink-like sauce, and paired up with a wonderful mound of spicy-ass Thai black rice. Me like.

We closed with a bowl of begniets, drizzled with ribbons of chocolate and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are nothing spectacular, but they do get by on the simple fact that they are fried dough. That said, if you are looking for more from your dessert, look elsewhere.

So I’m gonna go out on a rare, kind-hearted limb here and give it three knives, by in large due to my lowered expectations… and the fact that I had a few too many glasses of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, which I normally don’t even like as a grape. Who knew? But deep down, I really do want to give Aqua only two knives in my heart of hearts, because of the major miss on the mahi, the unintentionally cheesy Miami Vice decor and the service, which is slim shady, calling the soy sauce that came with our sushi “teriyaki” and not knowing a single alcohol they had at the bar.

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Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

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The Pink Door

1919 Post Alley. Seattle, WA 98101(206) 443-3241thepinkdoor.net

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Located in a pseudo alley and marked with very little signage, save the actual color of the door (which is obviously pink), the place makes you feel like you are entering a sex dungeon. Especially as you head down the stairs into an intimately lit, high-ceiling dining space adorned with various types of trapeze equipment hanging above the tables. Apparently there is a correlation between colored doors and hedonistic things lying behind them. The Green Door, for those old enough to remember, had porn behind it and The Pink Door has, well… burlesque trapeze (pictured). Which is naturally the first thing you think of when you think Italian cuisine. The Italians being well known for their burlesque- oh, wait… Sorry, that’s the French. But trapeze- okay, also French. So I’m not exactly sure why the European mash-up, but I have to say I dug the vibe.

I also dug the fact that as a walk-in, they didn’t screw me with a table by the wait station. Quite the contrary, they gave me the best table in the restaurant, outside on the patio, in a corner, offset from everyone else, with an amazing view of the water and Mt. Rainier.

Another pleasant surprise was the 2013 Va Piano Sauvignon Blanc by the glass from Wala Wala, Washington. Not only was it one of the best Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever had, it was one of the best whites I’ve ever had offered by the glass. And let’s be honest, there’s a third plus as well… it’s just fun to say Wala Wala, Washington.

Unfortunately, the food didn’t hold up to the preamble. The asparagus, while decent, gained nothing from the crispy prosciutto and hard boiled egg crumble, because both are served in such minimal proportion that I didn’t even get the point.

They made up for it though, with a salmon special that was very good. Served over a cauliflower and fennel puree, with broccolini, morels and roasted grape tomatoes. Not very Italian, but I think that ship kinda sailed. And at least it was healthy, clean cookin.’

But easy come easy go, because after making it up to me on the entrée, they royally shat the bed on dessert. The oatmeal crisp was so atrocious there was nothing crisp about it, soggy like a bowl of cereal sitting in milk for over an hour. Quite possibly the worst I’ve ever had.

And while I would love to stay mad at The Pink Door for wasting my money on that dessert, I have to give it up to them for the free dinner theater, bizarre as it might be. Starting with an Elvira-looking vamp, decked out in black chiffon, traipsing through the restaurant like she was Lady Godiva or something. Then, right their in the middle of the restaurant, she climbs aboard one of the trapeze swings hanging from the ceiling and proceeds to writhe on this thing like Josephine Baker while people attempt to still eat their meals beneath her. Not since Señor Tango in Buenos Aires have I ever had a dining experience like this. And for that, I have to commend The Pink Door. Thank you for making me feel like I was on another planet. A distinction not many restaurants can achieve. Which is probably a good thing.

3 teeth