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.

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Bistro Bis

15 E St NW Washington, DC 20001(202) 661-2700bistrobis.com

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Located in George Hotel this is a great option for those who want convenience of location without sacrifice on awesome. The décor is very nicely done, as one might expect from the chain. Elegant and classic, yet somehow also modern.

As for the food, I kinda blame out waitress for getting us off on the wrong foot, claiming the steak tartar with quail egg and a porcini mushroom aioli, to be the best she’s ever had. Obviously she’s never been to Manzo in New York or Pastis in Cannes, because both of those destroy Bis’ very lame attempt at an Ultimate. As John Bender from the Breakfast Club would say, “Not even close, Bud!”

Now what she should’ve recommended was the seared foie gras over a hazelnut pain perdu with pickled rhubarb and spiced rhubarb gastrique. It was so friggin’ yum it almost restored my faith in Capital Hill… almost.

The other dish our waitress could’ve gone with was the octopus. My second fave of the night, perfectly charred and dolled up with chorizo, sweet peppers and spring onions placed over a bed of squid ink pasta and drizzled in a white bean emulsion. This is one of those dishes that sounds too complicated for its own good, but they somehow manage to pull it all together.

Another pleaser, not quite at the level of those other two starters was the frisee salad with applewood smoked bacon, duck confit and a poached egg dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette. It won’t quite rock your world, but if it’s what you’re craving then you’ll definitely be happy.

For entrees, I tried both the sea scallops and the trout and I have to give it to the trout, no contest. Made in a classic prep with a twist they use capers, lemon, crisp ham and parsley brown butter and then accompany the fish with haricots verts and a pommes chateau. It was moist and flavorful and exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I have a doctorate in eating.

The sea scallops, however, failed to bring the zazz that one might expect from its preparation. Again, a twist on a common thai black rice dish, made with the additions of coriander roasted carrots, smoked shitake mushrooms and a ginger-port wine reduction.

I like what this chef is made of though, reaching for the stars and catching just enough to make me want dessert. But sadly I had to rush to catch the Acela home so I guess I’ll have to return for seconds, especially for the apple tart (pictured). Damn does that look good!

3 teeth

Almayass

24 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 473-3100almayassnyc.com

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Attention all Ilili lovers, there’s another game in town. And what’s especially nice about this game is that it’s easier to play. In case my obtuse analogy isn’t tracking, what I mean to say is that it’s way easier to get a table, especially at lunch.

But settle you will not. Almayass is not just an alternative. It’s very much a destination in its own right. From the moment you enter, you are immediately taken by the elegant décor which is much warmer than Ilili,, blending more classic elements with contemporary, and accented with wonderful works of art.

Another plus is that the staff is much more pleasant and much less snooty than at Ilili, which is nice if you don’t want a side of attitude with your fattoush, speaking of which, it was very good.

In fact, most everything was good. A few misses. A few homeruns. And lots in between. Among the homers would be the Soujuk Almayass. Best thing I’ve ever had with this Middle Eastern sausage. It’s painfully simple really, just a slice of sausage sitting on a crostini with a sunny side quail egg on top. But holy Lebanon was it good! Chased with a little arak (Lebanese anise liquor) and I was all like “Ilili who?”

Another dish that was surprisingly better than any I’d ever had before was the mantee. It’s the same thing as the Turkish dish “manti, which are tiny ravioli filled with meat, covered in yogurt. What made it so special, however, was how crisp it was on the outside, and so most and creamy on the inside. And we all know what a softy I am for contrasting textures.

Three other dishes that were also very strong were the kebab made with filet mignon, the baba ganoush served with pomegranate seeds and the lentil soup. Granted my review of the soup is only hearsay, and by that I mean “MMMMMMMMM!!!” from across the table.

In the middle of the road was the pita bread, tzatziki and hummus. And bringing up the rear, the three biggest misses for me were the olives, the tabouleh salad and the sarma.

The olives because they were served pitted, which I can only assume was due to the fact that they’re afraid of getting sued by someone for cracking a tooth on a pit, because no self-respecting restaurant from the region would ever serve olives pitted otherwise.

The tabouleh because it was very leafy and dry. I like mine more moist and hearty.

And last but- well actually least, the sarma. Among the worst stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. Such a shame too, because this place was so close to five knives, but I’m afraid they fell shy by one.

4 teeth

Oenotri

1425 1st St. Napa, CA 94559 • (707) 252-1022 • oenotri.com

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Not sure if you saw it, but there was a recent article in Food & Wine Magazine about Thomas Keller’s favorite restaurants in Napa, apart from his own, of course. And on said list just happened to be the one and only Oenotri.

And as foodie recommendations go, it’s pretty hard to beat Thomas Keller so we went guns blazing, ordering every single antipasta, every single pasta pasta. Two of the three pizzas. A salami plate. A side of potatoes (of course). And every single dessert. Obnoxious? Undoubtably. But there were six of us, so it’s slightly less obnoxious than it sounds, because it basically broke down to one dish per person, per course.

Now, prepare for a ride on the Bipolar Express… The first thing to hit the table was the salami plate which was a solid good. And one particular salami was quite special, made yellowish by the saffron within it.

Then an Ultimate arrived on the scene. The best funghi pizza I’ve ever had. Even the other pie (meatball) was pretty awesome, with a terrific crust and buttery cheese that worked harmoniously together like edible Olympic synchronized swimmers.

But alas the perfection was not to last. On the antipasta course Oenotri went an abysmal 1 for 5. The only one rising above an “eh” would be the wax beans with meatballs and quail egg. So right about then I started to question ole Tommy. That is until the short rib pappardelle came around. So good I wish we would’ve gotten six of them. Not that the others were bad, but the only other pasta dish worthy of a shout out would be the paccheri ragu.

Similarly, the desserts fared about the same. The almond panna cotta was the winner and easily the best panna cotta I’ve ever had, even thought I’m normally not a panna cotta person. Also, an honorable mention goes to the sour cherry tart.

Service was very good. The Amarone wine went wonderfully with everything. And apart from the antipastas, the only other big miss is that the setting is a bit tragic, especially if you sit outside, locsted in the courtyard of a strip mall. But Keller never was big on décor, so I guess it didn’t bother him as much as me.

Oh, almost forgot the all important side of potatoes! They were actually excellent. Packing some nice heat. I would’ve eaten more of them had my stomach not lit up the “no vacancy” sign.

So, all in all, in terms of knives, I am very conflicted. I mean on the one hand when a restaurant has two Ultimates in the same meal, it’s pretty hard to go below 4 knives. But on the other hand, when a restaurant serves up over 10 misses it’s hard to justify going over the 3 knives. Now obviously half knives would solve this kerfuffle quite handily, but that’s a cop out. So, being that I am a “ferocious” foodie, I am going to have to go with harsher sentence.

3 teeth

 

Maysville

17 W 26th St. New York, NY 10010(646) 490-8240maysvillenyc.com

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I would say it’s the best kept secret in the Flatiron, but considering it’s always full , I guess it’s not that much of a secret. Granted no one I work with has even heard of the place. Well, that changed as soon as I returned from lunch as I ran through the office like a culinary Paul Revere, shouting the news to the world, “Maysville Rocks!”

First, the Bourbon Bonnet– a cocktail made from habanero infused bourbon, pineapple, cherry and something else that I was too buzzed to remember. Maybe cucumber, as it was actually light and refreshing, while also being spicy at the same time. Incredible drink. Too incredible.

Did I say incredible, perhaps I should’ve reserved that for the two starters. Both were… um… (I hate this word, but since incredible is already taken) AMAZEBALLS! I highly recommend the crunchy grits. Flash fried into cubes to create a crunchy outer shell, as the name implies, while remaining deliciously moist and cheesy inside. This is then topped with country ham, and the whole thing sits atop a drizzle of bourbon aioli. Very healthy. But so good even your arteries will agree. Oh, and if you are starting to wonder what’s with all the bourbon, whiskey is kinda the theme here. But don’t think that means it looks like a pub or anything. The décor is actually quite nice. Modern meets rustic.

Okay, back to the food. The other starter is the roasted oysters. Not quite as decadent as the grits, but equally strong in its own right. And also packing heat.

Next came the sandwiches which we split. One was the fish, the other a pulled pork sandwich. Both were very, very good. Maybe half a notch below the awesome apps. And the only pulled pork sandwich I like better would be at The Dutch.

So, after such a crazy good run, I had to push it. I had to see if they could pull off the trifecta, so we ordered dessert. A bourbon (shocker) soaked bread pudding. It came highly recommended by our server as the way to end the meal- granted the lemon bar also sounded pretty great, but we went on trust. Now, it wasn’t bad mind you, it was good. But good is a failure compared to everything that proceeded it, so unfortunately I can’t go a full five knives.

Also, the service was a tad on the slow side, I have to say. But when all was said and done, I think this place earns every last one of its four stars in spades. Especially when there are so many other bloated 4 star restaurants on Yelp that shouldn’t be over 2 stars. Thank you Maysville for being the real deal. Can’t wait to return.

***Okay, so I returned for dinner with Wifey and I stand by my word and my knives. I also stand by three other amazing dishes. First, the charred flatbread with a fried egg on top, pickled red onion, mesclun, pork belly and of course, cheese. So good. Another was the soft shell crab served over a bed of black-eyed peas in a vinegar sauce that lighted the dish up and made it one of the best soft shell crab dishes I’ve ever had. And last but not least, the strawberry shortcake with basil ice cream for dessert. Light, refreshing and the use of basil is just a stoke of simple genius.

On the miss side of things, the ramp and asparagus pasta was just okay. A bit too precious with its faint hint of lemon. And the other dish that I can shout from the rooftops about would be the beef tartar with quail egg. It’s good. But just two blocks away resides the best beef tartar the world has ever known at Manzo in Eataly, so it was hard for me not to compare.

Also, one last thing I forgot to mention the last time, the cornbread is always money. Moist and rich with the flavor of actual corn, as opposed to so many other cornbreads that slink by using crutches like jalapenos and cheese.

4 teeth

Piccolo

5 Dudley Ave. Venice, CA 90291(310) 314-3222 • piccolovenice.com

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Move over Capo, Valentino’s and Georgio’s. There’s, well, technically not a “new” game, but “new to me” game in town.

Decor is clean and simple. Basically dark wood and white.  The service, and particularly our waiter, was very authentic and very passionate about the restaurant’s offerings. So passionate that I think it took nearly 30 minutes for him to explain the burrata caprese alone. That said, the burrata caprese is phenomenal. So inventive. Easily the best I’ve ever had.

Another incredible dish is the tagliatelle with venison ragu. Seasoned with cinnamon and clove. Such incredible flavors layered in every bite. It was truly masterful and like nothing I’ve ever had, before or since.

Some other solid dishes were the carbonara with quail egg and the seared scallops with truffles. But while very good, they just weren’t at the same level as the first two.

And then came dessert. A make or break for 5 stars. And with me not typically being a fan of Italian desserts, save the cannoli, an improbable task to say the least. But Piccolo delivered. Two different desserts rocked my world. The dark chocolate gold leaf cake was insane. So intensely rich, but not overdone. Handled with complete elegance on the palate. And the crowd favorite, the chocolate cream filled pastry balls. Sort of a variation on a profiterole. Like a bomb of chocolaty, creamy goodness exploding in your mouth.

I think I’m in amore.

5 teeth