FIG

232 Meeting St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 805-5900eatatfig.com

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Ask anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line what the best restaurants in Charleston are and you’re likely to hear about FIG, an acronym for Food Is Good. So with gauntlet thrown it was a moral imperative for me to suss out whether or not FIG was all hype, or all that.

Out of the gate, FIG seemed like yet another success story resting on its laurels, doling out bad service with a waitress who gave barely any recommendations to us “out-of-towners,” but then went on and on about half the menu with the local table next to us. But that’s minor compared to the fact that we had to ask to have our plates cleared and to see a dessert menu.

The other cause for concern was the bread. Never a good sign when the bread at a place is a pass. Appears they could learn a thing or two from Husk in terms of bread, service and décor.

But then FIG rallied with a dynamic duo of dishes. The first being the white shrimp appetizer with fennel, chili, raisins and pine nuts. Such a great, light app, yet packed with flavor and texture and nice dose of heat.

The other starter, however, was a bit on the heavier side, a lamb bolognese gnocci made with pillows of outstandingness only bested by Elan, Blue Hill and Bar LaGrassa in terms of flavor, but the dumplings themselves are incomparable.

Then, just when I thought I understood what all the hype was about, back down we went, with two dull-ass entrees. The tile fish with bone marrow and carrots was just too much of the same note and if it didn’t say bone marrow on the menu, I’d defy anyone to say they could actually taste it. And speaking of not tasting things, the suckling pig, while moist, was so bland that I couldn’t even tell where the pig ended and the rice or black-eyed peas began. And even though the dish was loaded with shishito peppers, sadly they did nothing to save the dish, because they were the most flavorless shishitos I’ve ever had, bringing not even an ounce of heat. Such a huge missed opportunity for some much needed heat.

Now deep into the woods of Two Knives-ville, it was looking grim for FIG. But from afar the sticky toffee cake with walnut ice cream (pictured) was lookin’ mighty fine on its way to virtually every table around us. So, when in Rome (or Charleston) go with the flow. And flow it did, right down my pie-hole, capping things off strong at 3 knives.

3 teeth

L’inizio

698 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 693-5400 •  liniziony.com

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After three different people recommended that I try this place, I knew it had to be at least a three knifer, but the true question was, is it four or five? Well, if parking were factored in, most certainly not, because it’s a major bitch. And you can forget all about that little lot over by the Thai House that’s always more jam-packed than a drug mule’s colon. So your best bet is across the street and down a touch, over by Star Bagel, since they’re closed for dinner and it’d be a shame to let all of that parking go to waste.

Speaking of space being at a premium, the restaurant itself is quite small as well, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for me, but it’s also pretty lacking in the personality department, making it a modicum nicer than the inside of a shoe box.

But the warmth that’s missing from the décor came from our server in spades, who was not only friendly, she was also spot on with the recommendations. Unfortunately, however, even as well intentioned as the staff was, the service itself is actually a bit spotty, getting both pepper and grated cheese in my wife’s water (so much so that it needed to be replaced) and forgetting to bring out our pasta course before the dessert menu.

In terms of the food, this is where L’inizio shined. Starting with a nice, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil to whet the palate. After that, we doubled down on bread opting for the ricotta with acacia honey, a simple, but wonderful Italian go-to that definitely hit the mark, but I have to say, the chef went a little stingy on the honey.

Next up came the charred endive salad with dates (or more accurately, date in singular form), which was excellent, but again, thin on the one ingredient that made it so interesting, the date.

The recommended octopus was also fantastic, sort of similar in preparation to the one at Charlie Bird in the city, only MUCH better, because there’s so much more going on. The heat from the peppers, the brightness and crunch from the celery. The creaminess of the humus. Even a slight note of sweetness. My only gripe being, you guessed it, a little too light on the octopus. A theme of the joint I suppose? Keep ‘em wanting more? Only I think the chef doesn’t truly get the intent of that saying.

As for pastas, the cavatelli was a bit of a snore compared to the much more flavorful parpadelle with lamb ragu, pine nuts and raisins. The anomaly of the night, because it was shockingly generous with the lamb.

We ended the evening with another great reco, the date cake with sweet mascarpone (pictured), sitting in a pool of caramel sweetness. It was divine. Which is a bit of a hoity-toity phrase for me, I gotta be honest. Almost feels like I should be typing it with a New England lockjaw. But it really was kickass. There. That’s better.

It’s no Cookery and there are many kinks still to work out, but there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this chef knows what he’s doing, even if he cheaps out a bit on the goodies. So my advice to you, go. My advice to the chef, let it go…LET IT GO! Let your yummy ingredients flow! (to be sung like Elsa from Frozen). Do that, and I’ll up you to four knives, because it’s holding you back from true greatness.

3 teeth

Restaurant Michael Schwartz & Coffee Bar

1775 Collins Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 534-6300 raleighhotel.com

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The Raleigh Hotel is such a find in the heart of the deco district. Not as pricey as its neighbors and more low key, but sporting one of the best pools on Collins Avenue.

And while the restaurant may not be a destination unto itself like the headliners at so many other hotels, including its SBE Hotel siblings the SLS (The Bazaar) and The Redbury (Cleo), it still manages to serve up some pleasers.

Going by day part, they do quite well for breakfast. Either at the sit down tables outside by the pool or even at the grab and go Coffee Bar near the front. So if you’re aiming for a quick bite I definitely recommend the honey bran muffin and a glass of the freshly blended Rejuvenator. It’s carrot, ginger and apple and orange I believe. It’s also quite rejuvenating. After three of them I’m now in my twenties.

And as for the muffin, it has that perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness, a little on the sticky side, but moist as can be, speckled with juicy, plump raisins. On the downside, do not take the bait on the apple muffin. It is the Danny DeVito to the honey bran’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s a Twins reference, in case my pop culture illustration is going completely lost on you.

As for sit down options, the Greek yogurt and honey with granola is surprisingly good. Having recently been in Greece I can attest with some modicum of experience that this yogurt is the closest thing I’ve had in the states to the way it is in mother Greece.

The other breakfast pleaser was the brioche French toast with caramelized bananas. It’s a very tough dish to screw up in all fairness, but if there was one surefire way to do it, it’s not soaking the bread through and through. Well, I’m happy to report that there is no infraction here. Dish nailed.

As for lunch, I found the food to be a little weaker. The grilled fish tacos are simple and fresh, which is enough to make them worthy of ordering, but there was nothing inventive or memorable about them. I would say the same about the tuna sandwich, although it did need a little Dijon as a kick in the ass. The only out and out miss was the swordfish sandwich. A bit too dry and a lotta bit too blah. But all in all, solid pool food if you happen to be staying in the hotel, which is nice, not having to make a special trip just for lunch.

Never had dinner there, but considering how friggin’ awesome that octopus looks, maybe that’ll be an amendment to this post the next time I visit Miami.

3 teeth