Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant

36 Railroad PlWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-0810 • harvestwinebar.com

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Located across the street from the train station, Harvest makes for a great place to eat either right before a train or right after, at the end of a long workday when no one at home wants to cook and you’re not sure what you want to eat (guilty as charged), Harvest offers a jack of all trades menu with a few hits, a few misses and a lot of creativity.

Starting with the wines by the glass, you will find Conundrums in both red and white. So right there you have two solid reasons to visit. The vibe is also pretty cool, although the crowd both times I ate here was a bit sparse.

In round one, I enjoyed the veal chop, prepared with a red wine truffle glaze, creamy spinach, baby carrots and parmesan. But the real winners were salmon tartar with jalapenos, baby arugula, lemon zest and potato chips for salty scooping. So yum.

The surprise winner for me was the crispy artichoke starter. It just sounds and looks like it’ll be heavy, but somehow they are magically light and wonderful. So much so that this was my favorite thing.

Come round two I found the pear and endive salad to be decent but the octopus start is a big miss. Only because of its chewy consistency. The preparation is actually quite good. Basic, but good. Mainly avocados, tomato and red peppers. And funny enough, the exact same prep was used on my favorite dish of round two, the crispy crab cakes.

Now I just need to return and get the artichokes and the crab cakes and I’ll have the perfect meal.

3 teeth

Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

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As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth

La Mirabelle

24 rue St Antoine 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 38 72 75

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Located on the main drag in Old Cannes, I had actually eaten here many years ago and while I vaguely remember what I had to eat, I do recall that I drank a  wonderful bottle of Chateau Margaux. And funny enough, I also remember sitting downstairs in “the cave.”

This time we sat upstairs, however, in the cozy little dining room right by the bar in front of the kitchen where you get to witness all sorts of interesting theater play out before you. For example, just watching the waiters try and squeeze their way out through the spring door with trays full of food, whilst also navigating their footing on a tight spiral staircase leading down from the kitchen upstairs is almost as nail-biting as watching Danny MacAskill ride his bike on the precarious railing of a skyscraper.

The other thing that makes this a front row seat worth getting is that you will see all of the dishes on the menu before you order them, like the cote de boeuf, which looks like it is off the charts and only slightly smaller than the slab of cow Rocky Balboa used to train on. And then there’s the dorade, which we had and I must admit was very good. But a word of caution, both of those dishes are humongous and require sharing. So if you prefer an entrée all to your self, I definitely recommend the burger, served on a brioche bun, smothered in mushrooms, duck jus and black truffles. And while I found the burger meat to be somewhat mediocre and a little on the overcooked side for my tastes, the flavors were insane. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had better black truffles anywhere. So good, that I want to go and high-five the pig who sniffed them out.

The appetizers, conversely, were more like unappetizers and unfortunately so was the less than wonderful bottle of red this go around. I found the bread to be stale and the fried zucchini flower salad a bit tasteless. Even the caprese was nowhere near as good as the one I had earlier in the same day aboard a yacht. And while I don’t review yachts as of yet, should you ever be so lucky as to find yourself aboard the Grenedines III, ask for the caprese. It’s ridic. Oh, and yes, I am a complete and total douche for just name-dropping a friggin’ yacht. But as Ferris Bueller once said, “if you have the means, it is so choice.”

Ending strong, Mirabelle delivered with a tart lemon tart, topped with meringue florets and fresh strawberries which might be every bit as good as the one at Astoux and Brun. And the chocolate fondant is no slouch either, giving the one at Sushi Roku a run for its money.

3 teeth

La Sirena

Maritime Hotel 88 9th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 977-6096 lasirena-nyc.com

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Had I not been staying in the Maritime Hotel, I don’t think I would’ve ever given this restaurant the time of day. But now that I’ve eaten here, I will be counting the days until my return.

The setting itself is somewhat odd, two pod-like dining rooms at opposite ends of a massive, oven bar area that feels like the lido deck aboard a cruise liner, but with trendy booze and cocktail tables as opposed to a swimming pool and corpulent sunbathers. But within the pods both left and right, The Siren is serving up Italian that sings like a choir of angels achieving multiple orgasms.

Bursting out of the gate like Sea Biscuit (the horse, not the atrocious movie), they serve up a fresh-baked loaf of piping hot Italian bread that is so good it will vanish quicker than Lindsay Lohan’s career. But be sure to order a second one, because there’s sopping up you’ll be wanting to do ahead.

For an appetizer, I seldom swoon over salad, but I gotsta hand it to the frisee with poached egg, spicy pepperoni and warm potatoes. It is excellent, made so by the skillful balance of all its ingredients, but I think a special shout-out is in order to the pepperoni. Cut thick and packing so much heat you’d think it was a soppressata.

With 80% of their pastas being homemade, go figure that I would pick one of the only two that wasn’t. But for whatever reason, regardless of the waiter’s caution, I pressed on, because I had pus on the brain. That came out completely wrong, but the pus I’m referring two has eight legs, not two. A beautifully prepared al dente bucatini, loaded with tender, thin slices of spicy octopus, roasted peppers and onions all tossed in a delightfully fresh red sauce. Again, so surprisingly good I started questioning myself and everything around me. Was it the fault of food critics for not giving La Sirena the rightful kudos it deserves? Or was I just coming down with a sudden case of the easy-to-pleasies?

Ending with the pine nut tart for dessert, I was hoping for a strong miss to help make sense of the world again, but sadly things will have to remain a mystery. Drizzled with a red wine caramel and topped with an olive oil gelato, the tart walks a razors edge between savory and sweet making it unique and curiously pleasing in unexpected ways.

I would easily go five knives on this one, but I didn’t hear a lot of oohs and ahhs from the others at my table so I’m guessing the chicken and the clams with linguini aren’t at the same level as the bucatini, which might help explain the surprisingly mortal star count on Yelp.

4 teeth