Jesup Hall

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6198 • jesuphall.com

Just stop it already Whelk people. You are making the restaurant business look WAY too easy. I mean, do you ever miss? If not, would you mind doing it just once so the rest of the industry doesn’t look so inept by comparison?

Yes, from the people who brought you The Whelk, Le Farm (RIP) and Kawa Ni comes yet another homerun. It’s enough to make Barry Bonds feel inadequate.

And I have to admit, I was skeptical this time, with the stiff competition of Rothbard on the floor below. But once again, I am proven deliciously wrong. Just one bite of their Monkey Bread and you will start making involuntary noises that would have Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally blushing like the wrong end of a red-assed baboon. It is lick-the-plate addicting, but please do your best not to fill up, because there’s more where that come from.

Like the buratta for example. Sure, buratta is usually a layup, but in the right hands, it can be the game winning shot. Just excellent. Less so would be the cauliflower which the love to push as the end all be all. It’s certainly good, and clearly inspired by Ilili in New York. But it’s drowning a bit in add-ons and you really don’t taste the cauliflower.

The grits with spicy crab nudja were also quite good, but a little odd at the same time, trying to pay homage to shrimp and grits I suppose, but it’s not quite as good and it’s also not the most visually appealing dish of the lot.

The burger is also very good (pictured), but having tried the burger at The Whelk, Kawa Ni and now here, I gotta give it to the Whelk. But fret not, because if it’s meat supremacy you’re after, the steak is tops. Easily blowing away the rib-eye over at The Cottage. And if you’ve read my review, you know how much I love that place, but meat vs. meat, there’s no contest.

Finally, be sure to end your night on a high note with the lemon curd tart. It sings.

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

4 Park Ave. New York, NY 10016 (212) 889-3369 • http://wolfgangssteakhouse.net/parkave/

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Just when you think you’ve been to every steakhouse in the city you learn that there are more. Like Wolfgang’s. And apparently there are four of them! In Manhattan alone! Who knew? Okay, just me? Well, did you also know that the founder was a former waiter for many years at Peter Luger? Oh… You knew that too. Okay then. Apparently I need to get out more.

Well, for those of you not in the know, Wolfgang is an entire chain of steakhouses, not just in New York State. That said, I have only been to the one on Park Avenue and if that location is indicative of the entire franchise, I have to say, he learned well from Peter.

The first thing he learned, obviously from someone else, is that décor adds to the experience. And while it might’ve been more of a happy accident, the ceilings are absolutely stunning (pictured). My best guess is that it was an old subway station entrance/exit, judging from the tile work.

Servers are your usual steakhouse suspects, career lifers who come on strong and confident but yet somehow manage to come off likeable at the same time. Not sure about the Somm, however, didn’t need him because I managed to find the diamond in the pricey rough on the wine list, the Turley Fredrick’s 2013 Zinfandel. It’s a keeper. And it’s maybe one of a dozen reds under a C note.

Kicking off the food stuffs, I gotta say that the bread was a bit of a miss and certainly not worth filling up on. There will be plenty of other things worthy of that. For example, the bacon, which is so massive and so fatty that one slice is easily enough for two people, if not three. Otherwise it’s a little much on top of chasing it with a steak. On the lighter side, but still quite good are both the shrimp cocktail and the oysters.

For steak, I went with the rib eye, and it was perfection. Cooked spot on medium rare and bursting with salty, butteriness. Whereas the filet mignon tasted like it was stolen from an airplane tray. First Class mind you, but from airplane tray nonetheless.

For sides, all of them were solid. From the creamed spinach and potatoes to the asparagus and onion rings. None of them epic, but all very nice supporting roles.

Sadly, we pressed our luck at the end though, going with a Key Lame Pie. Typo intended. Serves me right for getting greedy with the gluttony.

3 teeth

Black Barn

19 E 26th St. New York, NY 10010(212) 265-5959 blackbarnrestaurant.com

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A unequivocal upgrade from SD26 (RIP), Black Barn slaps you in the face with energy the moment you enter, with its lively bar up front, adorned with sleek décor elements done in such a way that honors both the country and city, making the Osmonds proud. Especially in the main dining room in the back, where they really embrace the mix of design elements, complete with a framed out “barn” looming overhead. The only thing taking away from the vibe in a pretty big way is the tablet-style cocktail and wine list. It just cheapens the experience right as you sit down, making you feel like you’re in one of those iPad airport restaurants.

In terms of service, it was a bit spotty, proving to be noticeably lethargic on the bookends with both the cocktails and desserts taking an eternity. Then there’s the matter of our waiter forgetting all about delivering us a bread basket, probably because he was too busy delivering his table-side theatrically, obnoxious Shakespearean presentation of “The Menu.” This guy was so over the top we felt like we were being waited on by Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments.

Fortunately for Charlton the cocktails were very good. The winner of the two I tried was The Bad Seed, made with Buttered Corn American Whiskey and cayenne pepper dust. It was spicy and buttery in all the right places. Yes, it’s good to be bad. The other cocktail was the refreshing Cider House Cup, served in a copper mug, which seems to be all the rage as of late. Made with Apple Jack, fruit and lime juice. It’s a nice yin to the yang of The Bad Seed.

For starters the Beau Soleil oysters were oysters. Fresh, but nothing spectacular. Served with all the usual suspects from lemon to vinegar to cocktail sauce. The seared foie gras with green apples was also just okay, missing the broad side of a, well, barn, with a dish that should’ve easily been a layup had they just given it that hit of sweetness that is normally so germane to the dish. But weakest of all was probably the pumpkin salad, which was so unimpressionable that it might as well have never even been served to us and I doubt anyone would’ve ever noticed.

On the plus side, the mushroom toast with tallegio was good. Not what I would call it incredible, but amidst the losers it was served with, it was a beacon of hope. And speaking of hope, we finally held out long enough for that forgotten breadbasket I mentioned earlier. But once it arrived, it quickly became apparent as to why they had forgotten. Because it’s pretty forgettable. Although I will hand them the award for the most conflicted spread ever served with bread. A pat of butter topped with balsamic vinegar, sitting in a pool of olive oil, surrounded by roasted garlic cloves. Yes, all of that and yet it still failed to wow.

Sadly, the entrees didn’t fare much better. The scallops were just okay, only made mildly better by the potatoes they are served over. But compared to the amazing scallop dish at The Clocktower across the park, I wouldn’t wipe my ass with these. Not that you should ever wipe your ass with mollusks, that’s just gross, not even sure why you brought it up?

The rib eye with chimichurri was also just okay. The meat itself was nothing special at all, so it was in dire need of something to submerge it in, hence why they serve it with the chimichurri, I suppose. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the inadequacies of the dish. Nor was the cayenne popover, which was a nice touch, props for that one, but it’s obviously a borrowed concept from BLT and not quite at the same level, nor size. Still, I appreciated the effort.

And just when the barn was about to be set fire, the best entrée of the night came in to save the day, the sweet potato ravioli with bacon. Not only was it good, it was crazy good. Then, they followed that up with two killer desserts, the rum soaked bread pudding, which was my favorite, as you can imagine, and the other were the salted caramel ice cream sandwiches which were pretty dope as well, to use a horribly dated expression that I’m hoping to bring back into style. The weakest of the three desserts were the warm chocolate brownies. They’re not exactly bad per se, but when you can get a better brownie at Pret, it kinda makes it seem ridiculous to pay over 10 bucks for something inferior.

Such a shame. I had higher hopes for Black Barn. Sure, it had its spots of brilliance, but they were lost in a sea of too much darkness. Or should I say “blackness?” Yet I still stand by what I said at the beginning. It’s definitely an upgrade from the previous tenant, even if the misses outnumber the hits.

2 teeth

J. Alexander’s

4077 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062(847) 564-3093redlandsgrill.com

020910  (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post). PALM BEACH GARDENS. Restaurant Review of J. Alexander's Restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

I’m not gonna lie, my fangs were bared and I was full-on ready to pounce all over this place. Shitting on it like something out of a relentless Family Guy sketch. I mean, c’mon, it’s in a Deerfield, IL office park for Pete sake! Your expectations get about as low as a snake in a wagon trail. Not sure where that Ross Perot-ian metaphor just came from, but you catch my drift.

Plus, the moment you walk in, the décor just screams casual dining chain (which it is), the likes of Bennigan’s and Applebee’s. So there I was at the table, seething at how foolish I was for taking the word of the girl at the front desk over at the Hyatt, when suddenly, BAM! BA-BAM! No, not gun shots. That’s the sound my ego makes when I’m wrong.

All three starters were really impressive. My favorite of the three being the deviled eggs with candy bacon and pickled slaw. But so was the smoked salmon salad with crostinis. And, of course, just to spite me, so was the Hyatt recommended fried calamari, which was shockingly tender, with a nice kick in the sauce to boot.

For my entrée I went with the coffee rubbed rib eye, served with a sizable mound of mashed potatoes. And while both were good, this was decidedly the weakest dish of the night. Fortunately, the Prisoner zinfandel I ordered by the glass to go with it was sensational. Making it the third best “Prisoner” I’ve ever experience. The first being sung by the band Squeeze. The second being the movie starring Hugh Jackman, which is technically plural.

For dessert, J. Alexander closed strong with two desserts so massive that after the five of us each took at least two bites apiece, there was still enough left on the plates to be considered a reasonable serving size. But please don’t take the stranded portions as a sign of mediocrity, because both the Key Lime Pie and the Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (pictured) were very on point. We were all just stuffed to the gills by that point.

Sure, it’s a casual dining chain, but in the land of lowered expectations this place stands proud and tall, with the service to match. Take note all of you other chains out there, because this place has cracked the code like Benedict Cumberbatch in The Immitation Game.

4 teeth

 

Manny’s Steakhouse

825 Marquette Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55402(612) 339-9900 mannyssteakhouse.com

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So, apparently the Morton’s Steakhouse in Minneapolis closed down, and that’s not even the bad news. The really bad news is that Manny’s is the consolation prize. A poor man’s Morton’s if ever there were one, not that Morton’s is the end all be all of steakness either, but it’s still better than Manny’s.

Manny’s isn’t exactly bad, however, there’s just nothing amazing about it. It’s your run-of-the-mill steakhouse food you’ve eaten at least a hundred times over, with nothing impressionable enough to make a memory. You’ve got your Caesar salad, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and seafood towers. Your New York Strip, Rib Eye, Porterhouse and Filets. The same old sides like mac and cheese, creamed spinach and baked potato.

But, if an old school steakhouse is what you’re craving in the twin cities, then I recommend The Strip Club in St. Paul. If that’s still not an option for you, however, then best of luck with Manny’s. It’s nothing spectacular and nothing terrible, just smack dab in the middle of steakhouse mediocrity. Good for large parties and testing out the elasticity of your stomach’s lining.

2 teeth

CUT

The Palazzo • 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S. Las Vegas, NV 89109(702) 607-6300palazzo.com/dining.html

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Wolfy, ya still got it! I’ve been to several of Puck’s restaurants over the years, from Chinois to Spago, and this is my favorite. Chinois being a close second. That said, in terms of décor CUT wins by a landslide. Very sleek and modern, almost like dining in Elysium.

And speaking of idyllic, the service was great too, granted that tends to be the theme in Las Vegas, I’m guessing a tenet of their tourism based culture.

But most remarkable of all was the food, especially for such a cheesy town located in a godforsaken desert with no natural resources. I don’t know how they even pull it off. I mean screw Copperfield, this is the real magic show. A rib eye so marbled it almost looked like wagyu and tasted as good or better than any steakhouse rib eye I’ve ever had. In fact the only place I can think that tops it is The French Laundry.

Other dishes were equally impressive from sides to pasta. So if you’re not a carnivore fret not, Wolfy has you covered. And not with some mediocre afterthought to placate you. Every dish appears to be treated like a main event and it shows. All in all, the best meal I’ve had in Sin City.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Salad

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Cocoon – Cannes, FR

With its warm goat cheese pastry wrapped in a wonderfully flaky filo dough and caramelized apples on top, it’s more like a dessert than it is a salad I suppose, but with such fresh greens and tomatoes, it somehow manages to pull itself back out of the pigeon hole and land firmly in the middle of magnifique!

L&W Oyster Co. – New York, NY

As I may have stated before, I’m not a huge fan of fried oysters. I much prefer them in the raw or roasted state. In fact, there’s only one other place that has ever made we swoon over the fried variety, Pearl Oyster Bar. But hats off to L&W, because this salad is so good- so beefed up with unsalad-like ingredients that you might even question if it’s a salad. But then again, why spoil the mood?

Three Square – Venice, CA

By now I’m guessing you’re starting to see a theme here as not one of these salads are a usual suspect, but that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a good, all vegetable salad. I do. But when you compare that to the likes of a perfectly cooked, medium rare rib-eye, sliced over mesclun, with crumbled goat cheese, grapes and roasted pine nuts- there’s no contest!

5 teeth

Aria

100 N Tryon St. Charlotte, NC 28202(704) 376-8880 • ariacharlotte.com

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Depending on how you enter you might have two entirely different impressions of the décor. From the street it’s very nice. Heavily influenced by Craft in New York City I’m guessing. But if you cut through the Bank of America building, the entrance from that side is very unfortunate as you enter through a rather unappealing indoor mall, with an even lesser appealing entrance to the restaurant.

But either way, once you sit down, you are in for a treat. The menu really has some wowsers on it. At the top of those wowsers would be the lamb shank with tallegio polenta. Three of my favorite things one plate, served moist and stanky. I regrettably offered to share so I only had about half of it, but at least it afforded me the opportunity to sample a number of other dishes.

A very close second to the lamb was the fettuccine carbonara with pancetta. Perfectly done and as good as any place I’ve ever had it. Highly recommend it as a shared dish, because it’s as rich as the bankers on the floors above.

And speaking of rich, the peanut butter and chocolate dessert was another crowd-pleaser. And I don’t usually dig on peanut butter desserts, but this one was undeniable.

Other highs would be the scallop crudo. Very fresh, with a nice touch of heat to complement the sweetness of the mollusk. The salmon entrée. And the Crostada, which was basically a blackberry crumble.

From there the drop off to goodsville was steady, marked by a rib eye special which was a touch too fatty to be great, the NY strip, which was too hyped and too overcooked to live up to the hype and a kale salad that was, well, a kale salad.

And while there were a few misses, none of them were severe. For example, the gnocci with pear and prosciutto was great if you had a bite with all three ingredients at once. The problem is that it’s served with only enough of everything to do that for about five or six bites and then you’re left stranded with a bunch of boring potato dumplings.

Another hyped miss was the eggplant parmesan. It was honestly nothing better than you’d get at an Olive Garden for half the price. And same goes for the Tiramisu.

But after so many highs, it’s hard to complain too much about the food. Service, on the other hand, is definitely worth picking on. They simply aren’t up to the caliber of food they are serving. They are too slow and disorganized for such a seemingly high-end experience that boasts touches like a table in the kitchen and a wine list with bottles north of $500. All they need to do is weld the back entrance shut and hire new waiters and Aria would easily reach a full four knives, but as of now, I’m going with a strong 3.5.

3 teeth

BLT Steak

106 E 57th St. New York, NY 10022(212) 752-7470bltsteak.com

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I’ve easily been to over a dozen steakhouses in the city and my clear favorite is BLT. Very hip décor. Good waiters- hostesses, not so much. You’d think they were hostessing the Playboy Mansion the way they cop a tude. But petty nits aside, BLT stands for Beef Lover’s Dream as far as I’m concerned. And no, I’m not concerned that I just used a “D” instead of a “T” because they rhyme and that’s not really the point anyway, now is it?

The point is that the food is just awesome. Lunch or dinner, you won’t be disappointed.  Right out of the gate, even the “bread” is somethin’ special- a parmesan popover. So friggin’ good I could make a meal of those alone! But not to be outdone, every cut of every steak I’ve had here is cooked to perfection, crisp on the outside, tender and juicy all over the place on the inside, served with an assortment of delicious sauces to enhance things even further – the red wine sauce is sinful- not that it needs it- sans sauce is just fine too, but if you’re go with one, that’s my reco.

I’ve even had their branzino, which is mighty impressive for a steakhouse. And their kobe steak sandwich for lunch was unbelievable. But you’ll have to take my word for it on that one, because they pulled it off the menu. Cue tears…

And while even the desserts are superb, choose to get nothing and you’ll still end things on a high note with their little, fresh-baked chocolate cookies. Better than most things you’ll find on other steakhouse dessert menus.

Oh, and let’s not forget the wine. A choice selection indeed. Discovered one of my favorite Pinots there, Seque. So good I bought a case from the vineyard when I got home.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Steak

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French Laundry – Yountville, CA

If you know anything about steak, then you probably realize by now that the best steaks are most certainly not served at steakhouses. Sure, they do a good job of it when you have to consider pesky things like quantity, but when quantity is no longer a factor, the sky’s the limit.

And speaking of the sky, the stratosphere is where this steak lives. A rib eye so selectively chosen it’s probably easier to win at Powerball than it is to make it onto one of Thomas Keller’s plates. This is no exaggeration. They literally only source one farm and from that farm, the cut they use is only the most tender portion of the rib eye, making it about a third to a quarter of the size you might find at other restaurants.

Now, all of this pomp and circumstance might seem like a bit much when all you want to do is sink your teeth into the side of a cow already, but I promise you that it is worth it. Because in that split second that your teeth penetrate the outer layer of steak heaven, it’s as though you have never truly eaten steak before in your life. And then you cry… tears of joy.