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.

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Forager’s Table

233 8th AveNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 243-8888 • foragersmarket.com/restaurant

Swooned by many a Yelper and blog, Forager seems to make everyone’s top spots for brunch. So, when in Rome, and Chelsea, we grabbed brunch. And as much as I love hatin’ on the Yelpers, I gots to admit, they called this right as rain.* Oh, the asterisk? Well, there was a pretty egregious miss, but will get to that after some lovin’.  

First up, an Ultimate in the pancake category, their orange blossom ricotta pancakes (pictured) are fluffier than a newborn chick after a blowout. Light and brilliant and I’m so glad I don’t live or work closer to this place or I’d become the opposite of light and fluffy. Also in the sweet camp, their Belgian waffles are quite strong as well.

On the savory front, wifey had the salmon tartine and it too was a crowd-pleaser. Said crowd being her teeth and mine. And albeit a simple dish, the ingredients are terrific (like dill creme fraiche) and the balance is nailed.

Not-so nailed is the “steak” egg wrap, which sounds incredible by its description on the menu- so much so that I came dangerously close to order it over the pancakes. Well, phew! Dodged that bullet! But sadly, it hit my father in-law square in the puss. An culinary insult to its brethren dishes, it disappoints on virtually every metric, the first of which being that it is NOT steak. It is ground meat. Granted it might’ve been steak at one point, but that would be like serving up chicken and calling them eggs. Speaking of eggs, they must’ve made them with milk as opposed to crème fraiche, because the wrap was soggier than a toddler’s bed at 2:00am. MOM!!!!!

I don’t want to end on a sour note, however, because the truth is, it was a pretty sweet meal, even down to their fresh juices. But shhh! Don’t tell my father in-law or he’ll disown me.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

The Ultimate Soufflé

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pontico Hills, NY – The Ricotta Soufflé

Once upon a time, back when Blue Hill hadn’t jumped the shark yet, you could still order from a menu. And once upon a time on that menu lived a dessert the stuff of fairy tales. Like eating a cloud filled with dreams, whipped into a poof of fluffiness that would even make a Pomeranian jealous. I think it’s safe to say that this is the crowning achievement for eggs and chickens alike.

L’Affable – Cannes, FR – Grand Marnier Soufflé

As Grand Marnier soufflés go, they all could pretty much pass as Ultimates, because A, they’re soufflés. And B, because they have booze in them. But not just any booze, a light, citrusy booze with notes of spice in it that warm the cockles of your soul. Or maybe that’s just the residual heat from the oven still trapped in the ramekin. Well, whatever it is, this particular GM soufflé manages to just barely top the previous frontrunner, Capo in Santa Monica (formerly on the list). It’s just that indescribable X factor. That 1% more fluffiness. That sensational whipped crack they put on top and that drizzle to follow, like a one-two punch and game, set, match. Yes, I’m aware that I just mixed boxing and tennis, but you have to admit, that would make for a VERY interesting new hybrid sport.

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

Foodlab

7253 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90046(323) 851-7120foodlab-la.com

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Having only ordered from here, I think it’s safe to say that things are still in the clinical trial phase, because not much was nailed. The iced tea was bitter and basic. And the grilled cheese (pictured), while made with gruyere, tallegio and gorgonzola on 5 grain with glazed onions and grain mustard, proved to be a bit too much of one note. Granted it’s a good note, but not as interesting as one would hope after reading that epic list of lovable ingredients.

The best thing for me was the prosciutto and fig sandwich on a baguette with ricotta and honey, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. However, do not be fooled by the menu description, because it is NOT served on raisin walnut bread. Also, do not be fooled into thinking this sandwich is SO good that I am recommending the Lab on the whole. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to have to eat here, this is my suggestion.

2 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

Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

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No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

3 teeth

Twisted Oak

61 Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591 • (914) 332-1992 •  thetwistedoakny.com

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What in the hell is happening to Tarrytown?! You go away for a year and boom! About 80% of the restaurants are new. Which, as a Ferocious Foodie, naturally excites me with a plethora of new options now lying before me. So for starters, let’s tackle the Twisted Oak, the artist formerly known as Isabella’s (RIP).

Having heard good things from a fellow foodie, we decided to roll the dice, skeptical as we were, especially as we set foot in the dining room, which looks like it underwent very minimal renovations before reopening. It’s certainly nicer, but we’re talking maybe 10-15%, something about it still screaming old-school burbs eatery. Perhaps it’s in part due to the basket of CVS dental floss in the bathroom? I mean what place does that in this day and age? And it’s so unfortunate too, because you can tell they are truly reaching for a culinary experience, just look at the menu. Either the chef has no gift for décor or he and the owner are on vastly different pages.

On the upside, the page the chef is on is a very, very good one. For starters I highly recommend the charcuterie, served with grilled bread, cured ham, delicious little pickled beets and a buratta-like mozzarella spread with garlic and butter. You smear that on the bread and top it with a little prosciutto and yowser! It’s almost a toss up between that and just waiting for the normal bread to come, which is the same, sans grilling, but served with a wonderful baked spread of its own, comprised of parmesan, ricotta and garlic.

Another huge hit was the short rib with steel cut oat risotto and ramps. I don’t want to wax on about it too long, because the menu is always changing, but it was fall-off-the-bone-bodacious. Rich with flavor and killer with a Cabernet. Speaking of killer, as in, should you wish to put yourself on the fast train to killing yourself, the duck fat potatoes are all kinds of phat! To give you an idea of just how phenomenal they are, my son doesn’t even like potatoes unless they are in the form of French fries. Well, he wolfed down a good half of them. I ate the other half. Wifely had a cube or two, I think. Hard to say, I was too busy cramming duck fat potatoes in my face.

But Twisted Oak wavered a pit on the pastas if you ask me. The duck ravioli with fennel and citrus, while good, was also a bit too subtle for my tastes. I kept expecting the fennel and the acid to shine through more than they did. And the biggest loser of the bunch was the ricotta gnudi. Skip it. Just a bunch of big balls of blah.

But the Oak didn’t let me walk away upset, oh no. She ended strong with an awesome, and unlikely dessert reco, the white chocolate soup. Not something I would’ve ever gone for, but like The Monkey’s sing, now I’m a believer. We’re talking rich, creamy chocolate ice cream surrounded by hazelnuts, all doused in a healthy downpour of white chocolate. This dish is everything right with the world stuck in a bowl and served with a spoon.

Thank you for the pleasant surprise Twisted Oak. Your food far surpasses your decor, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have it that way than the other way around.

4 teeth