Saltwater

128 Washington StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 939-9502 • saltwatersono.com

This place should be ashamed of itself being so close to actual saltwater and yet doing its bounty such a disservice. And thing of it is, I kinda blame myself, because from the moment you walk in the décor pretty much screams DANGER! CRAP THEME RESTAURANT. Complete with aqua painted floors, wall and ceiling and actual blue and white beach gazebos as booths.

And yet I pressed on, because this is what I do for you, my readers. I eat shit food so you don’t have to. But that’s just me. I’m a giver… of primarily scathing reviews.

And scathing this shall be, because virtually everything was bland or worse, including our waiter. Not that he was bland, he was just flat-out terrible. But to be fair, we got off on the wrong foot because the place was entirely out of lobster in any way, shape or form by 8pm on a Saturday night! A seafood restaurant, on the second biggest night of the weekend, is out of an ingredient that’s in a quarter of the dishes on the menu. WTF?!

So, with two major strikes already against it, the rest of the menu was going to have to be stellar and spoiler alert, it wasn’t.

The octopus was average. The scallops over the risotto cake was a glorified bowl of mush. In fact, the only things that even registered on the foodometer were the raw oysters and the Sono salad. The oysters being hard to claim as a culinary success, if you ask me, because you’re really taking credit for nature’s unfettered fruits

There were other dishes on the table as well, but I can’t recall what they were, which I think speaks volumes- the fact that my mind is blocking the meal like a traumatic incident. Be warned!

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Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Fuku

163 1st AveNew York, NY 10003 • eatfuku.com

Normally I’m a pretty big David Chang fan, but Fuku is definitely missing the Momo mojo. The concept is fried chicken. In sandwiches, fingers and bites, with various builds in between. I went with the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich and despite the pickles and supposed habanero, it’s hopelessly bland. In fact, I emptied an entire ramekin of Saam Sauce (David’s answer to Sriracha) just to make it worth eating.

For those of you thinking, but Ferocious, it’s figgin’ chicken, how much flavor can you expect?! MUCH more. Just try the one at Son of a Gun and R+D Kitchen, both in LA. I realize neither are very convenient for a New Yorker, but if you’re ever out that way, my case rests in the City of Angels.

The bites are in the same bland boat, so let’s not waste your precious time reading about these balls of blandness either.

There is a silver lining on the TryCaviar menu however, should you choose to ignore my advice. The salad. Yes, salad. It’s a kale base, loaded with broccoli, shishito peppers and edemame peas. It’s the bomb.

And speaking of explosions, the Compost Cookie is always a strong go-to. Granted I feel like it’s not quite as good as the ones at Milk Bar. And even if it were, my advice to you, if you’re ordering on the aforementioned TryCaviar, get your cookies Dominique Ansel Bakery instead. You’ll thank me.

Tavern on Main

150 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-7222 • tavernonmain.com
 

I’m not sure why this place does such good business in the summer, but in the fall and winter, I totally get it. It’s warm and cozy inside with fireplaces and old-world charm seeping out of every crack in the hardwood floor. You kinda just wanna kick off your shoes, throw on some slippers, smoke a pipe and read the paper.

But if pipes aren’t your thing, the vittles don’t disappoint. As for the menu, it’s pretty similar fare to Spotted Horse Tavern around the corner, but much better on the execution, regardless of what the Yelpers say.

I had the quinoa salad which I thought was very good. Fresh ingredients. Light and yet filling at the same time.  I also enjoyed the salmon BLT, fancied up with tapenade, roasted tomatoes, lemon pepper mayo and a brioche bun. Pretty strong.

On the whole, I look forward to going back, especially to curl up in front of one of those fireplaces during the next bomb cyclone.

Le Turtle

177 Chrystie StNew York, NY 10002 • (646) 918-7189 • leturtle.fr

I am shell-shocked. Get it? But seriously, I was not expecting this place to be anywhere near as fantabulous as it was. Charming the pants off me from the moment I stepped through the door with its small, casual meets quaint dining room, down to Earth service and killer grub. Almost reminds me of Pearl & Ash (RIP), one of my top 5 favorites in the city.

So how did I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, the bread. I know it’s six friggin bucks, which is absolutely absurd, made only worse once you see what that six dollars actually buys you- a small hunk of bread with some weird, green spread next to it. But trust me, once you take a bite with that killer wasabi spread, your bitching and moaning will turn into patting yourself on the back and ordering seconds.

Another simple starter that will blow your socks off is the charred broccoli salad. So much depth of flavor and yet as basic as it gets. And speaking of basics, the classic Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is nailed like Bob the Builder on meth with a twin-barrel nail gun and something to prove.

Better still was the oxtail risotto which was so rich it will probably benefit from Trump’s new tax cuts. Even the Whole Sasso Chicken (pictured) was quite impressive from flaming presentation to palate. Far more of a crowd-pleaser than Le Coq Rico, and half the price.

But as good as everything was, the best two things of the night were the scallops and the dorado. Both flawlessly cooked and magically prepared in a way that celebrated the flavors of the fish, while also showcasing the chef’s creativity and command of ingredients.

As we sailed toward the glorious promised land of five knives, sadly twas not to be as Le Turtle stumbled. The foie gras, while decent, comes with a stark warning – our waitress told us it was seared and it was actually terrine. Major issue for me and she should’ve comped the dish because I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known.

More egregious still, were the lame desserts of which they only offered two and neither were good. For shame! If you’re going to have such a small dessert menu at least make sure one of them is worth it! But hey, not even Lebron hits every shot, so I will not only forgive Le Turtle, I will return. As fast as a hare.

Brick + Wood

1275 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 939-1400 • lovelifeandpizza.com

Mama Mia! I have to admit I was already pretty happy with the pies at Tarry Lodge in Westport, but after Brick & Wood I am a changed man. Granted Tarry is a lot easier to get into, because sadly Brick & Wood is no secret, which stands to reason once you sink your teeth into a slice of za (that’s pizza for all you non-Scrabble lovers out there). The sauce! The crust! So fresh and balanced and perfect. From plain to pepp and all the way up to fancy, like the GUMBA, billed in all-caps because it’s worth shouting about. Topped with a gorgonzola buratta (you read that correctly), that is so skillfully balanced so that the creaminess and stank live in harmony without either one overpowering the pie. A level of difficulty not to be taken for granted. Then they top it with spicy soppressata and cherry peppers to give some heat. Pair that up with a glass of their Troublemaker and you are indeed in trouble- or at least your waistline is.

Speaking of gut-busting good, the Kit Kat bread pudding is worth breaking your diet for. Hmm, perhaps that’s what they really mean with their “Gimmie a Break” jingle?

The only mortal dish of the lot, was the arugula salad with pecans and shaved parm. Which was still good, but a bit overdressed.

Also worth noting, service is very friendly and surprisingly on their game even amidst the rush. Which reminds me, they don’t take reservations so a word of advice if you don’t want to wait too long for a table, either go at an off hour or go as a couple and sit at the bar. Otherwise the wait will make you earn the meal. Fortunately, it’s very worth the wait.

Le Coq Rico

30 E 20th StNew York, NY 10003 • (212) 267-7426 • lecoqriconyc.com

According to our waiter, the chef gave up his Michelin star to open this place. Which, in the echelons of stupid decisions, ranks right up there with Jordan’s decision to leave the Bulls so that he could play for the White Sox.

Why so harsh? Well, first because I’m ferocious. And second because this place is literally for the birds. It also just might be the first place I’ve come across that’s as overpriced and overhyped as Eleven Madison Park. Not one thing was amazing save the price tags, ringing in at digits you’re more likely to see at The Strip House. But without the gluttonous satisfaction you at least get from a steakhouse meal.

The Plymouth Rock whole Chicken for example, rings in at nearly $100 and is no better than the one you get at Whole Foods for less than the sales tax on this bird. But shame on us for listening to our waiter who always recommended the most expensive thing on the menu and never chose a single winner, including the wine, going 0 for 3.

The blah continued, even with a layup like seared foie gras, which is actually the first time in my life that I didn’t finish this dish because it was so bland. The terrine version is much better, but even that failed to truly impress me. It’s just the better of the two options if you simply must dine on goose liver.

The fries are also just okay, again, grossly over-hyped by comparison to the likes of the Phoenician Fries at Ilili. Even the profiteroles for desert were a big ole ball of meh.

In fact, the only dish of the night I would feel comfortable recommending is the artichoke salad with gizzards. It’s quite good and between that and the décor it’s just barely enough to keep this place from getting one knife… Barely.

Gusto 101

101 Portland St. Toronto, ON M5V 2N3 • (416) 504-9669 • gusto101.com
 

I’ve never taken a course in gusto before, but had I known the lessons were so delicious I would’ve majored in it. That’s Gusto 101. A crash-course on solid restauranteuring. From it’s open loft, hipster vibe to its tantalizing bread wall that dares you not to order it, I was sucked in like a ball of lint into a vacuum cleaner.

And damn is it good. So be sure not to heed the advice of your parents and do indeed fill up on the bread. It’s very worthy. That said, you might want to leave room for the grilled octopus because it is as remarkable in the belly as it is on the eyes (pictured). The presentation is bar none, like a painting on a wood cutting board canvas with earthy roasted potatoes and vibrant dollops abound of every sort of puree one can imagine. It is truly exceptional.

Whereas the kale salad is much more on the pedestrian side. It’s good mind you, but compared to the other things I had, you can tell this place is capable of so much more. In fact, the only reason I’m staying cautious with 3 knives is due to my limited sampling. Need to go back. Soon. Please.

Walrus & Carpenter

2895 Fairfield AveBridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 333-2733 • walruscarpenterct.com

This is going to sound like a bad porno plot, but after having done Rothbard in Westport, I couldn’t wait do the sister. I mean this in the most culinary sense, of course. After all, this is family blog. Okay, so maybe a highly profane, very disturbed family with kids in need of therapy, but a family nonetheless.

So back to Walrus & Carpenter. I mean, the name alone had me. It just sounded cool. And to know that this was the older sis just had me all the more intrigued.  Unfortunately, in the restaurant there are no walruses or carpenters to speak of, although the predominant wood paneling does suggest that at least at one time there were in fact carpenters on the premises.

Like her sister, Walrus is also a gastropub, but unlike her younger sibling, she is much more hit and miss. For example, I found the heirloom tomato salad with fennel, arugula and almonds to be quite good. Whereas the fried oysters with lemon-shallot aioli, while tasty, was so over breaded that you could taste nothing of the mollusk, essentially netting out as fried balls of batter dipped in sauce.

Speaking of fried and battered things, the chicken is quite good. Cooked moist-ilicious and jazzed up with a spicy-sweet combination that makes it better than your average bird.

The gnocci and the pulled pork sandwich, however, were both the epitome of average. Bland as balsa wood, not that I’ve eaten a lot of balsa before, but I’d imagine it’s even worse than melba toast. For a better pulled pork sammy I’d head to Q in Portchester.

But just when I was about to get all down on Walrus they showed that they are more than just whiskers and tusks, bouncing back with some strong baby back ribs.

We were too full by that point to get dessert though, but thanks to the rally I think we’ll be back to check out their sweets game.

Till & Sprocket

140 W 30th StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 239-0570 • tillandsprocket.com

At first I thought I had found a diamond in the rough. No, not Aladdin. I quaint little charmer tucked away on the Flatiron-Chelsea fringe. And while the décor is cute as a button, the service is not so cute. Infuriatingly slow actually. As in the food is probably grown and harvested in less time than it takes to make its way from the kitchen to your table.

Once it does come, it’s a bit all over the map. For example the faro salad is so bland you would probably enjoy acting like a mime and chewing on air about the same. Marginally better are the meatballs. But then there are the deviled eggs with horseradish, which are very good and start to give you hope. I also found the caprese salad to be pretty decent as well.

And that’s just what this place does, it gets your hopes up one second and then drops you like a White House Press Secretary the next. For example, the burger. Granted it’s not a complete letdown, it’s not exactly a let up either. It merely passes as sustenance.

You probably already know what’s coming next, don’t you? You guessed it, more hope. In the form of a chocolate chip cookie this time. Yes, dessert managed keep the mixed messages going.

So I guess it comes down to this, if you feel like gambling with your mouth, be my guest. However, if you want a sure thing, the only thing this place is sure to do is piss you off.