El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.

Little Barn

1050 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8501 • littlebarnct.com

I dig the roadhouse vibe of this place, but unlike the Patrick Swayze movie, this one dispenses with the bikers and the topless women and replaces them with a setting that’s civil enough to take the kids. Service is also kid-friendly and attentive. Making it a solid go-to for a family dinner with the young’uns.

I partook in the Shroom Burger, which I have to say was very good. Everything you would want, but nothing more than you might expect. Served with decent helping of sweet potato fries that’ll hit the spot.

The fish tacos were messy as all get out and lacking in the salsa/heat department, but the fish was perfectly cooked, so at least there’s that. Not the place I would go for Tex-Mex though when you’ve got Bar Taco just up the road.

For beer, I tried the Mama’s Yella Pils, a Czech inspired pilsner that could use a little more inspiration, because it ain’t no Urquell or Staropramen.

Hit and miss for certain, but I’m definitely a fan… in the right context.

Red O

1541 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-1600 redorestaurant.com

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I know Rick Bayless is a name in the industry, but after that performance his name should be Please Cookless, because nada was bueno. Well, in terms of the food, anyway. The décor and energy (code for noisy) of the place is actually great. And they sport a nice range of tequilas should you want to go that way. They also have a pretty long list of cocktails as well, which I can only assume is designed to get you all liquored up so you’re awareness is impaired about the mediocrity you are about to eat.

Unfortunately the booze wasn’t enough to distract me from the piss poor service. Friendly for sure, but sloppy and slow. She completely forgot our guacamole order and missed on every recommendation, granted the fact that there’s nothing truly great on the menu makes it awfully hard to win in that scenario.

Amid the sea of asi asi (translation: so so) are the goat cheese tamales, which are okay on taste, but very mushy on texture. The duck taquitos, which were dry and tasteless, needing the addition of one of the salsas from the chips to give it moisture and make it worth half its salt. Oh, which reminds me… it needed more salt.

For the entrees, the shrimp and rice was “pretty standard” (to be read like Dr. Evil), the fennel lobster tails were a big ho hum and the NY strip with chimichurri, while the best of the three, is certainly no reason to come here.

Hell, they even managed to fuck up the churros, which are a foodie lay up, if you ask me. Way too hard and dry. And the chocolate and caramel dip wasn’t even close to being rich or flavorful enough to save them. But perhaps I’m to blame for not heeding the warning on the door. After all, “Zero” is right in the name. And that’s what this place is, a flaming red zero.

1 tooth

Lucca

Bebek, Cevdet Paşa Cd. No:51, 34342, Turkey • +90 212 257 1255 • luccastyle.com

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I’m not exactly sure what this place is trying to be, other than a place to be seen, because the menu is all over the map, covering everything from Japanese and Chinese to Mexican and even French cuisine. And while one could easily argue that this is the trend of most restaurants these days, siphoning influences from one cultural dish to inject into another, it is usually done with the focus of a through line. A theme, if you will. But here, that theme has zero to do with the food and everything to do with the fact that everyone around you is drop dead gorgeous, wearing as little clothes as is considered legal by the government- Sorry Erdogan, no burkas here. There are, however Mcalren’s and BMW i8’s- in fact the latter is the first I have ever seen on the road, and the former is only the second. So, to see both back to back in a matter of minutes is quite rare.

Sadly, the only other thing worth noting is the gin-based sangria (very refreshing and unique), but that’s to be expected from a “scene” I suppose, because most people are more concerned with looking dead sexy with a cocktail and a ciggy in their hand than actually eating anything. And it shows. The fish taco was begging for salsa to not only give it moisture, but heat, yet even if it did, the taco shell tasted like a pestemal (Turkish towel). Also in Mexicoland, the crab and avocado toast wasn’t much better, mainly because there was zero crab in it. Perhaps it was a typo and they meant “carb?”

Moving to Asialand, the crispy ponzu beef was nothing of the sort. It’s just crispy beef. The ponzu influence is either imperceptible or it crawled away with the crab. That said, crispy beef is probably not all that common in Turkey, so if you’re jonesing for some, it’ll do.

Italyland was also passable with a very basic rocket salad, done with artichokes and asparagus. Most likely the dish of choice between the cocktail and cigarette I mentioned earlier, after all, abs and buns of steel don’t grow on trees.

And finally Franceland, which may have been the worst showing of any nation, with a seared foie gras crostini lacking the sweet and savory contrast so iconic for the dish. As a result, it proved to be one of the blandest attempts at foie gras I have ever had. Which is sad. Mostly for the goose, whose torture went in vain.

Back on the plus side, the service was surprisingly good for such an affected place. Perhaps I should take this as a compliment, because not only were we treated well, we were seated at a choice table right at the front for all passersby to see. Then again, I’ll chalk that one up to wifey, because I sincerely doubt it was me who was supposed to be the eye candy.

2 teeth

Anthony’s

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Central Terminal • 17801 International Blvd. Seattle, WA 98158 •  (206) 431-3000anthonys.com

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If you need a bite to eat in the Seattle Airport look no further than Anthony’s. Not that you could look any further, because the facade of this place is so massive it’s almost impossible to see around it. But as sprawling as this restaurant is, this juggernaut still manages to pack ‘em in. Not an empty seat in the palatial dining room. But fear not, because this place turns over its wait list like a famine is coming. And yet somehow the service doesn’t suffer either, well, at least not in terms of speed. You’ll have to take a rain check on the warm and fuzzies though, because this waitstaff is all business. And so is the kitchen, spitting out plate after plate like a well-oiled fish taco machine.

And those tacos (pictured) are actually pretty darn good. We split the grilled Mahi and the blackened halibut and both were solid. Two tacos per order (on a corn or flour tortilla depending on which you fancy) with sizable slabs of fish in them. No skimping here. I also recommend adding avocado and salsa, not to mention Tabasco sauce. They’re not viscerally wow inducing, but for an airport, you’d have to be a heartless bastard not to be impressed.

Our waitress was strong with the upsell as well, convincing me to bite on the lure of a New England clam chowder cup (because let’s be serious for a second, Manhattan style isn’t even an option). The soup was surprisingly good. The clam really popped through the cream, as did the other seasonings, making it one of the better cups I’ve had, especially being that I was so far from the homeland.

Upselling me again (either she was really good, or I’m really easy), I also bit on their old fashioned strawberry shortcake, which proved to be excellent. The shortcake struck that perfect balance between crunchy and moist, and the local Washington strawberries were bursting with fresh-picked flavor. Even the cream was spot on. Clearly homemade and not overly sweet. It might just be the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had. I know, I’m conflicted about it too.

And last but not least, the prawn Bloody Mary was tall, spicy, Ketel One-y and prawny. Just the way I like it. The spicy tomato concoction almost acting as cocktail sauce for the prawn garnish.

An all-around impressive, airport food showing Anthony. Bravo sir. Bravo. Consider the below a very strong three.

3 teeth

Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

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There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

Hacienda La Paloma

443 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 864-1750 haciendalapaloma.com

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There are two schools of Mexican, old and new, and while I am much more partial to the more inventive, more refined, more Tex Mex side of the campus, I can also appreciate the merits of the cuisine in its more traditional state. And as far as authentic Mexican goes, Hacienda does muy bueno.

By authentic I am not, however, referring to the Disney-esque hacienda you see in the photograph above. I actually go in spite of that, which should say something about the offerings within. Such offerings as good food, friendly staff and generous portions. In fact, most entrees are big enough to serve two or three people and still have leftovers. Case in point, the highly recommend fajitas. Loaded with veggies, three different kinds of peppers and enough rice, beans, tortillas, salsa and chips to max out the stomach capacity of a large, ravenous coyote.

Other worthwhile dishes include the Bistec a la Tampiquena (steak with onions, cactus salad, a cheese enchilada, guac, rice and beans- told you they were generous) and the arroz con pollo. Neither are quite as impressive as the fajita, but they get r done. The only laggard for me would be the camarones en salse verde (shrimp in green salsa). It’s atypically normal sized and asadly not all that great.

So, if you’re not all that close to Bar Taco or Truck, or simply don’t feel like making the shlep, but you’re still jonesing for something South of the Border, then hop in your coche and head on over to the Hacienda, arriba! It’s not great, but as Goldie Locks would say, it’s just right.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Soup (Cold)

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Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

Let’s be honest, head to head cold soup is pretty much a nonstarter compared to hot soup. The way hot soup warms you to the core, the aromas wafting up from the bowl in ribbons of steam, the way the spices and herbs infuse the liquid as it cooks. And then there’s gazpacho, which is more or less a bowl of salsa in disguise.

Well, Momofuku Ko just proved that gazpacho isn’t the only game in cold soup town with their honeydew melon and avocado soup. Accented with macadamia nuts for a nice textural contrast. It was so creamy and refreshing and about twenty other adjectives I am sparing you from, because this isn’t about my knowledge of the thesaurus. It’s about cold soup finally being hot.

Koji BBQ

Azul Truck • Los Angeles, CA(323) 315-0253 kogibbq.com

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I know that Koji is supposed to be one of the originators of the whole food truck craze, but Ford was the originator of the automobile and I think it’s safe to say that others have since improved upon the concept significantly.

Well, after eating Koji’s Pacman Burger (pictured) I can say unequivocally that Koji ain’t what she used to be. Perhaps due to a slide in Koji’s own performance or a testament to how many other food trucks have stepped into the ring, upping the game? Whatever it is, Koji is now a featherweight amongst heavy hitters.

Let’s just take Korilla BBQ in NY as a Korean Barbeque comparison or Cinnamon Snail as a kimchi burger cohort- both EASILY send the Pacman, well… packing.

So unrefined is the Pacman, tasting exactly as it sounds, “packed,” with 10 pounds of shit in a 5-pound bag. Three different meats, two salsas, sesame mayo, jack and cheddar cheeses, salad and some crispy things on top, ya know, because why wait to have a coronary when you can die today?

But heaviness is most definitely not why I am getting all over Koji’s case. It’s because the burger tasted like nothing more than a bunch of greasy slop on a bun. No separation between textures or flavors. In fact, if it weren’t for the Sriacha, I probably wouldn’t have even made it halfway through it, which is about as far as I got. Not because I was full, but because I was worried about the gastrointestinal repercussions that might ensue. Fortunately the “retaliation” was milder than expected. My review, not so much.

2 teeth