The Spread

70 N Main StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 939-1111 • thespreadsono.com
 

I wanted to like The Spread more than I did, but damn did they make it hard with misses so far off the mark it’d be like trying to bomb North Korea and hitting Australia.  For example, the Rose Sangria, which was so disturbingly floral that you’d swear you were guzzling a bottle of perfume. Equally bad is the steak tartar, which lacks any semblance of basic seasoning, coming off more like ground beef.

And while there were some hits, even those don’t live up to the hype. Like the crab stuffed avocado, which sounds more impressive than it is, especially because it’s billed as the second coming and they only make 12 a day, so you almost feel obliged to order it if they’re any left. Well don’t. It’s just okay. In fact, the buratta was every bit as good and sans pressure.

Making matters worse still, the music is akin to something they probably play to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the service is slow and inattentive, rounding out The Spread as a very weak two in my ferocious opinion. Spread the word.

Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

Jardin

3131 Las Vegas Blvd S Las Vegas, NV 89109(702) 770-3463 • http://wynnlasvegas.com/Dining/CasualDining/Jardin

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Don’t listen to the concierge if they should point you in this direction. And don’t let the French name fool you either because this place serves up more crap in Vegas than the dice tables. Starting with the “jardin,” which overlooks le swimming pool with a meek smattering of bushes between you and the rowdy, corpulent, inebriated sunbathers.

The service is god-awful as well, royally screwing up the recommendations, almost as bad as the concierge who recommended this restaurant in the first place. But shit recos aside, our server was also painfully slow. How slow? The place was maybe 20% full and we didn’t order a single cooked appetizer yet after two hours we had to bail on dessert because we ran out of time.

Of the abysmal recos, let’s start with the cocktails. The first was a painfully tart attempt at a vodka and citrus based thing that made me wince harder than those Bitter Beer Face commercials from 15+ years ago (damn I’m old). And the second drink was the polar opposite, sickeningly sweet blueberry sangria. I’m not entirely sure which was worse, but somebody needs to slap the mixologist who concocted these abominations and wake them up to the values of nuance.

The only positive thing I can say about the meal was that the Beau Soleil oysters were quite fresh and very good, served with a tasty mignonette.

But chasing the oysters was a kale salad drowning in dressing followed by a short rib entrée that was dryer than the surrounding dessert, accompanied by corn two ways, which managed to suck both ways.

I’d rather lose $200 at the tables than eat here again.

1 tooth

Estadio

1520 14th St NW Washington, DC 20005 • (202) 319-1404 • estadio-dc.com
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Hey Estadio, the Spanish Inquisition called. They want their décor back. I kid Estadio because I actually like the place, but the décor really is a bit much with its giant throne seating and iron studded everything. I’m guessing Medieval Times must’ve had a yard sale or something. Boom!

Okay, I’m getting snarky, but to be fair, I did say “like” and not “love,” which means there is plenty of room for improvement in this mixed bag. For starters, the sangria was just okay, as was roughly half the menu. The jamon crostini, the pork croquettes, the grilled octopus and the short rib over horseradish mashed potatoes all falling into the land of not.

A notch above the ho-hum were the sizzling shrimp floating in a garlic olive oil that was bread-dipping good. Not great mind you.

But with so much meh, how could I still manage to like it, you ask? Because three dishes soared. The salmon crostini was fantastic, making the jamon look like the pig that it was and the foie gras scrambled eggs with black truffle butter served over toast was also a top two boxer, miraculously done in such a way that kept the flavors on the lighter side, so it was nowhere near as heavy as it sounds. Not that I’d recommend going jogging afterward, but it’s not a gut-bomb either. Just the bomb.

But the front-runner of the night was the crispy Brussels sprouts dish with pine nuts and bacon. They were so damn good they were damn near an Ultimate, tasting a lot like the prep you’ll find at All’onda in New York. In fact, they were so indisputable, that they’re probably about the only thing in DC that you could get a Democrat and a Republican to agree on.

3 teeth

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

Umami Café

325 S Riverside Ave. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520 • (914) 271-5555umamicafe.com

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If there’s one cuisine the burbs can’t seem to nail, it’s Asian. Now I hate using that term, because what exactly is Asian anyways? India is in Asia, so doesn’t that count? No. Apparently not. That’s Indian. What about Thai? Nope. Chinese? Sort of. Sushi? Not technically, although Japanese is definitely in the mix. Middle Eastern? While officially on the continent of Asia I think most people liken it to Mediterranean before Asian.

So now that I have no fucking clue what I even mean now, what is good Asian? Pearl & Ash and Momofuku Ko in New York. That’s great Asian. Taking all of the disparate cultural influences and fusing them into the cuisine to create dishes that pay homage to the classics, without necessarily being the classics.

This territory is squarely where Umami stakes its claim (not to be confused with Umami Burger in the City), and in doing so, manages to top the list of attempts I’ve tried thus far. Although, tucked away on an unfortunate corner overlooking an auto repair shop this half in/half out pseudo strip mall eater most certainly doesn’t get by on its looks. That’s where the Peking duck quesadilla comes in. Decorated with hoisin, crème fraiche and kudos. Best of the three dishes I had, and all three were good. The other two are in descending order of likeage- the Ahi tuna won ton tacos, followed by the truffled mac and cheese (pictured) with gruyere, fontina and panko crust. This last one was way more interesting than it sounds, let’s not kid our selves, it’s mac and cheese.

The only miss was actually right out of the get with their sangria. It had a little too much bite, almost as if it were going bad, but not quite. In ned of a little more sweetness and missing that refreshing characteristic that makes sangria so magical on a hot summer day. Granted it was probably a stupid order on my part, because who gets sangria with Asian food? Apparently I do. But I was hoping for a little sake Asian twist. Alas it was not to be. But duly noted upon my return. I will order my beverage with eyes wide open, duck quesadillas (of course), and maybe some noodles or one of those wagyu burgers. Boom!

3 teeth

Manolo Tapas

4165 Broadway New York, NY 10033(212) 923-9100 • manolotapas.net
 
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I ate here right before going to an Adele concert across the street, and maybe it was the fact that I ate there right before going to an Adele concert that made everything seemingly taste better, but the food really did seem quite good.

We had a wide variety of tapas and just about everything was worth ordering again. The sangria, the serrano ham & manchego plate as well as the crab cake were all fantastic. The olives, potatoes and octopus were also solid. In fact, the only miss were the lamb stuffed piquillos, which was unfortunate because I had high hopes after all of the other successes, but the lamb was a little too mushy, more like sloppy joe, which cheapened the takeaway of the dish.

Service, decor and price were all great as well, adding to the draw. So, should you ever be in the same hood for a concert at the United Palace Theater, I would definitely recommend Manolo as part of your pregame, it’s a strong three knives.

3 teeth

Josie’s

300 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY 10023(212) 769-1212josiesnyc.com

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I have eaten at Josie’s at least 50 times so it’s pretty safe to say I know this place like the back of my tongue. So I guess you could say I’m a fan. That’s not to say that I don’t see Josie’s for what it is, which is good, not great, organic with style. But back when Josie’s first opened, she was the only game in town. Paving the way for the likes of Pure Food & Wine, etc… Therefore I feel the need to give added props to Josie’s for changing the game.

So, after over a decade of faithful patronage here are some of my suggestions:

Always, always, always order one of their beverages. They are all excellent. Their Sangria is better than most Tapas bars. Their lemonades, spiked and non are both fantastic. They have twists on Mimosas, you name it. Just don’t miss out, because this is one of the best parts of dining at Josie’s.

For appetizers I love the Nori rolls (sushi without the raw fish) and the spicy black bean dumplings. For salad, try the Mykonos. It’s a delicious take on a Greek, as the name suggests, but ask them to throw some grilled shrimp on top for a few bucks more. It’s worth it. And the macadamia crusted chicken is another dish I’ve eaten more times than I have fingers.

And for sweets, it’s really only between two for me. Either the Lemon Ribbon Pie or the Apple Crumble. Both are surprisingly good for a “healthy” (wink, wink) dessert.

4 teeth

The Purple Pig

500 N Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60611(312) 464-1744thepurplepigchicago.com

Fried Devil's Egg

Apparently pigs can indeed fly, because this place easily soared over my expectations. From the moment I set foot in the lively space I was taken by its energy and fun, welcoming décor. This is code for noisy, in case you’re not into that sorta thing, but in a good way.

This energy could even be sensed in the service, which started off a touch coercive and overbearing as we tried to figure out what we were going to drink (sangria). But upon reflection I think they just wanted to be attentive, which they were. Also pretty good with the recommendations I must say.

And speaking of things I must say, AMAZEBALLS! It’s an expression I actually loathe, but it somehow came to mind when describing the food because everything was so fantastic.

To start, the burrata with grapes and pickled fennel was so bright and creamy it fell into the soft, warm crostini like a cozy spa treatment for the tongue.

At the same time were also served the cauliflower because I wanted to make sure we had a vegetable. Well, I’m not too certain it was all that healthy, but delicious mos def. Sautéed with a little honey and cornichon. Once again nailing that balance of sweetness with hits of bright vinegar.

After that came the deviled egg (pictured), and while I would like to complain that it is actually a Scotch egg, I am too busy reminiscing how good it was. Breaded on the outside, gooey and creamy in the middle. And served over a peppery bed of arugula and sliced green olives. So, definitely not deviled, but even I don’t care anymore what I saying… Just get it.

Next up, the suckling pig, How could we not? Served in duo I was partial to the belly side of the plate, balanced wonderfully on a dais of wilted spinach. Whereas the other was more of a pressed pork over cranberry chutney. Also good, but up against belly, belly always wins.

The only let down for me was the turbot, mostly because the waiter said it was the best thing on the menu and it wasn’t. Trust me. It was the least inventive thing of the entire meal. And while I’d like to be more upset it about it, the waiter quickly redeemed himself with a strong recommendation on dessert…

The Greek honey cheesecake with chopped walnuts and filo dough was like baklava and cheesecake had a love child… And then we ate that child. Without remorse. In fact, if they were twins I would’ve gladly eaten its sibling as well. And yes, it’s an Ultimate in case you were wondering.

A truly magnificent meal on the Magnificent Mile.

5 teeth

Santiago’s Bodega

 802 Virginia Dr. Orlando, FL 32803 • (407) 286-2903santiagosbodega.com

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While the location is a bit of a snore, as you enter you feel immediately transported by its thematic décor is nice. And while it is a touch on the Spanish theme-y side, at least it’s done well. And speaking of things done well, the food is no slouch, starting with the Port sangria, which much richer than its vino cousins, yet still refreshing.

Unfortunately that was quickly followed by the first miss. The pear and avocado salad was no bueno. The pears were unripe and hard. And the creamy dressing overpowered the other ingredients in the dish.

Fortunately, the hits would far outnumber the misses as the scallop special arrived. Perfectly cooked and prepared with a pear puree, then sprinkled with bacon, because why not? A bit rich, but a lot good.

Next came the Spanish plate and French plate and together I highly recommend them as a great way for two people to try a little of everything. The best of the batch was the Spanish plate’s spice rubbed pork with a raisin, mango chutney and the French plate’s tarragon chicken. France & Spain tied 1-1.

The spicy potatoes with capers and olives and peppers would be my next favorite. Obviously from the Spanish plate making it 1-2 in favor of Spain. Then after that I would go with the ceviche (1-3).

Rounding out the French plate was the asparagus with prosciutto and cheese- simple, yet delicious. And the only miss of the two plates came from the French, being the pastry. Sort of a mush of flavors wrapped in filo dough. Not terrible. Just nothing in it was discernable.

But Santiago ended very strong, bringing down a little NYC for dessert with a cronut on the menu. How could I resist? After all, I’m not about to wait 2 hours outside, Dominique Ansel Bakery. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop my cronut cherry. Or should I say berry as it was served with a compote of such (which was actually more like a drizzle if you ask me) and a phenomenal homemade bourbon whipped cream. And when that cream hit the berry drizzle with the sugary, dusted, warm, doughnuty center, my tongue did a flamenco in my mouth.

3 teeth