Brendan’s

42 W 35th St. New York, NY 10001(212) 564-5405brendansbar.com

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Normally I would’ve never given this place a second glance, but apparently fate had other plans in store for me, as my intended destination, a somewhat hidden sushi joint across the street named Mew, sprung a leak due to a ruptured pipe. So, we quickly searched for an alternate route, and there, located in the Gregorian Hotel was this seemingly run-of-the-mill bar and grill. But run-of-the-mill it ain’t, because the moment you enter you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. And by Kansas I mean Herald Square.

Behold, the diamond in the rough! Aladdin, eat your heart out. From it’s grand bar at the entrance to its vaulted ceilings, crown moldings, stained glass and elegant chandeliers, you feel like you’re in an embassy as opposed to an eatery. In fact, even the clientele up the vibe, with most of them donning suits for their power lunch attire.

In terms of the menu, I did the unthinkable and ordered a pasta. A spicy lemon penne topped with shrimp, broccoli rabe and a healthy dose of parmesan. Now normally at a bar & grill I would be like you and go with something safer, like a burger or fish and chips, but the setting somehow lulled me into thinking that perhaps this B&G was different than all the rest and so I crawled out on that limb with the best of intentions and sure enough, my bet paid off. Not that it was incredible by any stretch of the imagination, but it was shockingly good in light of expectations.

So take this review for what it is, a rather minute sampling. But I full well intend on returning, because there’s a shepherds pie with my name on it. So check back, because I will adjust the review should my first impression be too low or too high accordingly.

3 teeth

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

Walton’s Fancy & Staple

609 W 6th St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 542-3380 waltonsfancyandstaple.com

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I’m not really sure where the fancy is, because it’s definitely not in the décor. Not that it’s a shithole or anything, but fancy it ain’t. It’s your run of the mill counter service café with some prepared foods and several made-to-order options listed on huge boards overhead. Maybe they were going for irony?

As for the staple side of the equation, I think I get it. All of the dishes are your basic staples from sandwiches to French toast to shrimp and grits (a southern staple). But each of them has a little twist, which I suppose could be construed as “fancy,” but I still think that’s being generous with the term. Very caught up on this fancy thing as you can see. Lost a lot of sleep.

As for the “fancy” twists of which I speak, the shrimp and grits was actually the best I’ve ever had, fancied up with blackened shrimp placed over a bed of jalapeno, cheddar grits. It is a savory, spicy masterpiece.

The other fancied up dish was the crème brulee battered French toast, which was good, but not great. It’s just too damn big for its own good. It’s a fatal mistake I see time and time again. Restaurants all trying to get tricky with different batters, coatings, breads and portion sizes, when the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is to soak the bread through and through for fuck sake! How hard is it? Just do that and I could care less about the brioche, challah, raisin walnut, caramelized, bread pudding, burnt brown butter, cinnamon dusted, macerated apple topping.

Back on the plus side, their chai latte is pretty damn skippy.

3 teeth

 

Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

4 teeth

Fred L’Ecallier

Place de l’Etang, Cannes, France • 0493431585 • http://www.fredlecailler.com/#_=_
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If you’re staying in the heart of Cannes, it’s a bit of a hike on foot, but it’ll be worth it on your way back, because you’ll want to burn off the mounds of food you are likely to consume. Not that the food is that heavy, it’s more a result of everything looking so damn good and tasting as good as it looks. So before you know it, you’ve ordered enough seafood to deplete the Mediterranean Sea, from bountiful whole fish to shellfish and everything in between, it’s sort of like Astoux & Brun in that regard, but with much better décor.

Speaking of, this is perhaps my favorite reason for making the trek to Fred, for the setting. You sit in a secluded, yet expansive garden, with a delightful wooden trellis overhead, set away from the street, so there’s no such thing as a bad table- unless you have to sit inside due to rain, I suppose. Not that the inside is atrocious, but compared to the alternative, there’s no contest.

Service is also hard to compete with, because they are shockingly warm and friendly, and I’m not just saying that as a stereotypical dig on the French. There is just so much pride in their restaurant that you can’t help but love them for it. Not snooty pride though, sincere pride. Like it’s their baby. And whoa baby is it something to be proud of.

4 teeth

Minami

1118 Mainland Street Vancouver, BC CAN V6B 2T9 (604) 685-8080 minamirestaurant.com

Having heard people rave about the sushi in Vancouver I felt the need to see and taste for myself. Better than New York they said. Superior to LA and San Francisco they implored. They even went so far as to compare it to the likes of Nobu… Which turned out to be a big NoNo.

And thing is I knew it the moment I set foot in the door. Something about the vibe screamed amateur hour. And I’m not just saying that because the bar is slower than a turtle stuck in a tar pit filmed in hyper slow motion with a Phantom camera. In other words, we ordered our drinks well before any food and didn’t get them until after we were already three dishes into the meal.

Of the meal itself, I can only speak highly of one dish, which wasn’t even on anyone’s “must try” list, the yellowtail, spicy tuna roll. It had really good flavor and just the perfect amount of heat. I know it sounds relatively standard, but I’m trying here people. I’m trying so hard to see it, but all I kept seeing was a place that’s no better than virtually any neighborhood sushi joint in Manhattan.

The foie gras, black truffle gyoza, while amazing on paper tasted no different than your garden variety chicken potsticker. The salmon oshe (pictured) was way too overpowered by the brick of rice beneath it and it’s nothing by comparison to the pseudo equivalent, hanabe, of LA fame. Oh, and the ebi version of the oshe isn’t any better.

The tuna tataki with black pepper was a snore and sushi and sashimi platters were all decent, but again, nothing you would ever even dare think to compare to the likes of New York or LA. In fact, the only fish in the lot that sparked a twinkle in my eye was the albacore sashimi. But let’s forget New York and LA for just a second and get really real up in this bitch. I’ve had far better sushi in Harstdale, NY at Azuma. In Breckenridge, CO at Sushi Breck. At that’s in a friggin’ land-locked state for Christ’s sake! Even at Blue Ribbon in Vegas, which is in a godforsaken dessert!

So I don’t know what everyone else is smoking out there, but please pass it my way, because I just don’t taste what you are tasting.

2 teeth

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

John Doe

253 5th Ave. New York, NY 10001 • (646) 882-4007johndoenyc.com

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To start, I’d like to begin by stating that John kicks Lulu’s ass. Located in the former space as Lulu & Me (RIP-ish), John Doe has come to take its place with a somewhat similar offering… on paper, that is. In terms of flavor, however, I am happy to report that the 2.0 update comes with a host of new features such as better service, better décor and better food.

As for that all-important last update, let’s start with the popcorn shrimp, which was one of the better ones I’ve ever had, primarily because you can actually taste the shrimp. Normally I feel like the shrimp-to-breading ratio is always so far off that all you are eating is a fried wad of batter, but not these. They’re plump, tasty and shrimpy. Served with a spicy cayenne remoulade that make these shrimp a huge hit. Down it with a refreshing John Doe Ale and you’ll be halfway to happy.

For my entrée I went with the Jane Doe, which is the veggie burger version of the meat-based John Doe burger. Jane is made with brown rice, yellow bell peppers and beets, giving her patty a slightly red hue, topped with avocado, aged cheddar and red pepper aioli then served on a pretzel roll. It’s no Gochujang Burger from Cinnamon Snail, but it held its own. Especially with the addition of Dijon. Also, I think I might have been a bit spoiled having just come off of that insanely good duck and foie gras burger at Élan. So how could a veggie burger even hope to compare?

Don’t judge, because when I mention what we ordered for dessert I fear that some of you might find issue with it, particularly the wife. In my defense, though, there is only one option for dessert and we did split it four ways. Okay, I’ll dispense with the stalling… We had the deep fried Oreos with vanilla ice cream. Yes, a deep fried cookie with ice cream on top, because a regular cookie is just WAY too healthy. Now obviously it wasn’t bad, cuz duh, it’s a deep fried Oreo cookie with ice cream. But to be fair, it wasn’t exactly worth it either. I mean going in the expectations are SO incredibly high (as is the guilt) that there is a lot to compensate for and sadly the Oreos fall short, netting out a touch soggy and nowhere near worth the year they probably just took off my life. John Doe, however, is well-worth the trip. It’s not quite up there with some of the 4 and 5 knifers in the hood, but three is pretty respectable in my book.

3 teeth

The Gumbo Bros.

Columbus Circle New York, NY 10019(347) 719-4579thegumbobros.com

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This is another food-only review courtesy of Madison Eats so definitely don’t take it as a holistic restaurant review, because it’s truthfully only a very narrow sampling. But sometimes you can tell a lot from a first impression, so I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Funny you should mention water, because that’s my first gripe. I find their gumbo way too watery. I much prefer it thick and hearty, loaded with chunks upon chunks of spicy goodies. But to be fair, within their soupy shrimp and okra bowl (pictured, although I assure you it looks nothing like that in person) there was still a decent amount of both floating about. Floating being the key word here. For example that scoop of rice you see above, it dispersed into the watery depths like someone firing gunshots in a crowd.

Also, I found the shrimp itself disappointing on two levels. First because it was shrimp instead of crawfish. WTF?! Isn’t that gumbo 101? And second, the shrimp was a touch under cooked and thus slimy. Luckily the impending stomach ache was averted, perhaps due to the ample use of heat, which was very much too my liking and probably the thing that killed off whatever the under cooked shrimp might’ve been carrying.

So let’s chalk it up to a bullet dodged and I’ll chalk up Gumbo Bros. as a pretty weak showing worthy of a deuce.

2 teeth