Murray’s Cheese Bar

264 Bleecker StNew York, NY 10014 • (646) 476-8882 • murrayscheesebar.com

Murray’s has been a New York icon for more years than the aged cheddar in their cheese cases. But more recently they decided to take that expertise and run with it, opening up a restaurant just a few doors down where the cheese flows like wine, or rather in tandem with it.

Our story begins with a robust, spicy blend of Grenache and Syrah by the glass. It was perfect for the cheesy tour de force that lied ahead, starting with the grilled artichokes, which wasn’t all that cheesy to be honest, but holy cow was it good, drizzled with an alici aioli (alici is an Italian fish sauce made from anchovies, in case you were thinking of googling it like I just did).

Equally impressive, and much cheesier, were the stuffed zucchini blossoms filled with spiced cream cheese, roasted corn and placed over a light yogurt sauce. Just killer.

But speaking of deadly, the Mac & Cheese was the real showstopper, making my Ultimate list with flying colors… and cheeses. My daughter technically ordered it, but I got all Daniel Day Lewis (circa There Will be Blood) on her and I “drank her milkshake.”

The sliders were also a solid yum, leading me to believe that the burgers are most likely awesome as well. And speaking of the A-word, the charcuterie and cheese plate is all that and then some. Obviously a lot rides on which meats and cheeses you choose, but you can never go wrong with the sweet San Daniele or the milky double cream. Also adding to the awesome are the inspired accouterments like the maple shavings. A stroke of delicousness!

Another worthy get is the grilled cheese, although I must admit I found the sandwich itself to be shockingly boring. What makes up for it in spades, however, is the kickass, sharp-ass tomato soup. Just dip the mediocre sammy in that red fountain of youth and your taste buds will feel like they’re twenty-one again, unless you’re younger than 21, in which case I’m not sure what the math would be?

Lastly, for dessert, while I appreciate the attempt to recreate iconic dishes with cheese, the Ch-mores fall miserably short and lack the contrast of flavors and textures that make S’mores so wonderful. Instead, the Ch’mores wind both looking and tasting like a cheesy blob. It was the biggest miss of the night and the primary reason I am docking a knife. Apart from that, I’d say it is a perfect stop amidst a Bleeker shopping spree, or for an early dinner with kids that doesn’t compromise for the adults.

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Soho House

29 9th Ave. New York, NY 10014 (212) 627-3647 sohohouseny.com

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Although I’m not a member, I’ve been to the New York Soho House several times now (as well as Chicago) and while it is MUCH bigger and more modern than the Norwood, I find the attempts I read online to distinguish them from one another to be a fools errand, because if you ask me, I find them to be VERY similar in terms of vibe. Both are styled in a way that pays homage to a simpler time (pictured), while somehow contrasting that with a modern sense of urgency to be as cool and connected as possible.

This is not to say that I am above the scene, au contraire. In fact, I kinda love it. And if one must join a club of such upward standing, at least it is FAR cooler than some of those stuffier, crustier joints in midtown. Not to mention shockingly affordable, I have to say.

Service has always been very good every time I go, from the bartenders to the wait staff, and although the hosts can be a bit self-important, for the most part even they have been tolerable.

As for the food, I have dined her almost every way imaginable from a simple dinner for four at the restaurant to a huge private dinner with tables the size of aircraft carriers to a cocktail event with passed hors’d’oeuvres. And while all encounters have netted out somewhere between good and decent, I will give you a few of the highlights to keep an eye out for should you happen to find yourself rubbing elbows with the muckety mucks.

Of all the nibbles I’ve partaken over the course of my visits, these are the three worth standing by the kitchen for- First and foremost being the spicy crab cakes, which pack some nice kick for such little suckers. The sliders are also pretty money, and always perfectly cooked, seemingly a challenge for most sliders, being so small, they tend to come out overdone at virtually 90% of the places that serve them. So mad props to Soho on this one. But perhaps the best thing of all was a lentil salad served in a bib lettuce wrap. I know it sounds hard to believe amidst the company of lobster, short ribs and sliders, but I stand by my word. Taste and believe.

A few notches down from those would be the flank steak and fries, the charred broccoli, the short ribs with horseradish cream (mainly because they were a touch dry- flavor was good though), the crostinis, the lobster roll and the Swedish meatballs. And truth be told, the only flat out miss for me is the arancini. The risotto is just way too dry.

So with three winners, one loser and a gaggle of belly fillers, I think it’s safe to net the house out at a strong three. Never stayed in the hotel though, so don’t yell at me if I’m missing the best or worst part of the place. I’m just a the food guy, remember?

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The Eating House

804 Ponce de Leon Blvd. Coral Gables, FL 33134(305) 448-6524 eatinghousemiami.com

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After seeing this chef, Giorgio Rapicavoli, kick some serious assticosha on Chopped, I have been wanting to go to one of his restaurants so bad I could taste it. And now, I am happy to say that I finally got the chance to actually taste it.

Inside, the space is very casual and cozy, and by cozy I mean small, so it fills up fast. But the lunch crowd is much more manageable making it ideal for walk-ins, so if you can’t seem to squeeze in for dinner, do the day.

What isn’t small here are the portion sizes. Everything serves four. Not by description, but by reality in no uncertain terms. Which I found rather odd for such a tiny place to be serving up such massive mounds of grub.

Of said grub, we kicked things off with a plantain and pork belly soup, served with grilled challah. Now, I ain’t no challah back girl, but let me just say that this soup was so ridiculous, that I would gladly head back for another bowl, even if that required airfare. Two of my favorite things on earth in one bowl?! Are you kidding?! This is an Ultimate among Ultimates!

But to sustain such great heights would’ve been nearly impossible, and so it was. Sadly. Trickling down the steps to heaven you will find a very good side of Brussels sprouts, but even as delicious as they are, I have to say I’m starting to get BS fatigue, because they’re now on every friggin’ menu these days and after having just had better at both Estadio in DC and Bruno’s Pizza in NYC, I’d have to give this the slightest of yawns.

Also falling in the good-but-not-great column would be the pork belly sliders. Especially after that brilliant use of pork belly in the soup, the bar was so incredibly sky high that there was virtually no winning. Also, they only serve two sliders amidst a mountain of mediocre waffle fries which has me scratching my head as to the lack of judgment with a presentation that you’d come to expect from an Applebee’s, not a chef du cuisine.

And then there was the ceviche. Served in a lime and coconut milk marinade with sliced avocado, corn nuts and grapes. Perhaps the most interesting of the also-rans, but again, the sum just wasn’t as impressive as the uniqueness of its parts.

And finally, for dessert, we chickened out of the much touted “Flower Pot.” Apparently it’s like a layered parfait topped with crumbled chocolate to look like dirt, piled into a flower pot and topped with a sprig of mint (pictured). Instead, we opted in favor of the only slightly smaller dessert, the apple bread pudding. It was probably the best thing since the soup, and if you’re a bread pudding fan like me, than you’ll be happy. That said, I do kinda wish we had gone with the Flower Pot for novelty sake.  Oh well, that’s what next time is for.

3 teeth

Toku Sushi

2014 Northern Blvd. Manhasset, NY 11030 • (516) 627-7121 • tokumodernasian.com

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While not quite at the level of Makoto in Bal Harbor, Miami, Toku is very much cut from the same cloth. Great high-end sushi in a great high-end mall. And while mall sushi might sound like a very low bar to surmount, I can assure you this is not the Panda Express of Japanese cuisine. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find better sushi on Long Island. But it’s not just the sushi that makes the meal, they do so many other things well from tacos (pictured) to sliders to- we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s cover the basics first.

The service is always friendly and the décor is contemporary, with an expansive dining room, so fret not if you are a walk-in because there is seldom a wait, and even if there is, at least you have good window shopping nearby to keep you busy.

So once you’re done perusing Prada and are seated at your table, it’s your mouth that will take the baton, doing a little shopping of its own, because everything looks and tastes so very good. The sushi and sashimi are always melt-in-your-mouth fresh, and as I hinted above, even the non-sushi items are quite toothsome, like my personal fav, the assorted sliders. Also, be sure to finish off with my favorite Japanese dessert, the red bean mochi (ice cream dumplings wrapped in a thin layer of gelatin). You will love it almost as much as the new Gucci bag you just scored.

4 teeth

 

The Little Owl

90 Bedford St. New York, NY 10014(212) 741-4695thelittleowlnyc.com

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Just walking to the place already put a smile on our faces. Located on a charming corner in the village, Little Owl is equally charming with its modest size and friendly staff. And speaking of “friendly,” as a little pop culture trivia, it’s in the building from the famous TV show “Friends.”

As for the food, it was a touch hit and miss, with the hits winning soundly in the end. Here’s the breakdown:

The meatball sliders (pictured) live up to the hype and beyond. They are so damn good they could literally convert a vegan.

The gravlax, however, which was recommended by our server, was just okay. Nothing special. The pear salad, while better than the gravlax was also nothing special. In fact, my wife makes a similar one at home all the time. That said, in both of these dishes, the ingredients are very fresh, which is nice. But that only goes so far.

Now for the main event. The pork chop is up there with the best I’ve ever had. Blows away Vinegar Hill House– which I also love. But I gotta give it to the Owl. Perfectly seasoned. Perfectly cooked. As if it were grilled by God himself.

Unfortunately, the pork was my wife’s dish though. I went with the other Yelp reco, the crunchy lemon chicken, and what a disappointment. Not that it was dry or anything, but again, nothing special at all. If you want an amazing chicken, go to ABC Kitchen. Best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

Now for dessert. Both were very strong. We had the cinnamon bengiets with Nutella and the strawberry rhubarb crisp. Both disappeared in seconds. I recommend either or both.

And last but not least, the wine. Also recommended by our server, it was an appley Chenin Blanc, and I do have to say, it worked perfectly through the meal.

It’s a hard one to give less than 4 knives with such high highs (two Ultimates), but with so many misses, it’s also hard to give it more than 3. Guess I’ll have to go back to be certain I chose wisely. 😉

4 teeth