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.

Quality Italian

57 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 390-1111 •  qualityitalian.com

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The name of this restaurant, and its sibling Quality Meats, might be the least alluring names in the restaurant industry other than maybe Fatburger. It reeks of defensiveness. “Ohhh, so you have to say that you’re high ‘quality,’ which obviously means you’re not.

Well, doubters be silenced, because the name is not defensive. It’s accurate. And it’s also quite nice. Again, nothing you would ever glean from a name that evokes images of neon yellow starbursts, but the décor really is well done. Cool and industrial with its exposed cement ceiling (which does make it a bit noisy) and iron beams, mixed with beautiful lighting fixtures, glass walls of wine and rich mahogany.

And speaking of wine, they have a terrific sommelier who buys exceptional wines in such large quantities that they can offer them at incredible prices. For example, we enjoyed a 2009 Brunello at two-thirds the price of what it should’ve been.

Our server, a poor man’s Galifanakis, was also very good, sporting a touch of that New York bite, while still managing to be very attentive and good with the suggestions.

Delving into the menu, which almost reads like part steakhouse, part Italian, I went with the most hyped up dishes I could, while stealing bites off of other plates at my table.

Of those hyped dishes the one I was the most skeptical about was the sausage and pepper toast. It didn’t even sound all that great on paper, like going to see a movie with a boring trailer. Always scary. Scary delicious that is. Sort of a take on a Chicago style hotdog or bratwurst, loaded with onions and hot peppers. Hard to go wrong there.

Unfortunately it was easier to go wrong elsewhere. Two of the other three starters at the table were sub par. The breaded oysters were disappointingly bland for something so loaded up with caloric goodies.

And the shrimp crudo was also a bit of a snore. Granted it tried to be something more, with the use of an herb infused marinade, but it just didn’t impress. On the plus side, the kale salad did.

The next hyped dish to arrive was the dry aged porterhouse agnolotti, and while it is most certainly good, it was the weakest of the three hyped dishes. Cooked al dente and loaded with wonderful flavors from the meat, it was undercut but dryness. And when I compare it to the likes of Manzo’s meat filled agnolotti, it is merely an apprentice in the presence of a master.

As for the non-hyped dishes, the bucatini with clams is very good and I highly recommend. Also served perfectly al dente, but done in a nice red sauce with some kick. The other was a filet cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice char on it, sidled next to a crispy bone marrow presentation that definitely made every bite of the meat sing.

But ohhh the sides. To even call them “sides” is actually a slight, because they are anything but supporting roles, they are Ultimates. And nobody puts baby in a corner, so move them away from the edges of the table- both the corn créme brulée and the Tuscan fries belong center stage. The corn, just as the name implies, is the love child between cream of corn and créme brulée, playing it faithful right down to the hard caramel top. So good you’ll want to shoot it into your veins. And as for the fries, they’re thick cut, with a nice dusting of herbs, salt and pepper. Crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy everywhere else.

Ending strong, our waiter braved the potential comparison to Marc Forgione recommending the s’mores dessert, and while Marc’s still reigns supreme, Quality Italian does a quality job. Served two ways, first as a chocolate tart with graham cracker crust and marshmallow topping, and second as an ice cream. Both are good, but I recommend eating them as separates, not together.

Not without its misses. Not without its hits. But the hits won the day, even in the face of surmounting hype, which brings us to the finally tally of…

4 teeth

 

Recette

328 W 12th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 414-3000recettenyc.com

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I have been wanting to try this place for a while now, but after hearing that it is the sister restaurant to The Gander, my eagerness waned. Perhaps a blessing in disguise though, because low expectations are always easier to hurdle, and Recette most certainly sailed over them.

The space is intimate, which is sort of the restaurant version of “cozy” in NYC apartment listings, meaning “small.” But it’s walled with beautiful divided light windows, so it feels more open. As for the décor itself, apart from the windows it’s not very memorable.

The service and meal however, left quite the impression. Our waiter managing to strike that perfect balance between attentive, professional and down to earth.

Unfortunately the wine list was quite the opposite of down to earth, priced in a much higher stratosphere with only a very small handful of options below a C-note. Luckily the one I chose was not too crazy and not too shabby, a 2006 Barolo priced right on the threshold.

Things began with the bone marrow toast, complemented by trout roe to give it a nice burst of saltiness amidst the richiness. And while it was good, it also felt reminiscent of so many dishes at The Gander. Good, but not quite great.

But as regret started to seep in, that’s when the tide turned, and my use of an oceanic term was purposeful, because the next two dishes not only came from the sea, they are both Ultimates. The first being the best sashimi I’ve ever had. Incredibly fresh red snapper adorned with oyster crisps and chili peppers packing more heat than Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The other Ultimate came in the form of the most ridiculously creamy langoustines I’ve ever had. So buttery soft, they were practically worth starting a new religion over. And you really didn’t need any of the surrounding elements, like the pork croquette and the flan. They were life-changing-awesome all by themselves.

After that, came the spaghetti with sweet shrimp and sea urchin, which was also good, but was doomed from the get-go. First because it’s been touted as one of the best pasta dishes in the city, and it’s not. And second, because after the previous two dishes, it was an impossible act to follow.

And closing out the “small plates” was the pork belly. Now, I’m not sure if they were going after irony here, but this was easily the biggest portion of pork belly I’ve ever been served in my life. It was the size of a brick and could handily serve four ravenous wolves. And while that may sound awesome, truth be told it was a bit too massive making the harissa to belly ratio a bit anemic. Fortunately the maple glaze carried it, but nailed it was not.

Sadly, things continued on the downward spiral through dessert. The highly recommended s’more, while good, fell a chasm short of the ones at Marc Forgione and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. And the apple upside down cake should remain that way, face down in shame. Had two bites and done. The best of the lot was actually the free dessert that came with the check, a devil’s food cookie with a hint of chili. My advice, forgo the desserts and put that money into the wine.

So a very accurate Yelp rating for once, 3.5 stars. But since I don’t do halves, I’m going 4 knives. After all, they did have two Ultimates.

4 teeth

 

BOA Steakhouse

101 Santa Monica Blvd. Santa Monica, CA 90401 • (310) 899-4466 • innovativedining.com/restaurants/boa

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If you heard that it’s a great place for star spotting, I’m afraid that’s the other one. This one is just for a good steak. Although the last time I was there, we did see Jon Favreau so go figure. And while it’s no Mastro’s, if you’re craving a steakhouse experience on the West side, I would look no further. That said, I wasn’t actually THAT impressed with the steak itself to be honest. The blackened sea bass was a bit of an eh as well, granted as gargantuan as that hunk of fish was, I found it impressively well cooked.

The goat cheese baklava, however… Thank you Yelpers! Would’ve never thought to order it without your reco. But my god is that thing good! Best dish of the night. Both times I’ve been here. So flaky and creamy and nummy nummy.

As for the Caesar salad, it’s good. But, it’s just a Caesar salad at the end of the day. And the heirloom tomatoes don’t exactly wow either. The blue crab cocktail on the other hand is quite money (belated Jon Favreau sub-reference). Second best thing of the meal.

In terms of sides, the chipotle lime corn is definitely the clear winner, followed by the truffle cauliflower. The creamed spinach, was just okay as was the squash medley. And while the truffle cheese fries aren’t terrible, they are terribly gut-busting, which isn’t ideal when you’re trying to make room for a 50+ dollar steak.

For desserts, skip the crumble. The maple, bacon Bonut (get it? BOA’s branded version of the Cronut) was a table-pleaser, although WAY too bready to truly be compared to its namesake. The cookies and ice cream were another table fav. Followed by the S’mores.

As for service, while friendly, it’s a tad on the slow/spotty side. The view is stellar, overlooking the ocean. And the decor is clean and modern. So all in all a solid good. But definitely shy of great.

3 teeth

 

Marc Forgione

 134 Reade St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 941-9401 • marcforgione.com

chicken-under-brick

Umm… I’m gonna go with WOW! That pretty much sums it up. I loved just about every last drop of this restaurant and ate most of those drops as well.

To start, the décor is great. Just teetering on the edge of casual and beautiful. With an energy about it that hits you the moment you enter. Some may find it a bit loud, which it is, but that’s part of the fun- having you yell at each other about how good your food is.

As for service, our waitress was tremendous. Not in size, but in personality and attentiveness, without ego or plastic undertones. But not flawless either. For example, our cocktails came quite a bit late to the table, mid-way through our starters, but this was do to the bar losing the ticket. Now, normally you’d think this would be cause for docking a knife, and normally it would be. But is it the rarity of flawlessness that matters or is it how they handle the occasional hiccup? In this case, both the waitress and bartender came over to personally apologize for the mix up and delivered the drinks within a minute after. And yes, they were worth the wait. Especially the Summer Sangria with a richness almost as if there was Bourbon in there as opposed to wine.

But by now you’re probably getting pissed because I haven’t gotten to the food yet, so let’s get to it.

First up would be the amuse bouche, which is comprised of two dishes. A basic ceviche that is nothing to write home about, and a wonderfully explosive cream cheese puff pastry, that is worth flying home about.

Next came the buttery brioche-like bread which was so buttery and delcious, the fact that it came with butter was like gilding the lily. But as good as the bread is, I strongly recommend that you skip it in favor of the Texas Toast that comes with the Spicy Lobster which was so incredible it was as if my taste buds had died and gone to taste bud heaven. The lobster meat and bread in that sauce- OMFWow!

But not to be outdone, the tortellini is also very impressive, packing it’s own heat and a complexity to its sauce that unfolds in your mouth like a story.

Wait, I probably should’ve saved that description for the Halibut entrée, because that sauce was also quite the tour de force, minus the heat. But so rich and layered it was more like a meat dish.

Now here comes my one nit. And I blame myself for it. I had gone there fully prepared to get the highly acclaimed chicken, but our served talked me out of it and I went with a lamb special instead. Now, the lamb was far from bad, but at 48 bucks a plate, not bad IS bad. At that price I should’ve lept out of my chair and danced a jig after every bite.

The dancing, however, was not far behind, because the S’more dessert had me giddier than Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Just the presentation alone- well, of everything really, but with the “charred” marshmallow on a stick and the salted “chocolate bar”- if my tongue had hands it would applaud.

The other dessert was no slouch either. A deconstructed key lime, which had it been the only dessert on the table would be receiving all the adulation right now.

Such a treat. Finally an Iron Chef restaurant that lives up to its metal. A tribute to the fact that he is still the one actually in the kitchen. Saw him with my own eyes the last time I went.

Which brings me to another evening of incredibleness. The amuse bouche this second time was a touch less impressive. An homage to the NYC bagel and smoked fish. Good, but not grand. The graganelli with short ribs and black truffles, however, was mood-altering-good.

Also, this time I had the heavily revered under brick chicken and I have to say, while good for a roasted chicken, it’s still just a roasted chicken. I’ve had MANY a chicken dish that bests it. From One in Irvington, NY (RIP) to ABC Kitchen to Son of a Gun in LA. Don’t get wooed by the hype. There are so many better options on the menu.

And once again, come dessert, Marc knocked it out of the park. The best “pumpkin pie” I’ve ever had. Made in souffle form, served with a very complex and equally delicious sorbet made from bourbon, squash and three other things I can’t remember. If an afterlife exists, and they serve food, this must be what it tastes like.

5 teeth