Scarpetta

355 W 14th StNew York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-0555 • scarpettarestaurants.com
 

Making many a blog’s hottest new haunts in the ole NYC, Scarpetta delivers on the adulation serving up some mighty fine Italian in a simple, classy dining room that is so loud you can barely hear your own “mmm’s”

Fortunately, I could still hear our waiter, who was Johnny on the spot with his recos. Including a phenomenal, velvety Morgan Boujelais that complemented everything from the baby tuna crudo, which was pretty great to the soft polenta with mushrooms and black truffles, which was “I don’t want to share” ridiculicious.

And then the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti (pictured) happened and everything in the world slowed down like a Planet Earth documentary. The ecstasy of every chew as palpable as plastering your blissful puss on the jumbotron in Times Square.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the black cod entrée served on a bed of caramelized fennel. It’s enough to make you want to fuck a fish.

Hell, this place even nails the basics, like their spaghetti with tomato and basil. So simple. So right.

Desert held strong as well, representing with a strong chocolate cake. In fact, the only miss (and a huge one at that) of the night came along its side in the form of one of the worst tart tatins I’ve ever laid teeth on.

But I forgive Scarpetta, because it handily restored my faith in the New York Italian restaurant scene. Again. #Blanca #Eataly #Carbone

La Casa di Nonna

41 rue Hoche 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 97 06 33 51 • lacasadinonna.fr

Welcome to Grandma’s House, my newest Cannes crush. Yes, I suppose I have a thing for older women. Shhh! Don’t tell my wife. Actually, she has crush on Nonna too, because this place is just so damn charming. You just want to squeeze the bejesus out of its cheeks. From the servers to what they are serving, brace yourself for a healthy dose of amoré.

Whether it’s just a quick, afternoon snack over a frothy cappuccino and a wonderfully fresh-squeezed juice or a fully-fledged three-course dinner you are in for a treat, because they don’t miss. Particularly if you incorporate their chocolate ganache cake into whatever meal occasion it is. That alone is like a panacea for all of life’s troubles. Ultimate alert!

The other thing they nail eight ways ‘til Sunday is parma. I don’t know where they get it from, but oh lordy is it pigilicious! We had the melon and prosciutto starter and I think it might just be the best I’ve ever had. The melon was perfectly ripe and sweet. And that ham! I’m not even sure how to describe it, and I’ve even had the acorn-fed, quattro-legged stuff before and this is better.

The other dish the shined on the shoulders of this porky perfection was the carbonara, an Ultimate and only bested by the one at Blanca in Brooklyn, NY, mainly because of it’s superior pepperiness. But Nonna knows her shit, keeping the eggy coating just light enough to allow the pig and basil pop from the dish. And while I know basil is no-no to you purists out there, I say Nonna beats a no-no and you should try it before you deny it.

On the mortal side, I found the artichoke salad, the gnocci with tomato sauce and the spaghetti to all be, well, mortal. But nothing is bad and with THREE Ultimates, I’d put this tops on your list for your next visit to the Cote ‘d Azur. Plus, as I said before, if you end with that ganache cake, you’ll be crooning like old Dino… “When you walk down the street and you have this to eat, that’s amore!”

Ai Fiori

400 5th Ave. New York, NY 10018 • (212) 613-8660 aifiorinyc.com

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One flight up from the lobby in the Langham Hotel you will find a sizeable, fancy pants dining room that goes straight for the jugular (and by that I mean wallet), letting you know right off the bat that you are about to drop some serious cabbage for the privilege of eating at one of New York’s top rated restaurants. But with dozens like it, the décor kinda feels like it came out of the very same mold as Le Bernadin, Asiate and Per Se. Granted as molds go, you could definitely do a lot worse. But unique, it is not.

In an attempt to live up to the top-notch tenor, the service tries very hard to be perfect and comes but doesn’t quite get there, dropping things, hovering when you don’t want them and then disappearing when you do.

Like the service, the food also came up short of expectations, starting with the butternut squash soup with foie gras, which arrives at the table like a work of art, which they then cover in orange silkiness. But as texturally pleasing as the dish is, I found the foie gras virtually imperceptible to the taste. So then what’s the point? I mean if I’m gonna torture a goose, at least let me taste the pain.

The crab spaghetti fared much better, sporting a healthy kick to it, but even as much as I liked it, it falls way short of the one at Nomad just a few blocks south. And although I didn’t actually try the burger, which apparently won best in New York in 2014 according to our waiter, it looked pretty amazing and if the duck fat potato balls that come with it are any indication (which I did try), good gracious Ignacious!

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Emmer & Rye

51 Rainey St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 366-5530 • Emmerandrye.com Emmer-and-Rye-2015-Austin-restaurant-grain-salad_142903

Born from a French Laundry graduate and found on many a Best of Austin list, Emmer and Rye makes you earn your experience before you even arrive, proving to be quite the trek from the heart of town, located on the far fringe of the booze district, which makes it especially fun to walk to, passing a Mardi Gras-esque scene to get to your grub. But as off-putting as the journey is getting there, the setting is really quite lovely. Somewhere between chic and quaint, the décor nails it with rustic details like an herb garden out front, mixed with more contemporary elements like clean white subway tiles contrasted against oiled bronze hardware.

As for service, I’d like to say that it was great, because they were definitely friendly and accommodating, but when it came to their recommendations they seemed a bit out of touch. Also, while the dim sum cart concept starts off charming, it quickly turns extremely annoying because they are constantly interrupting you every two minutes, making it impossible to carry a conversation. Someone needs a rethink methinks.

Worse still, the intrusive dim sum went a miserable 1 for 4, the worst dish being the lamb tartar with green cherry tomatoes and charred fennel oil. It sounds as good as it looked with it’s beautiful crescent-shaped presentation, but texturally it was very chewy and it didn’t boast the kind of flavor one would hope. For more impressive raw flesh, try the Bison tartar at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. It rocks the wool off of Emmer & Rye’s. Then there were two completely unmemorable dishes in the middle and thankfully one resounding winner, which was not only the best dim sum of the night, but the best dish of the night. A green strawberry soup served in a meyer lemon sabayon. It might just be an ultimate for strawberry-kind.

As for things ordered off of the menu, I’ll work from high to low with the peak being the red fife spaghetti ‘Cacio E Pepe,’ made with Challerhocker cheese and chicory. Aptly referred to as an “adult mac & cheese,” it lives up to the description quite handily and deliciously.

After that I’d go with the soft polenta adorned with fermented mushrooms, fresh shiitake and mint marigold spuma (Italian soda). It’s definitely good, but I’m not sure if soft polenta is even capable of being bad.

I felt similarly about the burrata toast with straciatella, kale, mustard frill and black butter. A convoluted, self-indulgent chef’s (Kevin Fink) attempt to make something unique out of a dish that would’ve been every bit as good, if not better, had he just kept it simple.

So after a myriad of mediocrity I decided to skip dessert in favor of one last spoonful from the bowl of green strawberry soup. So good.

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Bar Pitti

268 Ave of the Americas New York, NY 10014 • (212) 982-3300

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No longer in its heyday, Bar Pitti is still trucking along, doing its thing and keepin’ it real. And by that I mean the real deal authentic Italian, not trying to cover things up with inventive culinary gimmicks or posh smoke and mirrors. This is just bare bones belissimo.

Now I want to reiterate that when I said “authentic” I meant it. Like as if you were in Italy. As in the specials menu is just a chalkboard that they prop up on your table sans translations. So, you either better be Italian, understand Italian, have Google translate warmed up and ready to go on your smartphone, or be prepared to be insulted by your waiter who will also ask if you know what lasagna is. This is not me trying to be clever, this is them being assy. And yes, they actually asked me this with a straight face. So not the kind of service that’ll give you the warm and fuzzies. The food, however, is.

Simple is the theme top to bottom here and the ingredients carry the day quite capably. For example the arugula salad with tomatoes and parmesan is so damn basic, merely dressed with a touch of garlic, oil and lemon, and yet it sings with simplicity.

The prosciutto toast is also deceptively plain Jane, but the prosciutto they use is so phenomenal it puts anything you can buy in Eataly to shame.

The pastas are also tremendous, both in taste and portion. Of the two we tried, I found the lasagna (yes, I now know what it is) to be the clear winner. So layered with flavors and ooey gooey goodness. The artichoke and leek spaghetti with olive oil, on the other hand, was a touch bland for my tastes.

But all of the above went down quite nicely with the Multipuciano they offer by the glass.

The only other miss for me was the affagato. I found the espresso to be too strong and bitter, as opposed to rich and flavorful. I MUCH prefer the one at Fortina in Armonk, because not only is the coffee better, but I love the textural addition of amaretto cookies. But all in all a very admirable showing from a long time NYC icon.

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Sessanta

60 Thompson St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-8119sessantanyc.com

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Not all that long ago if you saw a restaurant located in a hotel it was like the kiss of death. But that was before the likes of Maialino, NOMAD and Dirty French. So, when I heard all the rave reviews about this new place in the Thompson Hotel I said to myself, “Self, let’s add it to the list.”

Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t on the list for very long though, because I just recently had a business dinner there and got to see whether it was all that or all hype.

The hotel itself is rather quaint, like the street it’s on, but the restaurant is actually rather sizeable winding around corners and bars with its soothing wood, ribbon walls that almost give it a midcentury vibe.

Off on the wrong foot, we embarked with a Brunello that was very strong on the tannins almost to the breaking point, which didn’t do the food any favors, because it really didn’t complement a single dish. And it’s a shame too, because most of the food could’ve benefited from a little help.

Among the starters in need were the tuna crudo, which was what one might expect from a tuna crudo. Nothing more. Nothing less. Well, maybe except for the additions of zucchini and caper berries, neither of which moved the needle in either direction.

But far guiltier of not moving the needle were the beef tongue sliders, which were so surprisingly bland it felt like you were being cheated out of the gluttony you thought you were buying into.

Also on the bland list I would put the highly revered Struncatura Spaghetti (AKA Peasant Pasta). I had heard from friends and blogs alike that it was exploding with flavor. The saltiness of the anchovies, the heat of the chilies, the heat and saltiness of the neonata (a condiment from Calabria made from baby fish). But I guess the chef must’ve imploded under the pressure of serving the Ferocious Foodie, because what I got out of this dish was neo-nada. Go with the lamb ragu. It’s so much better. More on that later.

Moving up a notch from bland was the marinated calamari with puffed black rice and crunchy celery hearts, which proved to be a textural stroke of genius, contrasting greatly with the squid and making what could’ve been yet another snore just passably interesting. But even with that said, I would still opt for the braised octopus with couscous, apricots and turmeric. It was tender, flavorful and apart from the meatballs, the only thing I would ever order again.

Speaking of the meatballs (pictured), they are pretty amazing. Easily the best thing on the menu. But these ain’t your run of the mill balls. They’re made with spicy Italian sausage, red peppers and Sicilian honey, which almost acts like a candied coating, creating a hard outer shell, locking in the juices. But the true magic is when that honey and heat coalesce in your mouth to create a sonata of sumptuousness.

The other high point of the meal was the Tagghiarini (lamb ragu) pasta, made unique with crunchy bits of baked ricotta salata. The flavors of the ragu were bursting, the cheese was crunching- So then why isn’t it something I would order again, you ask? Because after a few bites the crunchy gimmick passes novelty and starts to become distracting and dare I say off-putting. Like crunchy bugs or burnt bits of lamb floating in your sauce. It’s great as a shared dish, but to commit to an entire bowl yourself is a bit overkill on the crunch.

Dessert also proved to be a tale of two Sessantas with the peach cake coming out dry and worthless. Whereas the cream filled puffs, an Italian take on profiteroles, were a far superior way to end your meal.

So, in all fairness, Sessanta is probably a three knifer, but because of all the hype, being lauded as one of the best new openings in New York according to Thrillist, it is teetering precarious on the edge of two, because apparently they have already started to slide. C’est la vie, as they say not in Italy.

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Morandi

211 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10014 • (212) 627-7575  •  morandiny.com

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If star sightings are your thang or you simply melt over the thought of witnessing barrages of obnoxious air kisses over the shoulders of the maitre’d, you have come to the right place. It’s basically Pastis (RIP), resurrected and turned Italian.

Starting off on the wrong foot, they had us wait for 40 minutes even though we had a reservation, assumingly because they gave our table away to Cameron Diaz who just waltzed in and batted her alien eyes and viola! Miraculously a table just happened to be open in the midst of the dinner rush for the same size table as ours.

Once seated, at the a crap table thrown together with one copper two top and a wooden four top, crammed between the wait station and the hostess stand, they finally got around to serving us up a bottle of tepid rosé (it got better after chilling in the moat).

For appetizers, I actually can’t complain, although trust me, I want too so badly I can taste it. But I’ll be the bigger man and give Morandi the only props they earned that evening. The meatballs are a must. Moist and full of flavor. I’m guessing a ménage of meat (veal, pork & beef). I also enjoyed the buratta, but that’s not saying much, since it’s pretty rare that I don’t. The grilled artichokes were also nice. Simple, but nice. The octopus with celery was just okay, however. So much better pus to be had in the city. And the loser of the lot was the prosciutto and melon. The melon was under ripe and the prosciutto is nothing you can’t buy at any specialty market in the city.

Then the wait came. A full hour between the time they cleared our appetizers until they arrived with our entrees. And this is after making us wait 40 minutes to even be seated at a shitty table. I swear if I wasn’t with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while I would’ve walked out and told the place to take the bill and shove it up their affogato!

But I will exact my revenge toot sweet, because the pastas blew. The carbonara was a tried, overcooked bowl of mush and the hard rolled spaghetti with lemon was only a minute notch above that, clawing its way toward bland.

Suffice it to say we didn’t stay for dessert, otherwise I might’ve had to stab Cameron in the throat with a fork to ensure we got it before sunrise. You can also probably deduce at this point that this review is going south of the mid-line.

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Konsolos

Meşrutiyet Caddesi No:56, 34430 İstanbul (0212) 219 6530 • http://www.konsolosistanbul.com
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Believe it or not, we walked out on a reservation at Mikla, listed as #96 on Pellegrino’s Top 100 list in the world, just to eat at Konsolos (unranked) instead, solely based on vibe/decor. Call me shallow (which is fair), but I’d say it’s more a case of Pellegrino letting those bubbles go to the brain. The crowd is Disney-hotel-depressing, filled with patrons in their 90’s or 9’s, all oohing and ahhing over a glass enclosed view that comes a dime a dozen at almost every major city around the world. So, trying to coast on view alone, the décor feels dated and sad. Especially by comparison to the top of The George Hotel where we had just come from having a drink and Konsolos, which we popped in for a peek just before arriving at Mikla. Sure, the food might be good (although a fellow foodie told us later that we dodged a bullet), but to be in the top 100 in the world, shouldn’t you be firing on all cylinders?

But enough about Mikla, let’s talk about Konsolos, and its striking dining room, which drafts its grandeur off of its former tenant, the American Consulate, set in a dramatic space where visas were once issued, they have since decked the place out to look like a Victorian masterpiece had sex with a black light poster from Spencer Gifts. I know that doesn’t sound all that appealing as I write it, but I can assure you it’s unequivocally stunning. Dare I say one of the most impressive decors I’ve ever laid eyes on and unfortunately even the photo above doesn’t do it justice, but just trust me. Hell, it made us pass up Mikla, didn’t it?

But this looker’s also got skillz, serving up Italian classics with a twist. For example, the rustic Italian bread comes with a tomato sauce for dipping, made special by the addition of mustard seeds, giving it a little heat, a little crunch and a lotta damn that’s good. Skip the other spread though. It’s walnut and soy based and it’s no contest.

The artichoke trio, while also interesting by Italian standards was pretty basic by Turkish ones, done in typical meze style, only instead of being topped with carrots and peas marinated in olive oil, it was topped with arugula and parmesan crisps, which kinda fell short on either side of cuisine expectations.

After that came the pastas and I have to say, mama mia Konsolos has game! Both the parpadelle ragu and the lamb shank fettucini were moist and delicious. Granted I think the parpadelle was actually fettucini and the fettucini was more like short cut spaghetti. Also, the lamb pasta was a bit over salted, but I think that was more due to the salt garnish around the rim of the plate. If you avoid mixing your pasta into it, or sliding your fork through it, you should fair much better than I did on my first two bites before discovering the culprit.

For dessert, while the profiteroles get full marks for inventiveness, they get very few marks for awesomeness. which was kind of a shame because we were both sorta hoping for a more faithful representation. Nonetheless, what you do get is a presentation not to be forgotten. The waiter actually pours liquid nitrogen (aka dry ice) over the ice cream at the table to create a crumbled “astronaut ice cream” effect next to the four different cream filled pastries. The pistachio cream was the best of the lot, followed by lemon and chocolate, with strawberry in the rear. But the pastries were too bready and the cream was too sweet. And the ice cream, well, it’s novel. I can say that. What I can’t say is that the meal lives up to the décor quite yet, but give this newcomer some time and I firmly believe greatness awaits, especially once winter hits and it becomes more en vogue to dine indoors.

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Dominick’s

8715 Beverly Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90048(310) 652-2335 dominicksrestaurant.com

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I’ve been to Dominick’s twice now, with about 10 years in between those two visits and not much has changed. It’s still just very mediocre Italian food and a waste of your money and time. Especially when there are so many better Italian options in the city (Capo, Via Veneto, Piccolo, Valentino…). But since most of the great Italian is on the West side, I suppose Dominick’s has its place in a pinch. Granted I’d still take Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills over Dominick’s any day, but enough of the woulda, coulda, shoulda- If you go, be sure to get a table in the garden at the back, it’s much nicer than the inside. No need to add insult to paccheri.

Of my two-time sampling, the soft polenta with black truffles proved far and way to be the best thing on the menu and the only thing I would ever dare use a word more effusive than “good.”  The spaghetti and meatballs was a very distant second clocking in at one notch past average. Everything else from arancini to artichokes, was a big ole C average.

There was, however, one other exception on the dessert menu, the pear fritter/begniets were pretty solid. But other than that, the rest of the desserts were back to blahsville. Oh, and as for that pic above, that’s their crawfish boil, and I must admit, it does looks pretty damn tasty. Not sure how Italian it is, but people seem to swear by it, so perhaps I’ve just been ordering wrong? guess I’ll have to find out when I return to Dominick in another 10 years.

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Wolfert’s Roost

100 Main St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7576WolfertsRoostIRV.com

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If I gave out knives for effort, the Roost would earn a resounding five, because I really do appreciate the inventiveness in almost every dish. I also dig the understated vibe, which feels a little reminiscent of The Cookery in neighboring Dobbs Ferry, especially with its kitchen utensil chandeliers and abysmal acoustics. But sadly Wolfert is no Cookery when it comes to culinary greatness. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so let’s go “back to the start” as Chris Martin would say.

Upon entering we came prepared, BYOBing a nice bottle of Caymus Conundrum and a French Bordeaux. What we weren’t prepared for was having to send up a flare to get our waitress’ attention. But once we caught her eye, we ordered about a third of the menu, partly out of fear that we may never see her again. Well, fortunately she returned with three very impressive starters. The best of the trio, and of the entire meal, would be the wild mushroom bruschetta. As seen on Yelp (and above), this dish deserves every last ounce of adulation. But it gets high with a little help from its friends, taleggio and the fried egg on top.

The other world-rocking small plate was the bloomin’ broccoli. I assume paying homage to the Outback Steakhouse, the battered and fried floret is not only bloomin’, it’s boomin’ with flavors both savory and sweet thanks to the brilliant accompaniments of Humboldt Fog and apricot jam. The former already being one of my favorite cheeses on Earth, perhaps I’m a little biased.

The third app was also pretty good, the spaghetti with pork ragu and piave (yet another favorite cheese), but because it was done as a torta, the pasta was a bit on the crispy side, which I like in a textural way, but don’t actually love.

Now, before I move on to the entrees, or “big bowls” as they are referred to on the menu, I want to dispel a crazy misperception you might find in other reviews, this notion of meager-sized portions. Now, I’m not exactly sure what passes for a small plate for some of these people, but I’m guessing these were the same people fighting Bloomberg to keep Super Big Gulps in the city. It’s either that or they went with the tasting menu, which are supposed to be small portions, you neanderthals!

Getting back to the Big Bowls, this is where things fell apart. The fried chicken everyone raves about is almost as puzzling as the portion size comments. We only ordered a half portion and it was easily enough for three people, granted that might’ve been due to the fact that it sucked wind. Soggy on the outside, dry on the inside and flavorless all over. If you want truly great fried chicken try ABC Kitchen in New York, Highball & Harvest in Orlando or Son of a Gun in LA. This, on the other hand, is a cock-a-doodle-don’t.

The other big bowl of blah was the Korean-ish baby back ribs. Once again a dish ruined by Sahara-like dryness, which was such a shame, because the flavors on the outside were actually pretty decent (kimchi and gouchujong). Fortunately the third bowl, the Short Rib Pho somewhat redeemed Wolfert, because thankfully it was served in a broth that kept it moist. But as good as it was, it was no consolation to the damage done.

Pressing on and trying to put the past behind us, or more accurately trying to put dessert in front of us, we went with what was essentially a chocolate chip cookie and ice cream and a caramelized banana and ice cream dessert. I don’t recall the actual names of either, but both were good, not great- which is indicative of the experience as a whole. Good, but not great.

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