Fuku

163 1st AveNew York, NY 10003 • eatfuku.com

Normally I’m a pretty big David Chang fan, but Fuku is definitely missing the Momo mojo. The concept is fried chicken. In sandwiches, fingers and bites, with various builds in between. I went with the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich and despite the pickles and supposed habanero, it’s hopelessly bland. In fact, I emptied an entire ramekin of Saam Sauce (David’s answer to Sriracha) just to make it worth eating.

For those of you thinking, but Ferocious, it’s figgin’ chicken, how much flavor can you expect?! MUCH more. Just try the one at Son of a Gun and R+D Kitchen, both in LA. I realize neither are very convenient for a New Yorker, but if you’re ever out that way, my case rests in the City of Angels.

The bites are in the same bland boat, so let’s not waste your precious time reading about these balls of blandness either.

There is a silver lining on the TryCaviar menu however, should you choose to ignore my advice. The salad. Yes, salad. It’s a kale base, loaded with broccoli, shishito peppers and edemame peas. It’s the bomb.

And speaking of explosions, the Compost Cookie is always a strong go-to. Granted I feel like it’s not quite as good as the ones at Milk Bar. And even if it were, my advice to you, if you’re ordering on the aforementioned TryCaviar, get your cookies Dominique Ansel Bakery instead. You’ll thank me.

Mecha Noodle Bar

1215 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 292-8222 • mechanoodlebar.com
 

This just might be the most happenin’ strip mall in America. You’ve got Brick + Wood, Milkcraft and then right next door to that you’ve got Mecha. And all three are so damn good that they all have a long, damn wait.

Wait aside, Mecha is like Mecca for ramen. Worth the pilgrimage for great food. The décor is pretty cool as well, marked by the simple touch of 2×4’s dangling overhead to connote noodles. They’ve also cracked the code between kid-friendly and adult crowds, but sadly this secret is out, so there’s pretty much a wait no matter when you go, unless you just happen to hit the seam between rushes.

For those of you visiting from Westport on south, you’re probably wondering how it stacks up to Kawa Ni. Quite well, I would say, although very different vibes. I’d say Mecha is much more casual and high energy, whereas Kawa Ni is more intimate and adult skewed.

The menu is more noodle-based than Kawa Ni though, but very tasty in its own right. We started with a pair of Thai Iced Teas and the roasted mushroom dumplings, which were excellent, particularly with the brown butter miso sauce.

For noodles, I went with the Pho Shore, which as the name implies is loaded with seafood and other goodies. Speaking of which, be very careful with the thai chili add on. I like heat and this kicked my ass.

Wifey was smarter (as usual) and put the heat control in her own hands, opting for the Veggie Ramen and Sriracha on the side. This was also very good and we will definitely be going back. At an odd hour.

A very, VERY strong 3 knives for Mecha. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Milkcraft is right next door for dessert.

The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

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.

The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

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Chingu

1107 Broadway New York, NY 10010(917) 647-5911chingunyc.com

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Let me just say that I am a Bigbimbap fan. In fact, I like it virtually any way it comes. With beef. Pork. Raw fish. Chicken. Tofu. I like it every way but bad. And unfortunately Chingu, despite it being very close to the name of one of my favorite beers in the world (Xingu), served up about the only bap that I thought was bibimblah. In fact my wife makes MUCH better at home. So don’t get lured in by the booth at Broadway Bites, either that or be sure to douse it with healthy amounts of Sriracha. Fortunately there are so many better options to be had at the other booths, not to mention Koreatown.

2 teeth

BaoHaus

238 E 14th St. New York, NY 10003(646) 669-8889baohausnyc.com

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I didn’t actually dine here. We only ordered take out through Trycaviar.com, which has lost a step as of late, I am sad to report. Taking much longer than their already lengthy estimate and then delivering only three quarters of the order correctly. But to be fair, that’s Trycaviar’s problem, not the Baohaus.

As for Baohaus’ problems, it doesn’t travel well, so I can’t recommend ordering it as take out or delivery. But seeing past the limitations of transit, I can tell there is promise in those buns. The most promise being in the Chairman Bao (a.k.a. pork belly). Even after an hour and a half on a bicycle, riding around the city, it still tasted executive worthy (with the addition of Sriracha of course).

The Birdhaus Bao (fired chicken) was just okay by comparison, but against pork belly that’s to be expected. It was also pretty dry as a result of the city bike tour, again to be expected I suppose. But even as dry as it was, it still bested the fried fish bao, which was disturbingly rubbery and chewy.

Making up for the fish bun, however, were the taro fries. Now I wasn’t exactly sure what the hell taro was, but it sort of looks like the eggplant in a bag of Terra Chips, only in fry form. Turns out, after looking it up, taro is a root vegetable from Asia. And while by themselves the taro fries are quite boring, the haus sauce they serve them with is amazing. So good, in fact, it makes up for the fact that they were soggy as hell.

So, as much as I love the name, not to mention the school of design, Baohaus is teetering on the edge of two and three knives. But because my sampling was tainted by Trycaviar, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt…. on the haus.

3 teeth

Lexington Square Cafe

510 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 244-3663lexingtonsquarecafe.com

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It’s taken me a while to work up the courage to eat here versus my other tried and true options in the burbs, but the other day a window of opportunity opened and my daughter and I decided to step inside. Which is much nicer than one might expect from the outside looking in. In fact, one might even go so far as to say it’s impressive, with its large dining room, high ceilings, and surprisingly hip bar. The only things bringing it down are the giant, round hotel-esque counter at the entrance and the large staircase cutting through the space.

Also, a word of advice as to where to sit in the expansive dining arena. Definitely avoid the booths, because if you do sit there, you will be out of sight and out of mind, literally having to stand and flail your arms like a castaway on a deserted island just to get a waiter’s attention.And attention you will need, because the food tends to need a lot of help to get the flavor going. For example, the pizza is more of a flatbread and the flatbread is more like the crap you throw together for your kid when you are just trying to scrape by with pasta sauce, sliced cheese and a random pocket of pita bread or naan. So should you order it as an adult, you will definitely want some red pepper flakes to help overcome the nothingness.

The chicken cutlet sandwich is also pretty bland, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be packing Sriracha mayonnaise. So be sure to order it with a side of Sriracha to give it the oomph it was born to have. With that caveat, I can proudly say the sammie wasn’t half bad.

And last but not least, something that wasn’t half good. The apple crumbly with ice cream and a caramel drizzle simply isn’t worth the time on the treadmill. And compared to places like Truck, Fortina, Beford 234 and Village Social the Lexington Diner simply isn’t worth the space in your stomach.

2 teeth

Yellow Dog Eats

1236 Hempel Ave. Windermere, FL 34786(407) 296-0609 • yellowdogeats.com
 
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Located in Gotha, wherever the hell that is (technically Windermere)- just plug it into your nav and you will find this shack de barbecue that apparently a lot of other people seem to have found as well, because the place gets packed fast. Hence why they have two large, dirt parking lots around back, which is still not enough to hold all of the cars during a peak mealtime rush (obviously a lot other people know where Gotha is, that, or they also have navigation systems). And while all of this attention seems like a good sign for greatness, I can’t say Yellow dog hit it out of the park.

I dig the vibe though. An oasis unto itself, with a terrific outdoor seating area, complete with live music and mosaic tables. Inside the shack itself, it’s counter ordering style with laminated menus that are loaded with some of the best names I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Names like What the Fig?, The Holy Crap, Hong Kong Fooey, The Thin Elvis, White trash, and my personal favorite, The Pig with Benefits.

Of the ones I’ve tried, I had to go purist and start with the Dog’s Famous Pulled Pork. “No tricks. No weapons. Just skill against skill alone.” (a movie quote for all you pop culture buffs). And while it is most certainly good, I can’t say I’m in love with their Fish’s Gold BBQ sauce. It’s a little too sweet for my tastes and whatever else is in it doesn’t quite net out as spice for me, falling somewhere closer to tang, which is an “also ran” in my eyes when you’re up against heat.

And speaking of heat, I have also done me a Fire Pig, which kicks things up a notch with the help of Srirracha, but I still can’t say it’s amazing. Definitely better, because the heat helps balance the sweet a bit, but in the land of pulled pork this doesn’t even pull a top twenty on my list.

There’s fun for the kids as well, with sammies like the Fluffy Love. Basically a peanut butter and banana with marshmallow whip, but not the jarred crap, the real homemade deal. It’s also just okay, however (Yes, I stole a bite from my three-year-old daughter. And yes, I’m a horrible father). One caution though, it’s messy as all get out. We’re talking marshmallow in the hair and peanut butter up the sides of the face like Heath Ledger as The Joker. And that’s just me! My daughter needed power washing! Told ya I was a bad father. So bad, in fact, that after this debauchery, we even shared a slice of coconut cake, but sadly that was the nail in the coffin for Yellow Dog, because once again they delivered below expectation.

All in all, Yellow Dog is a fun adventure, if you simply crave solace from hotel food and/or the Disney scene. But I would definitely keep the expectations lower than the Yelp star count. There’s much better BBQ to be had in Orlando, not to mention better sandwiches. Just not better names for them.

2 teeth