The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

4 teeth

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Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

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Restaurant Michael Schwartz & Coffee Bar

1775 Collins Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 534-6300 raleighhotel.com

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The Raleigh Hotel is such a find in the heart of the deco district. Not as pricey as its neighbors and more low key, but sporting one of the best pools on Collins Avenue.

And while the restaurant may not be a destination unto itself like the headliners at so many other hotels, including its SBE Hotel siblings the SLS (The Bazaar) and The Redbury (Cleo), it still manages to serve up some pleasers.

Going by day part, they do quite well for breakfast. Either at the sit down tables outside by the pool or even at the grab and go Coffee Bar near the front. So if you’re aiming for a quick bite I definitely recommend the honey bran muffin and a glass of the freshly blended Rejuvenator. It’s carrot, ginger and apple and orange I believe. It’s also quite rejuvenating. After three of them I’m now in my twenties.

And as for the muffin, it has that perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness, a little on the sticky side, but moist as can be, speckled with juicy, plump raisins. On the downside, do not take the bait on the apple muffin. It is the Danny DeVito to the honey bran’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s a Twins reference, in case my pop culture illustration is going completely lost on you.

As for sit down options, the Greek yogurt and honey with granola is surprisingly good. Having recently been in Greece I can attest with some modicum of experience that this yogurt is the closest thing I’ve had in the states to the way it is in mother Greece.

The other breakfast pleaser was the brioche French toast with caramelized bananas. It’s a very tough dish to screw up in all fairness, but if there was one surefire way to do it, it’s not soaking the bread through and through. Well, I’m happy to report that there is no infraction here. Dish nailed.

As for lunch, I found the food to be a little weaker. The grilled fish tacos are simple and fresh, which is enough to make them worthy of ordering, but there was nothing inventive or memorable about them. I would say the same about the tuna sandwich, although it did need a little Dijon as a kick in the ass. The only out and out miss was the swordfish sandwich. A bit too dry and a lotta bit too blah. But all in all, solid pool food if you happen to be staying in the hotel, which is nice, not having to make a special trip just for lunch.

Never had dinner there, but considering how friggin’ awesome that octopus looks, maybe that’ll be an amendment to this post the next time I visit Miami.

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The Oceanaire

50 S 6th St. Minneapolis, MN 55403(612) 333-2277theoceanaire.com

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Coming from the East Coast, it’s a bit hard to accept that a place so far from any ocean would position itself as such a seafood Mecca. And as no surprise, Oceanaire falls horribly short of the high end seafood restaurants you might find near any coast.

But, within the confines of the Minneapolis comparative, it isn’t too bad. Lots of options. Great for large parties, especially of the business variety. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking that its average Yelp star count of 4 is equal to the same star count in the coastal equivalents. Because adjusted by comparison, this place is exactly what I rated it. Particularly if you factor in the hefty price tag.

On the plus side, the service has always been excellent, they have some choice wine options and if you stick to the stuff that holds up to being frozen, for example shrimp cocktail or fattier fishes like salmon, you’ll never see its cracks. Order the swordfish, however, and the mercury in it will be the least of your concerns. Served so overcooked and dry it rendered the dish a complete waste of money. Like if you went to Morton’s and order a filet medium rare and it came back as a charcoal briquette.

Oh and as for the “nice” decor that I keep seeing props for, it’s located in an indoor walkway/mall for Christ sake! I’m not exactly sure what passes for nice these days in Minneapolis, but Oceanaire squeaks by as passable if you ask moi.

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Restaurant North

386 Main St. Armonk, NY 10504 • (914) 273-8686restaurantnorth.com

Restaurant North

Having never been THAT impressed with this chef’s former stomping ground Union Square Café, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I find North to also be considerably over-hyped.

And after having been there twice now, I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest issue is that they would be much better suited as a bakery or as a casual haunt. But when held to the standards of fine dining, they simply don’t measure up. Blue Hill at Stone Barns and The Inn at Pound Ridge are both much, MUCH better. And for Italian it’s bested by both Fortina (just two blocks away) and The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry.

For me, the misses start the moment you enter the door. First with a decor that is notch or two past minimalist, trending toward unfinished. This is then followed up with a hostess who tried to seat us at the shittiest table by the bar, even though about 75% of the tables in the restaurant were empty. And this is with us having had a reservation for weeks mind you. The excuse, because one of the tables on the other half of the dining room was being reserved for a friend of the chef’s. But what about the other six open tables?!?!

After that, things improved, but never so much that they fell in line with the sterling reputation this place seems to enjoy.  This is not to say that what lies ahead was all bad, by any means, but if your are going to be a top restaurant in one of the wealthiest suburbs on the planet, you’d better be more than just “not bad.”

Not bad, however, was the story from top to bottom. Not one course the first time we went reached what I would call “excellent,” and we each had three. Yet each course lacked that little extra something that takes a dish from good to memorable. And with 6 different dishes and two proprietary cocktails, I’d say they had ample ways to impress, but failed at every one.

The only two dishes from that outing to rise above just a solid good were a pasta dish and the soft shell crabs. Both teetering on great. But sadly, not actually great.

Fortunately, while definitely ferocious, I also try to be fairocious, so I gave them a second chance before writing this review and upon revisiting it, this somewhat only served to solidified my opinions from the first experience.

That said, there were a few shining moments once again, and this time they were shining much brighter. For example, the focaccia they serve as the bread with your meal is phenomenal. It’s also an Ultimate.

Another thing worthy of note is the muffin they give you after the meal to take home. Moist, heavily seeded for a nice contrast in textures, and heavily awesome. So, it would appear that they bookend you well, between incredibly delicious baked goods, but if you just look past the bready smoke and mirrors, mediocrity was once again abound.

For example, the swordfish entree while perfectly cooked was woefully blah. Their hazelnut encrusted variation of a Scotch egg was equally lacking in flavor, begging for some salt to bring out the flavor of the egg. And the “Super Awesome” chocolate chip cookie is “super overrated.” It’s the same typical half baked cookie in a skillet you’d expect to find at Applebee’s with a very mediocre scoop of vanilla on top. You want a truly “super awesome” chocolate chip cookie, head to Sherry B’s in Chappaqua and get the one with walnuts (even if you’re allergic, it’s worth it). Or if you’re in the city, there’s none better than the one at City Bakery.

Another inflated dish is the burger. And while it’s definitely more impressive than the aforementioned dishes, with its creamed kale topper, it also falls WAY short of places like Minetta Tavern, Father’s Office and Burger & Barrel, to which I’ve heard it compared. Blasphemy!

Back on the upside, because I like to end things on a positive note (not really, but I will), the mushroom flatbread was surprisingly good, well balanced between the heartiness of the mushrooms, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the fresh pepperiness of the greens.

And finally, the suckling pig. Definitely not the looker of the bunch. In fact, once shredded amongst the bed of spaetzle it looked more like a cat got a hold of a stuffed animal and ripped it to bits. But the taste was excellent. Accented with a nice touch of heat.

But even with the stronger showing my second time around, it’s still WAY too hit and miss to be playing at the level they claim to be. Especially when they pull shit like pawning us off on the busboy to take our dessert order. Classy North. Very classy.

2 teeth

 

Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

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While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

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Crabtree Kittle House

11 Kittle Rd. Chappaqua, NY 10514(914) 666-8044kittlehouse.com

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I was very nervous to try this restaurant because so many Westchester restaurants have inflated praise on Yelp. Well, I am happy to report that this was the exception, not the rule. Crabtree is the real deal. From the moment we arrived, we were treated in accordance with the restaurant’s reputation. Decor is a little dated, and it’s a crying shame that they have acoustic tile on the ceiling in the dining room, but apart from that, I found the setting to be charming and the service to be great.

As for the food, it was a touch hit and miss, but mostly hits. And the misses were never bad. Just “eh.” Here’s the break down:

The Gnudi was terrific. The seared foie gras, while solid, was nothing above and beyond. But it is foie gras, so it’s hard to be anything less than great. The scallops were phenomenal! The best of the three apps.

The venison entree was a tad under-sauced, and thus bland without. But when you got a bite with sauce, it was quite good. The swordfish was excellent. A wonderful combination of flavors. Unfortunately, the trout was not. The weakest dish of the night. Flavorless compared to everything else.

And for dessert the chocolate gift and the crack pie were both very good, although both came with the wrong accoutrements. The coconut ice cream overpowers the crack pie (pecan pie without the pecans- heavily influenced by Mr. Momofuku), but goes beautifully with the chocolate gift. And conversely, the whipped cream on the chocolate gift was much better suited to the crack pie.

So all in, a great meal. And we will most definitely return. Thank you Crabtree for living up to the hype.

4 teeth

Purdy’s Farmer and The Fish

100 Titicus Rd. North Salem, NY 10560(914) 617-8380farmerandthefish.com

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This is a tale of two visits. Two vastly different experiences, primarily due to the service. The first time it was literally one of the highest points of the meal. Our waitress was amazing. Attentive. Helpful with the kids. Accommodating. Warm. My only nit was toward the end of the meal, when the kids were reaching meltdown, she took an awfully long time with the bill. But since she was so incredible up to that point, I let it slide.

The second time, even though we had a reservation, they made us wait, even though the table was empty when we arrived. Then, it took over 20 minutes and us having to ask, before a server finally came to take our orders. Upon delivering those orders they were often incorrect in virtually every way possible. For example, when the oysters came, they were served with only 2 forks even though there were three people. Drinks came after appetizers. Bread was never brought to the table. And other orders were completely forgotten. Oh, and once again it took forever to get the check, even after asking multiple times. I literally wanted to walk out without paying I was so annoyed. Instead I exacted my revenge with a commensurate tip.

But inconsistent service aside, I still do like the place because the seafood is quite good (and the fact that the owner has his own fish market in the city doesn’t hurt). I mean, not everything is excellent, but the highs are so high, it almost makes up for the frustrations above. But if the service is ever like that again, it might just be a deal-breaker.

As for decor it’s quaint and charming. Both times sat on the patio of the white house, over-looking the garden. And both times we took the kids for a walk around back to see the farm while we waited for our food.

So now let’s do a deeper dive into the food, there were three dishes that were out of this world.

1. The swordfish with balsamic sauce and garden fresh veggies was so fresh and delicious. It had these these tiny little tomatoes that exploded in your mouth like those little fireworks in Ratatouille, adding layers of depth to a dish that was already perfectly cooked.

2. The frozen key lime pie was a nice twist on one of my favorites. Striking a nice balance between tart and sweet.

3. The white chocolate bread pudding with salted caramel ice cream. My god! It was so damn good I nearly fell over into the citronella candle behind me.

Honorable mentions would include the lobster roll, one of the best in Westchester and the oysters. Raspberries go to the Caesar salad which is not served with a true Caesar dressing. Typical creamy crap you find at most places these days.

And falling somewhere in between, the halibut with corn risotto was just okay. As was the big eye tuna. Granted, the tuna was remarkably fresh. Melted in my mouth. But when the recipe says “Szechuan” I expect a little more heat.

But all nits aside, Purdy’s definitely has game on the plate. They just need to work on the spotty service, because really does detract from the experience.

3 teeth

River Market

127 W Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591(914) 631-3100rivermarketbarandkitchen.com

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When I saw where it was located I have to admit that my skepticism grew exponentially. In a housing complex is usually never a good sign. But when we opened the door, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the décor. Contemporary lines. Earthy materials such as wood and brick. It’s very well done.

As for the food, the menu as a bit all things to all people with the intent of being farm-to-table. And while this would normally be a red flag for me, I kept my hopes up, because it is the sister restaurant of Crabtree, which I like very much. That said, it’s no Crabtree. And they wasted no time establishing that as the first major miss came with the first course.

The roasted oysters are a culinary crime against mollusk-kind. And at 18 bucks a crime against your wallet as well. Served tepid and tasteless.

Fortunately the other starter made up some ground. The seared foie gras with blackberries and caramelized apples was a solid good. Granted I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a foie gras I didn’t like, so please take that with a grain of salt.

As for “solid good” that was pretty much the theme from there on. The swordfish entrée and the spicy lobster linguini as well as the lemon tart were all just that- good. Nothing rose to excellent or sank to ridicule.

Not a must-try place. But if you’re in the area and aren’t sure what you want, chances are they’ve got you covered for a nice meal. Also, if you have kids, it’s a nice spot for an early dinner. Sort of like Village Social in Mount Kisco.

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