L’inizio

698 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 693-5400 •  liniziony.com

 menus-07

After three different people recommended that I try this place, I knew it had to be at least a three knifer, but the true question was, is it four or five? Well, if parking were factored in, most certainly not, because it’s a major bitch. And you can forget all about that little lot over by the Thai House that’s always more jam-packed than a drug mule’s colon. So your best bet is across the street and down a touch, over by Star Bagel, since they’re closed for dinner and it’d be a shame to let all of that parking go to waste.

Speaking of space being at a premium, the restaurant itself is quite small as well, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for me, but it’s also pretty lacking in the personality department, making it a modicum nicer than the inside of a shoe box.

But the warmth that’s missing from the décor came from our server in spades, who was not only friendly, she was also spot on with the recommendations. Unfortunately, however, even as well intentioned as the staff was, the service itself is actually a bit spotty, getting both pepper and grated cheese in my wife’s water (so much so that it needed to be replaced) and forgetting to bring out our pasta course before the dessert menu.

In terms of the food, this is where L’inizio shined. Starting with a nice, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil to whet the palate. After that, we doubled down on bread opting for the ricotta with acacia honey, a simple, but wonderful Italian go-to that definitely hit the mark, but I have to say, the chef went a little stingy on the honey.

Next up came the charred endive salad with dates (or more accurately, date in singular form), which was excellent, but again, thin on the one ingredient that made it so interesting, the date.

The recommended octopus was also fantastic, sort of similar in preparation to the one at Charlie Bird in the city, only MUCH better, because there’s so much more going on. The heat from the peppers, the brightness and crunch from the celery. The creaminess of the humus. Even a slight note of sweetness. My only gripe being, you guessed it, a little too light on the octopus. A theme of the joint I suppose? Keep ‘em wanting more? Only I think the chef doesn’t truly get the intent of that saying.

As for pastas, the cavatelli was a bit of a snore compared to the much more flavorful parpadelle with lamb ragu, pine nuts and raisins. The anomaly of the night, because it was shockingly generous with the lamb.

We ended the evening with another great reco, the date cake with sweet mascarpone (pictured), sitting in a pool of caramel sweetness. It was divine. Which is a bit of a hoity-toity phrase for me, I gotta be honest. Almost feels like I should be typing it with a New England lockjaw. But it really was kickass. There. That’s better.

It’s no Cookery and there are many kinks still to work out, but there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this chef knows what he’s doing, even if he cheaps out a bit on the goodies. So my advice to you, go. My advice to the chef, let it go…LET IT GO! Let your yummy ingredients flow! (to be sung like Elsa from Frozen). Do that, and I’ll up you to four knives, because it’s holding you back from true greatness.

3 teeth

Advertisements

Wolfert’s Roost

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

MushroomBruschetta

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.

3 teeth

Macchialina

820 Alton Rd. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 534-2124 macchialina.com

macchialina_facebook_brunch

We heard about this place from the waiter at Yardbird, who seemed so spot-on with his recommendations that we asked for some on other menus. Very emphatically he proclaimed that only one other restaurant in Miami that truly impressed him was Macchialina. So, without hesitation we booked a table.

But those hesitations we forewent on the front end, crept up with a vengeance the moment we arrived. The location is in the middle of nowhere and the décor doesn’t help much in terms of making up for that. In fact, the setting was so uninspired we opted to sit outside, which is right on the sidewalk of a busy road filled with buses and fire engines. Now, I realize how hypocritical this is, being that I come from New York City where this is the norm, but in Miami it just seems worse.

Once the food came our hesitations were abated for a spell, with dishes like their creamy polenta topped with sausage ragu. The polenta was stick to your ribs creamy, and the ragu was morta bene. But sadly they skimped on the ragu, throwing the dish off balance after the first few bites. Regardless it was still the best thing of the night.

After that came the grilled Octopus, which was also good, but needed something more as well. And that was the general theme here. Everything was missing that one extra element to make the dish truly great. For example, even the escarole salad needed more salt.

But the biggest infraction of the night came from the highly acclaimed short rib tallegio lasagna. Sounds unbelievable, right? In fact I think it was this dish and the bread pudding that sealed the deal on our changing reservations just to go here. Well, it saddens me to say it, but the legend far exceeds the lasagna. It is way too much of one note, in dire need of crushed red pepper to help liven things up. And with the added kick it is most certainly good, but “best lasagna ever” it ain’t.

And as for the other reason we came, the bread pudding, it was every bit as disappointing as the lasagna. Not only is it not the best bread pudding ever, I don’t think it would even crack my top 100. Hell, there are two places in Westchester, New York that would put this pudding’s head in the sand. The Cookery and Fortina– but here’s the kicker, not even those, as much as I love them, make my Ultimates list. That’s how far Maccialina’s bread pudding is from being worthy of its praise.

Suffice it to say that if you’re staying on the other side of the island, this place is most definitely not worth the trip. However, if it’s close by, you could most certainly do worse. Like at Yuca for example.

3 teeth

il Buco

47 Bond St. New York, NY 10012(212) 533-1932 • ilbuco.com

house-of-haos-il-buco-alimentari-and-vineria-noho-new-york-roasted-mushroom-gnocchi

I’m starting to feel like maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the problem, and all of these 4 star restaurants on Yelp really are great and my taste buds are just old and crotchety. That, or maybe the value of the star has fallen drastically against the knife in the foreign currency exchange? Well, I might’ve felt this way had it not been for the fact that the three other people who dined with me were equally underwhelmed.

Dare I say it, but I honestly think NYC Italian restaurants are more often than not, not all that. I know that’s a confusing double negative, so to clarify, they suck more than they sing. I’ve had better Italian in Westchester for Christ’s sake! Seriously. I challenge anyone to eat at Il Buco and then at The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry or Fortina in Armonk and tell me Buco is better.

L.A. also has SEVERAL Italian restaurants that blow this away. C’mon New York! WTF?!? Get your Italian shit together.

As for our meal, we started with the croquettes, which proved to be nothing I would ever recommend ordering. Not cringe-worthy however, unless you consider how much money they cost, without returning to you an ounce of joy on your investment.

The kale salad came next and was painfully overrated. It’s like no one has ever had a kale salad before on the Il Buco review thread. Please people… go to The Fat Radish on the Lower East Side or to Yardbird in Miami. Both of their kale salads puts this one to shame.

The octopus was the only thing I would actually say was great. But if you truly want your eight-legged world rocked, try Pera near Grand Central, Gato in Noho or Pearl & Ash on Bowery.

As for entrees, the penne was overpowered by the cheese, so much so that you couldn’t even taste the other ingredients in the dish, such as Brussels sprouts, which aren’t exactly an easy flavor to drown.

The rabbit pappardelle was good. But a mere shadow compared to the glowing praise it receives on the Interwebs. And the homemade sorbets for dessert were so flavorless, we couldn’t even decipher what flavors they were, basically all tasting like balls of ice.

Fortunately the service was good. And the decor is quaint. But sadly, you can’t eat either of those. Unless you’re a cannibal, I suppose. Which might bode well for you, because the servers probably have more flavor than most of the dishes.

2 teeth

Terra Rustica

550 N State Rd. Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510 • (914) 923-8300terrarusticaristorante.com

 3

Looking for a change of pace from our usually places we go with the kids, we decided to roll the dice with Terra Rustica.

Upon entering, regret started creeping in fast as the decor is a bit dated, trying too hard to be nice, and by 1980’s standards no less.

My skepticism grew even further when it became clear that the staff was not Italian, but rather entirely Hispanic. Not that I have anything against Hispanics, it’s just that the odds tend to favor cuisine made by those who are indigenous to its origin. And yes, I’ve had  Japanese/Italian at Basta Pasta in NYC which only served to further prove said point.

And then came the first wave of food, the bread and olives and bruschetta. The bread was just eh. And the olives were pitted, which makes for convenience, but it also makes for dry olives. So not a great start. But then the tide started to turn, after all, this is a three knife review.

The bruschetta wasn’t half bad. And the frisee salad with apple was actually quite good.

The pizza was also pretty good. So were the pastas we had. Nothing was phenomenal mind you, but we weren’t expecting Fortina or The Cookery. So, all in all a successful venture.

And the service was friendly and attentive, which at the end of the day, is all that TRULY matters, not that they are Italian (nice save right?).

3 teeth

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

 

Mario’s Pizza

Mount Kisco Train Station1 Kirby Plaza Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 666-6338mariospizzapastamtkisco.com

thumb_600

Maybe I’m a pizza snob, but I don’t see it. And trust me, I wanted to see the shit out of it. I mean to have great pizza so close to my house would be a dream. But a dream it shall remain, because while the people are indeed great as many have stated and the wood-fired brick oven is nice, it doesn’t translate to the pies. I mean it’s not like the oven just magically makes pizzas great. You have to actually put something good into it first. And the sauce and the crust just aren’t special. They wind up disappearing in a haze of cheesy blah . Even the toppings/ingredients are nothing to boast. Not so fresh it will make you swoon or so inventive it will blow your mind.

So, now I’m sure the next question will be, well, what pizza places do you like in the Chester? Well, in Upper Westchester  I’d go with Fortina in Armonk hands down. But Village Social makes a decent pie too. So does Belizzi- if you only stick to The Belizzi (their special namesake pizza). And last but not least, Old Stone Trattoria deserves a bit of love as well.

In lower Westchester I really like Polpettina in Eastchester & Larchmont, The Cookery & The Parlor both in Dobb’s Ferry and Frankie & Louie’s in Port Chester. Any one of these places makes Mario’s taste like a box of frozen pizza bagels, not the pizza bagels, the box.

2 teeth

The Parlor

14 Cedar St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522 • (914) 478-8200 • theparlordf.com

11DINEWE2-videoSixteenByNine1050

If this was just about the food, it’d be an easy 5 knives. After all, ever since The Cookery opened, this chef can do no wrong in my eyes. That said, apparently the rest of his staff can…

From the moment we sat down our problems began, mainly because the seats we sat down on weren’t clean and my wife wound up staining her silk skirt on oily mushrooms left on her chair! Fortunately it was black silk, so it should hide it well. If not, should the owner be reading this, we might be sending you the DC bill.

But that was only the fair warning, which we failed to heed. Next came the pies, but not the beer I had asked for. And upon looking over at the bar, some ten minutes later, I witnessed the bartender at the far end, chatting up some friend, with no intentions of pouring my pint. But wait, it’s worse than that. He didn’t even pour it. All he did was open a bottle and hand it over with an empty glass- and the waitress didn’t even bother to poor the beer either. Nor did she ever clear the empty bottle from our over-crowed tiny table.

All this said, the pies were great, but we knew they would be as we have had them prior at The Cookery and at the Chappaqua Farmer’s Market (highly recommend the lemon- yes “lemon” pizza, and the asparagus pie). So, knowing how good the CHEF is, we pressed on for dessert, which was also pretty great. The oatmeal, bacon cookie with vanilla gelato. Great combo of flavors. Sadly, however, they managed to screw this up too, by serving it with 2 out 4 dirty side plates!!!

At this point I was almost a bit grossed out to be honest, as I started to fear for myself and my family as I sincerely doubt that this place meets health codes. I mean I totally get the grunge/dirty vibe of the decor, but taking it to the seats and the plates is pushing it.

3 teeth

The Cookery

39 Chestnut St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522(914) 305-2336thecookeryrestaurant.com

33880b74-ad85-4120-9053-8d93c5303d39

You should just take your socks off before the eating here, because they’re about to get blown off.

Apart from the best Osso Bucco I’ve ever had, they also make an amazing pasta with the very same pork, a killer quince salad, great octopus and two desserts that are out of this world, the chocolate polenta and the budino, which is done more like a bread pudding- no argument here.

And best of all, you can down every last bite with a stellar bottle of Amarone for only 60 bucks! And it’s in Westchester! Pinch me (just not on the tush, I’m a married man).

Seriously, this place honestly rivals every Italian restaurant I’ve eaten at in the city, which includes L’Artusi, Mailiano, Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Ciano, Carbone, Torrisi  and so on… The only thing we ever had that was a let down was the lasagna, too creamy and one note.

Also, one other small nit. Some people find the noise level a bit loud. For me, I let it slide, granted it does make it harder for you to hear yourself mmm-ing.

As for decor it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to be fair, but with food this good, your eyes are usually closed most of the time anyways, savoring every last bite.

5 teeth

Via Vanti!

Mount Kisco Train Station • 2 Kirby Plz. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 666-6400 • viavanti.com

ViaVanti_Meatball

If you want 4 star Italian or better, this isn’t it. I’m sorry Yelpers, but you must be smoking the oregano if you think this place is that incredible. It’s just okay at best. Granted I thought the service was worthy of 4 stars. But the food is only marginally better than an Olive Garden, with crazy inflated prices. Which is hard to believe that some of you thought it was a great value! I guess compared to NYC, but that’s not saying much.

Here’s the breakdown. I had a glass of their most expensive wine by the glass, basically an Italian Pinot Noir and it was hardly worth $6 much less the $15 they charged. And having just had a glass of wine two days prior at Village Social that was excellent, it only exacerbated the issue for me.

As a starter, we shared the sunflower seed salad with grapes, which was good, best thing we had.

And for entrees, we all had various pastas. The kids had farfalle with meatballs to the tune of $17 bucks each! Does this sound like a cheap place?

I had the Arribiata with Shrimp for $24, which was far from spicy and equally distant from worth it. Granted I like a lot of heat, but this thing didn’t even register on my scale. Tasted more like marinara.

The wife had the orcchiette and that was probably the best of the bunch, but there is a place in Irvington called Mima that makes a very similar dish, but does it about 5 times better.

And as for the gelato, “amazing” it is not. If you want “amazing,” go to Eataly in the city. Then you will know what amazing is. And this is not that.

But I suppose I only have myself to blame. I mean an exclamation point in the name is a pretty big hint that you’re not exactly in for a culinary delight.

Now, before I leave on a down note, I wanted to offer some sage advice; if you truly want excellent Italian at a great price in Westchester, then go to The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry. Sure it’s harder to get into, but that’s because it actually deserves its stars.

2 teeth