Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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Via Sforza

243 Post Rd WWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 454-4423 • viasforza.com

Okay. I’ll admit that the décor in this place is so cheesy it’s almost a non-starter. I mean it does absolutely nothing for ones confidence when you enter, looking more like something you would find in Epcot or Vegas with its fake fresco walls and amusement park aesthetic.

But what they lack in taste they make up for in flavor, because the food is shockingly good. Just order yourself up a plate of their wonderfully fresh, well-balanced avocado salad and you will see, and taste, for yourself a skillfully balanced display of favors and textures like cucumber, radish, dried cranberries and pecans.

After that, I recommend chasing it with a kickass Cavatelli that doesn’t go bashful on the garlic. Loaded with freshly shaved ricotta salata, garden tomatoes, peppery arugula and perfectly al dente swirls of pastacularness.

Even my wine by the glass was great. The only miss for me was actually the bread that comes with the table. But when the food is this good, I’d rather not fill up on the bread anyway.

Pizzeria C’e

Türkbükü Mah. Gaffur Kaynar Cad.88 Sok. No: 11/A 48400 Bodrum, TK • +90 252 3776066pizzeriace.com

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Never more does one have to trek all the way from Turkbuku into Bodrum for a decent slice. And while I’m not exactly sure they are as good as Vespa, they are a hell of a lot more convenient. That’s assuming you can get a table, of course, because it’s cok kucuk (Turkish for “very small”). Granted that’s also part of its charm. And the good news is that if you can’t get a table, you can always do take out.

Part of what makes the pies as good as they are is that the husband and wife who own the place took a trip to Italy specifically to learn how to make kick ass pizza! And I can’t think of a better reason to go to Italy, so props on the mission accomplished.

Of the three pizzas we tried, the sausage with chili peppers was the clear winner, getting a hefty boost from the heat delivered by those home grown chili’s. Look out though, because it’s WAY hotter than the typical red pepper flakes you get at your other pie places.

In second I would score the margherita. You really taste the freshness of all the ingredients from the crust to the sauce to the cheese and even the garden basil leafs on top. It’s not anything that would ever rival New York, but it has some game.

In last for me would be the pear and gorganzola white pie. The miss really coming from the lack of sweetness in the pears, which is supposed to cut the stank savoriness of the cheese. But it faintly shows up and leaves you with a clump of blue cheese on a crust, more or less.

Other things worth mention are the arugula salad with dried cranberries and walnuts and manchego. It was good, but more so as an accompaniment. Would never suggest it as a main event.

Also the bottle of cabernet we shared was quite good and decently priced, granted at three lira to the dollar, virtually every restaurant in Turkey is a bargain these days. I guess while military coups aren’t great for tourism and the economy, they do bode well for foodies. #silverlining

3 teeth

Plage Belles Rives

32 Boulevard Edouard Baudouin 06160 Juan les Pins, France+33 4 93 61 02 79 • bellesrives.com

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According to legend, the Hotel Belles Rives is where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night back in 1925 and while that may very well be true, it has little to do with the food at their restaurant, which at the end of the day is all I really care about. Sorry Scotty.

Funny coincidence, though, this place seems to be attracting famous writers ever since, because I actually dined with Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Two writers I infinitely admire and while that alone should be worth 5 knives, the restaurant was not, even with its unprecedented writer juju.

The other thing Belles Rives has going for it is the view, but if you’re going to head all the way over to Antibes from Cannes, then I’m not exactly sure why you would stop here as opposed to Eden Rock, which is far more stunning on every metric imaginable.

But since this is where I was, and not at Eden Rock, I partook in a feast of average, starting with an octopus salad, tossed over potatoes, tomatoes and onion. This was chased by an unmemorable sea bream with potato puree, roasted tomato and passion fruit.

The unexceptional performance persisted through dessert with an inventive sounding sea urchin lemon meringue. And while you are probably wondering what kind of Chopped basket brought upon this insane combo of sea urchin in dessert form, please don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out, because the dish is nothing of the kind. It’s just a lemon tart in dome form, with meringue spines poking out all over the place to make it sort of loosely resemble the shape of a sea urchin. Sort of how the restaurant sort of resembles a place you might actually think was worth the money, but it isn’t.

Nonetheless, it will still be a meal I will never forget, because how often is it that you get to hang with geniuses the likes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen friggin’ Dowd?!

2 teeth

Husk

76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-2500 • huskrestaurant.com

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Charleston just might be the only place on Earth where heading down a deserted alley would be sage advice, because when you do, you will find some of the most charming buildings, forested crypts and even parking lots that will take your breath away! In fact, the alleys are so stunning that they put the streets to shame. Granted that’s not saying much, since most of the main drags are swarming with a touristy hell.

But within this swamp of tank tops, mandals, and baseball caps that promise to “Make America Great Again,” there is a beacon of hope that goes by the name of Husk. Located in an old historic landmark, the building has been impeccably refurbished and decorated to the nines inside, my guess is by a SCAD alumni.

But a secret she ain’t, in fact, the news has spread so far and wide that I heard about this place from two different people in Cannes, France, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance, because this James Beard winning haunt packs ‘em in as if they were selling the antidote to Walkers (I felt it fitting to have a Walking Dead reference, being that much of it is shot in the Carolinas). And they flock here for good reason, because it doesn’t take long for them to impress, kicking things off with a magically refreshing Blueberry Hill cocktail, made with tequila, blueberries (obviously), orange juice and jalapeno for that nice little hit of spice to balance the sweet. Granted it’s more refreshing than it is anything else.

Another early crowd-pleaser was their bread. Baked with salty goodness in the form of bacon, I haven’t had anything like it since Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP). But try to contain yourself, because you’ll want to save room, and lots of it, after all, this is the South, and land of the lighter fare it is not.

For our appetizer, wifey and I split the hushpuppies based on the waitress’ recommendation, and while I liked her very much, I think she missed it wide on those puppies. I’ve had droves of better.

Also disappointing for me was the panzanella salad with fried chicken. The salad, was rather basic and while the chicken had great smokiness, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. Plus, I hate to say it, but I’ve had MUCH better fried chicken in Orlando at Highball & Harvest as well as in New York City (blasphemy!) at ABC Kitchen.

But just as the hype started to exceed the reality, the shrimp and grits rose to the occasion, done in such a way that almost tasted more like a sweet corn polenta, topped with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was in a legue of its own and only bested by one other, at Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately Husk is not exactly the storied success it was built up to be, but it also had its moments. Therefore I think it’s a worthwhile stop amongst your visit, should you grow hungry in your search for alleys.

3 teeth

Rebelle

218 Bowery New York, NY 10012(917) 639-3880rebellenyc.com

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As soon as I learned that Pearl & Ash had a sibling, I started drooling from places I never even knew existed. But I’m not gonna lie, the other half of me was as nervous as a Albert Brooks in Network, because what are the odds that they could pull it off again?

Upon entering, once again, they managed to stick the landing on a cool, yet casual décor (granted I think P&A is still nicer). But when it comes to the service, not so much. They are so slow I would strongly advise that you not make any after-dinner plans other than retirement. On the upside, however, they are pretty spot on with the recommendations.

Exhibit A being from the equally slow sommelier who redeemed herself with a killer bottle of wine that was a quarter of the price of what I was going to do, and it was every bit as amazing. Glad the tradition of a brilliant vino list made it’s way up the street.

Then came the food and the presentations were gorge from start to finish. Speaking of, definitely skip the bread and do yourself a solid by getting the duck ham. It comes with some bread of its own and it is very worth the wait. Not at all like the version of the dish I had at Cask & Larder in Orlando, which was more of an homage to a candied ham, whereas this one is much more like a prosciutto. But while the two are very different, they are both stellar in their own ways.

The other STARter was the lobster with cabbage and herbs. Probably the best lobster dish I’ve had since Marc Forgione’s, which if you follow that link, you will soon learn that this is some very high praise.

After that, I would say the next best app of the night was the beef tartar, made dead sexy by the addition of sunchoke, horseradish and garlic. The only snore of the openers being the white asparagus salad with beurre blanc and summer truffle.

For the entrees, shockingly the chicken ruled the roost. A unique presentation in a juicy rectangle of love, made all the lovelier with a bright lemon preserve, sorrel and some killer potatoes.

The duck three ways, with frisee, pistachio and pearl onions. It was my second favorite, but the duck sausage was really the high mark of the dish. Had the entire plate just been the sausage I think it might’ve been the belle of the ball.

The weakest of the mains was the pork with romesco, Brussels sprouts and piperade, which is a Basque dish made with onions, peppers and tomatoes. It’s a noble attempt that’s just not at the level of anything else- other than the asparagus salad.

For dessert, the coconut cream tart is cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs-drop-dead-tastic. Simple and flawless, with nothing more to it than passion fruit, lime and the key to happiness.

The chocolate torte, on the other hand, was seriously upstaged, but not for a lack of trying. Made from a caramelia ganache and accompanied with sheep’s milk sorbet it just doesn’t get’r done. I say skip it and focus all of your efforts on the coconut tart. It demands your attention.

So the verdict is in. Pearl and Rebelle go two for two. Which, as we all know, equals four.

4 teeth

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

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Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Bobby Van’s Steakhouse

John F. Kennedy International Airport, Terminal 8 • JFK Expy & S Cargo Rd. Jamaica, NY 11430(718) 553-2100bobbyvans.com

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This probably isn’t fair to say, because I had a grilled veggie sandwich at a steakhouse, but then again, if you put it on your menu, you should be willing to stand behind it, regardless of genre.

That said, it wasn’t awful. My only gripes were that the bread seemed like something you could find at Stop & Shop. And, the tomatoes were cut into the harder core near the stem.

Also, the side salad was pretty bad. Tasteless really.

Service was great, however. And decor is nice by airport standards.

2 teeth