Torchy’s Tacos

1311 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • 512) 366-0537 • torchystacos.com

Can 1458 Yelpers be wrong? Yes. Yes they can. Granted this local legend has multiple locations around Austin, so this is only an indictment of the one in the trailer, located at the address above. That said I have a hard time believing the food varies drastically from spot to spot based on the consistent, glowing reviews, so take this as you will…

Sadly, beyond the queso I can’t really say I was impressed. So let’s start there, since it was the only highlight of the meal. Thick and creamy and spicy, it blows away that watery qurap they serve over at Kerby Lane. This is stick-to-ribs perfection.

But in terms of the breakfast tacos, which was the whole reason we came, I was nonplussed. I can make better at home. Shit, my eight year old son can make better. No, seriously! Both the Migas and the Wrangler left me scratching my head, and not just because of the dandruff. They weren’t super spicy, or super flavorful or well-balanced or anything even remotely worth mentioning, despite decent attempts to load them up with interesting ingredients like pico de gallo, green chiles, smoked brisket and huevos, naturally. But try as they may, I still walked away muy disappointed.

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Lucca

Bebek, Cevdet Paşa Cd. No:51, 34342, Turkey • +90 212 257 1255 • luccastyle.com

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I’m not exactly sure what this place is trying to be, other than a place to be seen, because the menu is all over the map, covering everything from Japanese and Chinese to Mexican and even French cuisine. And while one could easily argue that this is the trend of most restaurants these days, siphoning influences from one cultural dish to inject into another, it is usually done with the focus of a through line. A theme, if you will. But here, that theme has zero to do with the food and everything to do with the fact that everyone around you is drop dead gorgeous, wearing as little clothes as is considered legal by the government- Sorry Erdogan, no burkas here. There are, however Mcalren’s and BMW i8’s- in fact the latter is the first I have ever seen on the road, and the former is only the second. So, to see both back to back in a matter of minutes is quite rare.

Sadly, the only other thing worth noting is the gin-based sangria (very refreshing and unique), but that’s to be expected from a “scene” I suppose, because most people are more concerned with looking dead sexy with a cocktail and a ciggy in their hand than actually eating anything. And it shows. The fish taco was begging for salsa to not only give it moisture, but heat, yet even if it did, the taco shell tasted like a pestemal (Turkish towel). Also in Mexicoland, the crab and avocado toast wasn’t much better, mainly because there was zero crab in it. Perhaps it was a typo and they meant “carb?”

Moving to Asialand, the crispy ponzu beef was nothing of the sort. It’s just crispy beef. The ponzu influence is either imperceptible or it crawled away with the crab. That said, crispy beef is probably not all that common in Turkey, so if you’re jonesing for some, it’ll do.

Italyland was also passable with a very basic rocket salad, done with artichokes and asparagus. Most likely the dish of choice between the cocktail and cigarette I mentioned earlier, after all, abs and buns of steel don’t grow on trees.

And finally Franceland, which may have been the worst showing of any nation, with a seared foie gras crostini lacking the sweet and savory contrast so iconic for the dish. As a result, it proved to be one of the blandest attempts at foie gras I have ever had. Which is sad. Mostly for the goose, whose torture went in vain.

Back on the plus side, the service was surprisingly good for such an affected place. Perhaps I should take this as a compliment, because not only were we treated well, we were seated at a choice table right at the front for all passersby to see. Then again, I’ll chalk that one up to wifey, because I sincerely doubt it was me who was supposed to be the eye candy.

2 teeth

The Black Ant

60 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 598-0300blackantnyc.com

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for restaurants named after colorful animals. The Purple Pig in Chicago, Yellow Dog Eats in Orlando, The Golden Goat in Eze, France… And there are many more where those came from- Well, now you add yet another to the list, The Black Ant, and while black is technically not a “color,” (it’s a value) if you can find it in a box of Crayolas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a color.

The place is very cozy and charming inside, playing to its name with a gigantic ant mural and ant wallpaper. And the service is rather jubilant (note the clever use of an adjective containing the word “ant” within it- two points for me!), a noteworthy plus to the dining experience, because it becomes infectious and it’s almost impossible to have a bad time here because of it. Well, because of that or the margaritas. And actually just the smoky jalapeno margarita, which was spicy and smoky as one might expect. The blood orange variety is actually a bit of a miss if you ask me. Much better ones to be had at ABC Cocina in the city or Truck in Bedford, NY.

As for the guac, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find better, or as interesting, made so by loading it with goodies like chipotle, black ant salt, quesillo and garbanzos done in a way that is very reminiscent of corn nuts, all waging a textural tango on your tongue, between creamy and crunchy.

The fries are also done with a cultural flair, foregoing the potatoes in lieu of cactus. Now I can’t exactly say I’ve had a plethora of cactus fries in my life to compare these with, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this is probably the most joy a cactus has ever given someone since peyote.

For a taco, I definitely recommend the enchapulinados (fried shrimp). But again, Black Ant doesn’t seem to do anything the easy way, so instead of coconut or panko these shrimp are crusted with grasshoppers. No, not the cocktail. The insect. Accompanied with habanero, garlic aioli and cabbage slaw, all lovingly dolloped on a homemade tortilla. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it is quite good.

As for my entrée, this was the biggest let down of the night, other than the blood orange margarita. I followed the recommendation of the waitress who suggested the buñuelos de pato, which are essentially fried wontons filled with duck, smothered in mole and cotija cheese, served up with a kumquat salad. It’s not bad I suppose, but after her two previous fried recommendations I started to get a little fried on fried things. And I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t recommend that short rib looker above or the stunning fish dish you’ll find on their website. I can only assume she just has a thing for fried foods, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility that she was trying to kill me.

Well, I would’ve thought that had she not followed it up with the best recommendation of the night, the Piña Loca for dessert. It’s a warm cake and ice cream served over a caramelized pineapple pancake and all I can say is muy bien!

Definitely a worthwhile visit and I look forward to returning with wifey. But when I do, I’m skipping the duck.

3 teeth

Cull & Pistol

75 Ninth Ave. New York, NY 10011(646) 568-1223 • cullandpistol.com

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Can I just say how much I love Chelsea Market? I mean as a foodie it’s like a dream in mall form. Fish markets, Italian markets, spice markets, meat markets, bakeries and restaurants lined up like culinary wishes come true. It’s a bit like Faneuil Hall in Boston, only cooler and less touristy. Not to mention less food courty. If you haven’t been you really need to take a stroll. And if you have been, but haven’t tried one of the restaurants yet, well, you need to do that too (Hale & Hearty Soups withstanding).

I did just that very recently at Cull & Pistol and I have to say, I was pleased & delighted. The vibe is fish shack chic and the service is surprisingly warm and friendly for NYC, from door to table and back again. Not many tables though, so I recommend making a rezzy or going at an off-hour.

Impressing the palate were some of the freshest oysters I think I’ve ever had. Granted I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising considering they are affiliated with the Lobster Place fish market next door. That said, I didn’t think they had as huge a selection as some other joints in town, but I think they are playing it for quality not quantity and quality they were. My favorite being from Osterville, MA funny enough, which is near and dear to my heart for other reasons as well, I spent many a summer there over the years.

If you don’t dig on the raw variety, however, I highly recommend their fried option, called Pistols on Horseback. Three fried oysters wrapped in prosciutto with crème fraíche and chives sitting atop a mini tortillas. I’m not sure why the name, but I’m pretty damn sure you’ll like ‘em.

The grilled octopus was one of the weaker dishes IMO, but most certainly not bad. Perhaps it’s more due to the fact that I’ve had some pretty astounding plates of pus lately and this was not amongst them.

For the main course I went right into the eye of the storm, ordering the highly acclaimed Connecticut Lobster Roll (pictured), well-knowing that head-to-head with Red Hook Lobster Pound this would most likely pale, and pale it did. Again, most definitely not bad by any distortion of logic, in fact, it was actually very good, but it’s also no Ultimate.

And for dessert, C&P ended strong with a very tasty slice of lemon meringue pie. Not too sweet, with that perfect punch of tartness, which is just how I like it. And like it I did, from the first bit to the last… and from Cull to Pistol… not that I have any idea what that even means.

3 teeth

Fire Belly

Madison Eats • 1107 Broadway New York, NY • (917) 727-2169 • https://www.facebook.com/SLKBBQ

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I wish I loved the tacos as much as the name. Granted, one could argue that a “fire belly” isn’t exactly what you want after eating, because we all know the next stop and that train, and there are few things on this Earth worse than a fire bung hole. So now that you’ve thoroughly lost your appetite, let me tell you all about what you will miss.

I opted for the taco trifecta, my name, not theirs, comprised of bulgogi (beef), crispy spicy shrimp and veggie. All served on a soft tortilla and all topped with a vital kimchi kick. The best of the three for me was the shrimp. Good heat. The batter-fried prep kept the shrimp nice and moist and the shrimp were also pretty decent in size. Not that krill crap you tend to get in shrimp salads and popcorn shrimp orders.

Second up would be the veggie taco. Nice flavors poking through, but to be fair, you really only taste the kimchi. And lastly, the biggest miss of the trio, the bulgogi. Such a shame too because of all three tacos this was the one I was most excited about. Reason being, way back when I was a kid, I used to help out busing tables at a pan-asian restaurant. I was very friendly with the family who owned it and at the end of my shifts the owner would always make me my favorite dish… bulgogi. Well, this is no bulgogi. More like something else that starts with bull. It was dried out, chewy sinew.

So 2-1 is the score, which would probably put us at a three knifer under normal circumstances, but when you compare it to the likes of something like Korilla, I have a hard time going over two.

2 teeth

Oxido

18 W 23rd St. New York, NY10010(212) 256-1072 • oxido.nyc

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I struggle to love this place simply because I don’t understand why you would copy Chipotle only to deliver slightly under that bar. I mean at least with Tres Carnes they upped the game. Or with Indikitch they went Indian instead of Mexican.

Oxido is not bad, mind you. And, it’s closer to my office than Chipotle or Tres Carnes, which is a nice convenience after the epically shitty winter we just had. But once, or rather IF the ice ever thaws, I think Oxido will struggle to keep their doors open through the warmer months.

Reason being that their menu reads better than your palate can discern. Things like poblano chicken, sweet corn relish, cilantro guac, smoked jalapeno salsa, queso blanca and salsa fresca all sound like a who’s who of Mexican magnificence, but once they wrap it all up in that tortilla it all blends together like a Mex-o-matic with virtually no separation in flavors.

Lastly, the décor is nothing special and a bit of a subway car in shape, located on the gravesite of Energy Kitchen (RIP), which I affectionately used to refer to as “Cardboard Kitchen,” so at least this is a step above its predecessor. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.

2 teeth