Il Leone Mastrantonio

22 Cobern Street | corner of Prestwich, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa
+27 21 421 0071 • www.mastrantonio.com/il-leone-mastrantonio

This cozy Italian charmer is a pleasant surprise for being hell and gone from Italy. But as good as it is, I assure you it is nowhere even close to as good as the reviews make it out to be on Google and TripAdvisor. So go in with tempered expectations and I think you’ll be happy.

From the outside to the inside, the place has an inviting old-school vibe about it. Sadly, the crowd has an old-school vibe as well, so keep your voice down, because apparently at several places in Cape Town people like to eat in libraries. Luckily they don’t live in New York or they might starve. Either that or they’d live off takeout.

But I digress. In terms of the food, they kick it off right with a visit to the wine room to check out their offerings firsthand. The antipasti offerings are also solid, from the creamy buratta to the grilled octopus and bruschetta. Nothing exceptional, however. The real stars are their pastas. I had both the Bolognese and the carbonara and both hit the el spoto. Again, nowhere near Ultimate status, but for South African Italian, you could do a lot worse.

Like with dessert for example. I found their gelatos to be so lacking in flavor it was hard to tell which flavor was which, coming off more as just scoops of frozen cream.

Four Ways

1 Middle Rd, Bermuda • +1 441-236-6517 • http://www.fourwaysinn.com

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I know this place is a historic icon, but I can actually think of about five ways it’s overrated. The first being the “elegant décor.” Yes, if you’re idea of elegance hasn’t changed since the 70’s. Second would be the top billing as the best restaurant in Bermuda. I actually enjoyed myself more at the Swizzle Inn and the Ariel Sands restaurant.

Third would be the “award-winning chef,” which is just about the most over-used claim at restaurants apart from “heirloom” and “homemade.” That latter one being a major pet peeve of mine, because if you make it at a place of business and not in an actual home, then it’s “restaurant-made” isn’t it? Just like almost everything else at most restaurants. But back to the “awards.” What awards are we talking here? James Beard? Best of Bermuda? Or third place at a local bake off? Which is technically still an award won, and thus my gripe with the term. Don’t tell me he’s award-winning, tell me which award he won. Otherwise I’m just going to assume he won it for bowling. After all, you didn’t say the award had anything to do with his culinary skill.

And that brings me to the fourth way, the food itself. It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the swoons you’ll read on Tripadvisor. The fish was overcooked and dried out. The dishes were over-complicated and trying way too hard to impress. I’ll just chalk it up to the fact that most people think things taste better on vacation.

While I’m at it, I’ll also chalk up the fifth way, price. Thank god I ate here on an expense account, because the food simply doesn’t live up to the wallet-syphoning cost, which is made only worse by the exchange rate, the island mark-up and the fact that lobster is used in almost every dish except the desserts.

2 teeth

Osteria Enoteca San Marco

Calle Frezzeria • Venezia, Veneto, IT 30124 • 041-528-5242 • osteriasanmarco.it

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The problem with most Venice restaurants is that they are SO touristy. Almost all of them. Each playing the part that they think visitors supposedly want to see when they come to town. Their menus loaded with dishes as old as the city itself, served in preparations with the same carbon dating. Even the waiters feel like career guys, so out of touch with modern day cuisine and the upping of its game that if you cut them in half and counted their rings they’d probably predate the Redwood Forest.

This grew so tiresome and frustrating for me and the wife as our expectations for great Italian were incredibly high. And each of the places we were sent by Yelp and TripAdvisor and even our Concierge all proved to be more of the same crap. That is, until we put the screws to our concierge and told him we wanted Venice’s A game. No more touristy bullshit.

He evidently got our message loud and clear, because the place he suggested was the only place I would recommend in Venice, Osteria San Marco. Located just off of San Marco Square as the name would suggest, it is a contemporary beacon of hope where we thought all was lost. From décor to service to menu it is modern and energetic and most importantly, delicious. Almost everything was great. With the highlight of the meal coming from the most unlikely of sources, an artichoke. But not just any choke. The best artichoke dish we have ever had, served in a marinated disc of layered perfection.

So skip all of the others and their fritto mistos and pedestrian pastas and blaze a trail to Osteria.

P.S. To be fair, there was one other place in Venice I would’ve recommended, but I believe it’s no longer. Al Marco (RIP). A wonderful hole in the wall, literally speaking, offering up a Di Parma sandwich the likes of which most pigs could only hope to be cured. Placed on a dreamy rustic Italian bread and served with an incredible glass of red wine. Both to be enjoyed right there in the middle of the charming Venetian alley.

4 teeth

The Reel Inn

18661 Pacific Coast Hwy. Malibu, CA 90265(310) 456-8221 • reelinnmalibu.com

 Inside the Reel Inn

It’s a bit of a shack when it comes to décor, but very much with intention, and that’s sort of its charm. Kinda like the restaurant version of a Pug. But the thing I love about this place is that you actually get to choose your piece of fish right out of the case (pictured), as though you were in a fish market, so you know it’s fresh. The other thing I love is that you get to choose how you want it done. I always go blackened with dirty rice and veggies. Oh, and a beer. Or two.

And while this place used to be worthy of the 4 stars you’ll find on TripAdvisor it has unfortunately slid over the last five years or so, hence my lower knife count for a review featuring the word “love” so much. It’s still a solid good, though. But let’s just hope it doesn’t slide any farther or it’ll wind up in the Pacific. Which might be a good thing now that I think of it. A poetic return to its roots, so to speak.

3 teeth

Tholos

Gialos | Port de Symi, dodécanèse, +30 2246072003 , Greece
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People seem to rave about the view here and while it is most certainly nice, it’s also not unlike virtually every other harbor-facing restaurant in the region, of which there are scads.

And as for the food, it’s just okay. Your typical Greek fare with no extreme twists or highs. Of the semi-highs, or should I say semi-high in the singular, was the rocket salad with Cretan cheese- soft and porous like Swiss, but earthy and grassy like grana. On the so-so side, the warm gigante bean salad with tomatoes, the fava bean puree and the tzatziki, which was a tad too garlicky.

Service was friendly and attentive as it seemed to be everywhere on the island, but the place really is nothing as special as the TripAdvisor crowd cracks it up to be.

2 teeth

Sanaa

Animal Kingdom Lodge 3701 Osceola Pkwy. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-3463

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I’m guessing Indian and African fare is few and far between in the rest of the country, but by New York City standards, there’s a place this good, or better, every ten blocks. But that’s only in reference to the food. The service was actually pretty slow. They took us late for our reservation and ultimately sat us across from the service station in a half empty restaurant.

Now as for the food, skip the lamb sliders. They are VERY dry and therefore don’t “slide” anywhere. They just sit their in your mouth begging your saliva ducts to bring a little moisture to the party.

Then there is very mild fish curry dish that is so mild it’s not even worth remembering the name. Apparently mild means boring to the chef. Fortunately there is a spicy curry dish as well, and it is MUCH better, meaning I actually ate it. In fact, it was so much better than the fish, I dumped the fish into the spicier sauce just to make it worth opening my jaws.

The only other thing we had at the table was a special fish dish, which was a solid good, but a far cry from the stars people are throwing down on TripAdivsor and Yelp in praise of this extremely mediocre restaurant. But please don’t think I’m just some New York Foodie Snob (granted I am) hating on Disney. There are two other restaurants over at The Boardwalk Hotel, that blow Sanaa out of the water jungle, Cat Cora’s Kouzzina and Flying Fish Cafe.

2 teeth