Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Tredwell’s

4A Upper Stret Martin’s Lane London WC2H 9NY United Kingdom Covent Garden • +44 20 3764 0840 • tredwells.com

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I so love the vibe here. The moment you walk in you’re hit with the palpable energy of a live pianist striking the ivories beneath a huge clock made out of knives, hanging two stories up on an exposed brick wall. Apparently Marcus Wareing knows how to make an entrance!

He also knows how to make a mean steak, the hangar easily being the best thing we had, cooked like a pro and made even bestier by the braised shallots and a crack-like peppercorn sauce.

The other dish worthy of adulation is the duck. An off-menu prep that sings like a choir boy on Ecstasy, trying out for The Voice while getting simultaneous purple nurples on both pecs. In other words, it was good.

Beyond that though, I found most of the other dishes to be a bit of a let down, from the buratta with romesco and pardon peppers to the pumkin ravioli in hazelnut sauce to the truffled mac and cheese. Okay, so that last one was pretty decent, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to find at a dozen million other places far less schamncy than this. So no points there.

No points for the chocolate cake or the lemon square either. But hells yeah! on the salted caramel soft serve parfait thingy. I just about got my face stuck in the glass.

3 teeth

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant

36 Railroad PlWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-0810 • harvestwinebar.com

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Located across the street from the train station, Harvest makes for a great place to eat either right before a train or right after, at the end of a long workday when no one at home wants to cook and you’re not sure what you want to eat (guilty as charged), Harvest offers a jack of all trades menu with a few hits, a few misses and a lot of creativity.

Starting with the wines by the glass, you will find Conundrums in both red and white. So right there you have two solid reasons to visit. The vibe is also pretty cool, although the crowd both times I ate here was a bit sparse.

In round one, I enjoyed the veal chop, prepared with a red wine truffle glaze, creamy spinach, baby carrots and parmesan. But the real winners were salmon tartar with jalapenos, baby arugula, lemon zest and potato chips for salty scooping. So yum.

The surprise winner for me was the crispy artichoke starter. It just sounds and looks like it’ll be heavy, but somehow they are magically light and wonderful. So much so that this was my favorite thing.

Come round two I found the pear and endive salad to be decent but the octopus start is a big miss. Only because of its chewy consistency. The preparation is actually quite good. Basic, but good. Mainly avocados, tomato and red peppers. And funny enough, the exact same prep was used on my favorite dish of round two, the crispy crab cakes.

Now I just need to return and get the artichokes and the crab cakes and I’ll have the perfect meal.

3 teeth

Prova Pizzabar

Grand Central Terminal • 89 E 42nd St. New York, NY 10017 (212) 972-0385provapizzabar.com

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First of all, Pizzabar isn’t even a word. Granted neither is bigly, but that apparently didn’t stop 60 million people from voting for Trump, so go figure. But putting aside frivolous things like the the English language, let’s get down to brass tax (which will also be lower under a Trump presidency- sorry, just can’t help myself).

Tucked away in a corner of Grand Central’s lower level you will find a new pizza place on the site where Two Boots used to reside (RIP). So sad too, because this place is nowhere near as good. Granted Two Boots lost a shoe over the years, particularly after they retired the Night Tripper, which was my favorite. Followed by the Bayou Beast. I’m getting all emotional just thinking about it.

As for Prova, it proved to be quite a step down from its predecessor, starting with the most important ding of all, it’s thick crust. WTF?! This isn’t Chicago people! As a result, the dough overwhelms the toppings, particularly on the veggie pie which was virtually tasteless, even with copious sprinklings of red pepper flakes. Slightly better is the namesake pie, the Prova, topped with truffled burrata, cherry tomatoes, arugula and proscuitto. But not even the truffled burrata was good enough to ever bring me back.

2 teeth

Mario by Mary

2 Pennsylvania Plaza New York, NY 10121 (917) 475-1830thepennsy.nyc/mario-by-mary

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I have to admit I’ve become a bit of a Pennsy groupie, eating from there roughly three or more times a week. But as life-saving as it is to have this treasure trove just a stone’s throw away from my office, the Pennsy is unfortunately not the Solla Sollew I once thought it to be.

But shockers of all shockers, the weak link isn’t either of the two “healthy” options, as Cinnamon Snail and Little Beet both carry their weight like a champion sumo wrestler. No, the disappointment comes from the prodigal son, Mario Batali and his partner in blah, Mary.

Having now had not one, but two different grilled cheeses there, I walked away very unsatisfied both times. The first time going with the honey and truffle sandwich and the second time rolling the dice on the eggplant. As a backhanded compliment, I will say that the pickled veggie salad they give you on the side is actually pretty nice though. But not good enough to make up for the fact that you’d be better off heading a few blocks over to No. 7 Sub. So be warned Mario and Mary, I’m gonna give you one last shot, because I have my eye on that Cubano (pictured), but this is make it or break it time, so if you don’t bring it like a cheerleader on Adderall,  you could very easily slide to a one.

2 teeth

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.

4 teeth

Dish

1100 O St. Lincoln, NE 68508 • (402) 475-9475 • dishdowntown.com

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Just blocks from the Cornhuskers’ campus, which basically makes up 25% of Lincoln, you will find a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant. Granted the bar out here is about as low as city’s skyline. And although Dish boasts a horribly dated 80’s décor (sadly not due to theme or sardonic intent) I found myself liking the place.

The largest contribution to the likeage of which I speak came very early on in the form of an Ultimate Cornbread. I guess that’s to be expected in corn country. Served up as crispy cubes of sweet corn and jalapeno, topped with candy bacon. It might just be the greatest thing Lincoln has ever done, including winning the National Title. So wonderfully crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, with spicy and sweet contrasts, I could’ve just done two plates of these and called it a day.

The other appetizer on the table, the scallop bruschetta, was also pretty good, but after tasting that cornbread I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere. That said, it’s much less interesting than it sounds. Basically a thinly sliced disk of scallop placed over a crostini.

Come entrée time, I kinda had my sights missile-locked on something beef related. After all, it’s also cattle county. But strangely enough, the majority of the menu is actually seafood, which is bold for a land-locked state. Regardless, I stayed on target and went with the one meat dish, the filet, which was definitely good, but a bit heavy on the garlic. Granted, when you cut it with the jalapeno drizzle on plate, the result was quite tasty.

The only true misses for me, apart from décor, came during dessert where Dish went a dismal 1 for 4. The flourless chocolate cake with mint ice cream tasted no better than something you might expect to be served in a small town diner guilty of overreaching its capabilities. And the grilled peach trifle wasn’t much better. The truffle trio, however, was a step in the right direction, but that was probably more a dimension of comparative goodness, tasting like a notch above a Whitman’s Sampler.

But the best of the four came as a bit of a shock to be honest. The ginger gelato was creamy and refreshing and palate cleansing, which was much appreciated after three sub par desserts that I only wish I could have also cleansed from my waistline.

3 teeth

Mint Premium Foods

19 Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591 • (914) 703-6511

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I’ve always loved this place ever since it was on the other side of the street and just a specialty shop, so when I heard they picked up sticks and crossed the street to open a restaurant I was all “yoinks!”

And when I saw what they had done with the place, “ooo la la!” Not in a fancy shmancy way though. More like an authentic quaint shop you might expect to find in Provence.

Now I know some people complain about the price/portion size ratio but I have to say, the Truffle Eggs Benny was anything but small. Pricey, perhaps. But let’s be fair, it’s covered in lox and caviar. If you want to stay under 10 bucks go grab an Egg McMuffin. So where was I? Oh yes, the salmon and the caviar over potatoes and English muffin with the headliners, of course, poached eggs and Hollandaise. It sounded like the stuff foodgasms are made of, and I typically loves me the caviar and eggs thing, but for some reason this didn’t meet expectations. Somehow the truffles brought out too much of the fishiness and saltiness of the caviar. The English muffins, which looked like Thomas’, were overpowered- should’ve used a more substantial, homemade muffin or bread. The potatoes needed more seasoning, because they disappeared into the sauce. And the H-sauce could’ve stood for some more kick to cut through. But this is all getting very nitpicky. It’s still good, it just doesn’t hold up to the raves. There is similar version at Joseph Leonard using crème fraiche as opposed to H-sauce and it blows this away. Or as they say in France… coups il loin. I have zero idea if that’s an accurate translation or not. But if not, blame Google.

So, when all is said and done, I still feel compelled to give Mint 3 knives, regardless of the over-hyped Benny, because truly love the market side of things. So many great cheeses and cured meats, and olives and artisanal jarred goodies that it’s enough to carry them over line of three-dom.

3 teeth

 

Animal

435 N. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036 • (323) 782-9225 • animalrestaurant.com

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I think the only way to describe Animal’s menu is “gourmet stoner food.” No joke. Throw everything you know about food out the window should you choose to dine here. The combinations going on in virtually every dish seem like they were thrown together by a crazy man. Crazy like a fox. Because they work like gang busters. Foie gras biscuits with maple gravy? What?! Are you kidding? No- it’s friggin’ genius! As is the steak smothered in parm truffle fondue. Even the bacon brittle for dessert.

The grilled octopus is also amazing, as are the calf brains and the lamb cavatelli. And one bite of the pork belly sliders and you’ll see god. Or whichever deity you worship. Also, one more dessert to add to my list of lovin’, the tres leche is just punch yourself in the face killer. Oh, and the sticky toffee bread pudding aint too shabby either- I guess at this point it’s safe to say that this is my favorite restaurant in LA. And top ten worldwide. Ballsy, I know, but I promise it lives up to the hype.

Also, one of the better selections of wines by the glass (as opposed to bottle) should you be the one driving home afterwards.

P.S. Skip the Poutine. Not sure why people rave about it amidst SO many better dishes.

5 teeth