Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

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

Morandi

211 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10014 • (212) 627-7575  •  morandiny.com

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If star sightings are your thang or you simply melt over the thought of witnessing barrages of obnoxious air kisses over the shoulders of the maitre’d, you have come to the right place. It’s basically Pastis (RIP), resurrected and turned Italian.

Starting off on the wrong foot, they had us wait for 40 minutes even though we had a reservation, assumingly because they gave our table away to Cameron Diaz who just waltzed in and batted her alien eyes and viola! Miraculously a table just happened to be open in the midst of the dinner rush for the same size table as ours.

Once seated, at the a crap table thrown together with one copper two top and a wooden four top, crammed between the wait station and the hostess stand, they finally got around to serving us up a bottle of tepid rosé (it got better after chilling in the moat).

For appetizers, I actually can’t complain, although trust me, I want too so badly I can taste it. But I’ll be the bigger man and give Morandi the only props they earned that evening. The meatballs are a must. Moist and full of flavor. I’m guessing a ménage of meat (veal, pork & beef). I also enjoyed the buratta, but that’s not saying much, since it’s pretty rare that I don’t. The grilled artichokes were also nice. Simple, but nice. The octopus with celery was just okay, however. So much better pus to be had in the city. And the loser of the lot was the prosciutto and melon. The melon was under ripe and the prosciutto is nothing you can’t buy at any specialty market in the city.

Then the wait came. A full hour between the time they cleared our appetizers until they arrived with our entrees. And this is after making us wait 40 minutes to even be seated at a shitty table. I swear if I wasn’t with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while I would’ve walked out and told the place to take the bill and shove it up their affogato!

But I will exact my revenge toot sweet, because the pastas blew. The carbonara was a tried, overcooked bowl of mush and the hard rolled spaghetti with lemon was only a minute notch above that, clawing its way toward bland.

Suffice it to say we didn’t stay for dessert, otherwise I might’ve had to stab Cameron in the throat with a fork to ensure we got it before sunrise. You can also probably deduce at this point that this review is going south of the mid-line.

2 teeth

Bâtard

239 West Broadway New York, NY 10013(212) 219-2777batardtribeca.com

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While Batard is French by name, and European by description, the chef is more specifically Austrian and therefore so goes the cuisine, marked by certain dishes such as the off-menu schnitzel and the sizeable number of Austrian wines on the list.

Upon entering, you will be pleasantly surprised by the clean, elegant décor, especially after having seen the rather unassuming façade as you approached. The other surprise you are likely to notice is unfortunately unpleasant. The noise level is quite extreme, which takes a hair away from the romantic setting when you have to shout at your loved one the entire night. #acousticfail

Back on the plus side, the service was very good, without an ounce of pretense from host, to manager, to sommelier to waitress. Now on to the food!

Getting off to a rocky start, I was a bit surprised that there was no amuse bouche at such a high-end restaurant. To be fair, this is not the rocky part, but lumpy for certain. Where it got rocky for me was on the starters. The tete de cochon (pigs head) came as a strong recommendation from our server who made it sound far more interesting than it really was, basically a pork croquette topped with lard and placed over a kohlrabi slaw. The other was the lobster with avocado, fava beans and jicama. It was definitely the better of the two, but nothing I would ever strongly recommend.

Come round two, however, Batard served up a pair of knockouts. The first being the English pea tortellini in a pesto sauce with burrata broken up in such a unique way it almost tasted like ricotta. And the other knockout was the veal tenderloin. So tender you don’t even need teeth to chew it. It just melts in your mouth. And while that alone is noteworthy, the rest of the preparation was equally stupendous. They wrap the veal in a thin, flaky pastry and serve it next to a phenomenal grilled sweetbread and trumpet mushroom, which, upon request, they then douse in a veal jus that’s so sinful you’d have to be an asshole to pass it up. After all, the baby cow’s already dead. Might as well commit.

Come dessert I had my heart set on the caramelized milk bread with brown butter ice cream, having seen a picture (above) of it prior to dining here. But the dessert that stole my heart was the chocolate torte with tiny hazelnut semifreddos- so much better than the milk bread it tasted more like milk toast by comparison to the torte.

So while not entirely flawless, the highs at Batard are such that I can completely understand the hype. And whether or not it wins the James Beard for best new restaurant, it will most certainly be taking home two Ultimates, for veal and chocolate torte.

4 teeth

Lincoln

Lincoln Center 142 W 65th St. New York, NY 10023(212) 359-6500 •  lincolnristorante.com

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Apparently someone resurrected Frank Lloyd Wright and made him design a restaurant in Lincoln Center. The lines in the place are truly THAT stunning (as you can see from the photo above).

And the food doesn’t disappoint either. First, the wine list. A solid array of Italian. And one of the larger and fairer priced Amarone selections I’ve seen. Usually restaurants like these jack them up over two hundy to start.

Next, the bread. LOVE the wonderfully salty focaccia, but be careful. You’ll want to save room. I know, I sound like your mother…

For apps, the burrata starter is just killer. So creamy you’ll almost want to order another portion on the spot.

The Parpadelle with truffles, however, was a bit of let down I have to say. Mostly because the portion is SO small and SO expensive. And while good, it’s not as incredible as the price tag. The veal app is also a bit on the blah side. So I recommend sticking with the burrata. Or, upon my second visit I discovered a foie gras terrine that brings its own creamy game to the party.

As for entrees, there is a spicy pasta that I stole a taste of, which was very good, but unfortunately I can’t recall the name because I was too enraptured by my own main, the lamb shank. The lamb is fall off the bone moist, served over creamy polenta- need I say more? Plus, with the wine = cielo (heaven).

Also, as a side, we shared the eggplant parm– and as good as some of the other things were, this might have been the best thing of the night. Masterfully prepared on every level. A contrast of textures from the soft, gooey middle to the crispy caramelized skin. So thin. So good. So you better get it.

And yes, we still had room for dessert. And also yes, I could stand to show a little more self restraint. But the way I see it, if you’re gonna eat at a place like this, go big or go home.

So, back to dessert… the clear winner (we tried 3) was the pear tarte. Trust me, it’s all you need to know. It’s the perfecting ending to a great meal.

Oh, and last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. Love the giant bowling ball of ice that came with my Michters. A class act top to bottom, Lincoln is. But what else would you expect from Lincoln Center than a show-stopping performance?

4 teeth

Torrisi Italian Specialties

250 Mulberry St. New York, NY 10012(212) 965-0955torrisinyc.com

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Torrisi is what I love about New York. These small places that don’t get noticed by their grand facades, exorbitant prices and inflated reputation. They simply keep things modest, focused and excellent. And those three words pretty much sum up our experience, with a few minor transgressions- enough to cost it a knife, but 4 knives in my book ain’t too shabby.

So, first, the décor. The place is TINY. I guess it’s ironic that I made the word “tiny” big, but it was for emphasis. There are maybe eight tables total. Half of those being two-tops. So don’t even think of having a large party here. Also, with so few tables, you can imagine that even with a reservation, you will most likely have to wait for your table, like we did.

The service, while good, was a bit odd. Our waiter was great in helping us narrow down between two wines (the one we chose was superb “Latittia Domaine Reserve 2009 Pinot Noir”), but then, when it came to ordering a few extras off of the prix fixe, he became quit rigid, and almost pushy on the lobster dish. But, we were already doing the short rib special with sweet corn polenta, on top of the crazy food-a-palooza that was already coming. And in the end, we were glad we didn’t order the lobster- of which he was asking us to order four (one for each of us), which would’ve been a colossal waste of money, because we were stuffed going into dessert as is.

Which brings me to my only other gripe. Dessert was pretty lack luster. And they served four different ones! Not one of them was worth its salt, or should I say sugar? Must be something with this dynamic duo and sweets, because dessert sucked at Carbone as well.

Oh, and one of the appetizers was also a miss. The fluke ceviche. Way too fishy. Scallops were just “eh” as well.

But everything else, the fresh mozzarella with toast, the heirloom tomato salad, the veal wrapped in bacon with foie gras and peaches, the pasta Bolognese, and the short rib with sweet corn polenta were all outstanding.

Such a great place for an intimate date or a nice meal with good friends. Granted, probably no more than two friends or you’ll never get a table.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Slider

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The Little Owl – New York, NY

These little meatball sliders lure you in with their petite, cute appearance. Almost so small you could pop one in your mouth with a single bite. But it is after that first single bite that you realize you don’t want it to ever end. In fact, you’ll want to eat these sliders so slow you’ll feel like you’re in a highlight reel on Sportscenter.

To break ‘em down, I believe they are a classic mix of pork, veal and beef, placed upon a mini brioche with some kind of wonderful “special sauce” that punches so far above its weight these things probably put out more flavor per gram than anything anyone ever placed on top of a bun.

Animal – West Hollywood, CA

If I could marry a restaurant, it would probably be Animal. They have SO many of my Ultimates it’s crazy. Like their Pork Belly slider, dripping with BBQ sauce and a wonderfully creamy coleslaw that make this thing shine like the messy-ass glob of godliness that it is.

What also helps is that they always manage to keep the belly VERY moist. I can’t tell you how many times, even at great restaurants, that they serve it dry. I’m sorry, but what’s the point of hard, chewy belly? Anyways, Animal gets it. And they get how to make a rockin’ slider, which is all that really matters in the end.