Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

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The Ultimate Creamed Corn

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I think the thing I love the most about eating at steakhouses is the fact that you get to eat your vegetables like a kid again. Creamed spinach, creamed corn, mashed potatoes- you name it, everything is so jacked up on sugar and butter you don’t even know where the veggies end and dessert begins. And that’s exactly why these two corns of the cream are Ultimates with a capital U.

Mastro’s – Los Angeles, CA

Within the tapestry of creamed corns I’m really not sure if I’ve ever had a bad one, to be honest. That doesn’t exclude the possibility for there to be ones that are even better than great, however. And this is where Mastro’s steps in to claim it’s rightful ownership of the pedestal. A simple, faithful recipe without much to it beyond béchamel, salt and pepper. But apparently that’s all it takes to blow you away.

Quality Italian – New York, NY

As if creamed corn weren’t decadent enough, the folks at QI felt the need to go one better and brulee the stuff. That’s right, the same creamy, corny goodness you’ve come to know and love is then topped with a crackling ceiling of melted sugary sweetness, turning what was once considered a side dish into the main event.

Untamed Sandwiches

43 W 39th St. New York, NY 10018(646) 669-9397 untamedsandwiches.com

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Move over No.7 Sub, there’s a new game in town, just 10 blocks North, packing some serious skill between two slices of bread. But like No. 7, the ingredients list reads like a basket in an episode of Chopped, sourcing and mixing with reckless abandon. This place is undoubtedly destined for franchise greatness, so get in on the ground floor before it goes wide.

The bread alone is simply magnificent, a mini rustic Italian hero with great crunch on the outside, and just the right amount of air on the inside so as not to overpower the mastery of the innards.

As for the masterful innards of which I speak, let’s begin with the most masterful of them all, the Sheemakers Bounty, made with charred broccoli, fried almond butter, pickled raisin jelly and cress. Yes, a surprise vegetarian underdog takes the pole position. But don’t be thrown by the notion of broccoli in sandwich form, because the only thing crazy about it is how crazy good it is.

A close second for me would be the Nettle Neck. Once again, a road less travelled, like the Sheemaker, but I assure you these are the shiznit, contrary to the popular vote. The Nettle is made with braised lamb neck, walnut nettle pesto, gruyere and both pickled and charred onions. The tenderness of the neck meat assimilates with the other ingredients on the sandwich so well, it’s like utopia on a hoagie.

After that I’d go with The Butt (insert joke here), garnering its name from the headliner ingredient, cider braised pork butt. The pork is then accompanied by broccoli rabe, pepper jelly, sharp cheddar and Dijon. And while the thought of sinking your teeth into the backside of Wilber might be off-putting to some, for me it was kickass. No ifs ands or butts. Sorry… I had to.

In fourth, the Carla Bruni was almost as delicious as its namesake is beautiful. Loaded up with Ciambotta style (Southern Italian stew) braised vegetables, goat cheese, olive spread and basil. Again, a solid showing from the vegetable contingent, but compared to the Sheemaker, the Carla Bruni is more like Carla Hall.

After that, the sandwiches become a little more mortal, but not just because they are more mainstream and not for a lack of trying. For example, the General Zapata offers nice heat from its pickled jalapenos, but the chicken tinga, queso fresco, pickled onions, etc… all blend a little too much into the bread, making for an unimpressive takeaway. But even less impressive was the highly touted Hot Goldie, after all, we’re talkin’ short ribs here, backed by a sweet and sour cabbage saw and black pepper aioli. But pound for pound, it is the least flavorful sandwich of the lot.

And while the sandwiches are definitely more hit than miss, sadly I can’t say the same about the sides. Skip every last one of them. The jalapeno cheddar grits were neither spicy nor cheesy. The “spicy” broccoli rabe was also suffering from absent heat. The collards with bacon were bitter and bland. And the roasted carrots, while easily the best of the bunch, were nothing more than you might expect to find at a Dig Inn.

Yet with all of the transgressions on the sides, if I hold them to their true intent, to make sandwiches that think outside of the bun, the box is hella checked. After all, their name isn’t Untamed Sides. That said, someone really does need to crack a whip on whoever was making them, because they cost this place five knives.

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