The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

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Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Disney’s Hollywood Studios • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-2267 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-studios/hollywood-brown-derby

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Ever since I used to work at Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and yes, that sentence just came out of my mouth, I have always wanted to eat here. Widely considered to be the best restaurant in all of the theme parks combine (not including hotels).

Well, some 25 years later, and no longer a turtle, I finally made it to lunch here, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Well, at least the food is, the service quite annoyingly slow. But after waiting 25 years, what’s another hour, right?

In terms of décor, while fake to the bone like all things Disney, it still passes as MUCH nicer than any other restaurant in all of Disney, hotels included this time, with the only exception being Victoria and Albert. Set to make you feel like you are back in the 50’s, eating at some Hollywood movie star favorite, the Derby delivers an experience that truly rivals The Palm. Granted I don’t love The Palm, so perhaps that isn’t saying much.

Now on to the grub! Which is more surprising than learning that Mickey Mouse is more often than not played by a girl. For example, their waygu beef burger holds its own amongst many of the so-called best burgers in the country. Topped with gruyere, pastrami, Cognac mustard and a fried egg this crazy-ass messy burger will take you right to the threshold of embarrassment as you will meld with this bun-filled beacon of beef like you were soul mates. Also, it comes paired with a beer called La Fin du Monde, which I also highly recommend for the melding process. It’s a French Canadian tripel, which means it’s a very strong ale… which means 9% alcohol… which is nearly twice that of a regular beer… which means you’ll need a nap later.

And equally impressive, but vastly different was the andouille crusted chicken sandwich with smoked bacon, white cheddar and veggie slaw all sitting on an onion Kaiser roll.

Now I’m not about to run back to Disney again anytime soon, but if I do, this will be higher on my list than that 3-D Buzz Lightyear shooting game, which really is quite fun, I have to admit.

4 teeth

 

CUT

The Palazzo • 3325 Las Vegas Blvd S. Las Vegas, NV 89109(702) 607-6300palazzo.com/dining.html

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Wolfy, ya still got it! I’ve been to several of Puck’s restaurants over the years, from Chinois to Spago, and this is my favorite. Chinois being a close second. That said, in terms of décor CUT wins by a landslide. Very sleek and modern, almost like dining in Elysium.

And speaking of idyllic, the service was great too, granted that tends to be the theme in Las Vegas, I’m guessing a tenet of their tourism based culture.

But most remarkable of all was the food, especially for such a cheesy town located in a godforsaken desert with no natural resources. I don’t know how they even pull it off. I mean screw Copperfield, this is the real magic show. A rib eye so marbled it almost looked like wagyu and tasted as good or better than any steakhouse rib eye I’ve ever had. In fact the only place I can think that tops it is The French Laundry.

Other dishes were equally impressive from sides to pasta. So if you’re not a carnivore fret not, Wolfy has you covered. And not with some mediocre afterthought to placate you. Every dish appears to be treated like a main event and it shows. All in all, the best meal I’ve had in Sin City.

5 teeth

Mastro’s Steakhouse

246 N Canon Dr. Beverly Hills, CA 90210(310) 888-8782 • mastrosrestaurants.com

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Let the gluttony begin! …Sorry, let the posh gluttony begin!

If you’re looking for a nicer, hipper version of Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris, this is the spot. Very cool décor. Great seafood and steak. Sides that stick to your, well, sides. Awesome wine least. Top notch service- and even top notcher prices. Definitely not for the penny pincher- but a great place for big business dinners or a bachelor party, etc… I had a lot of fun both times I ate here.

Some specific highlights are the seafood tower starter, the wagyu beef and the lobster mashed potatoes, because why even get out of bed if your mashed potatoes don’t have lobster in them? Creamed corn was also rib-sticking good. And, as previously stated, the “awesome” wine list is one you can get lost (and poor) in.

4 teeth