Paradise by way of Kensal Green

19 Kilburn Ln. London W10 4AE United Kingdom • +44 20 8969 0098 • theparadise.co.uk

Yup. That’s actually the name. And it’s quite a mouthful. Unfortunately the food, not so much. But more on that later. Let’s start by talking digs, because I’m starting to get the feeling that you can pretty much walk into any building in London and it will be stunning. Hell, I bet even their meth labs are tastefully appointed, dripping with old-world charm and yet somehow contrasted with just the right amount of modernity and eclectic flair. And Paradise carries that torch handily.

They also carry a healthy bevy of tasty cocktails like the one I had which I can’t even recall the name. All I remember are flashes of mint and gin, which are so deceptively refreshing they will knock-you-on-you-ass before your appetizer ever hits the table.

The food, however, was in stark contrast and a bit of a bore. Not by preparation, but by taste. The burrata and beet root salad with hazelnut and watercress pesto was as flavorless as the food on the flight over. The lamb shoulder was the best of my three courses mostly due to the flavors of the parsnip puree, spiced Swiss chard and Marsala jus, but the meat itself was pretty dry and overcooked. And come dessert, I didn’t even both to finish the ginger pavlova with marscapone mousse, blood orange and red currants. A blasphemous use of Pavlov’s name, because the dish is hardly drool-worthy.

Yes, there’s trouble in Paradise, but nothing a new chef couldn’t fix, because they’ve got it going on just about everywhere else.

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Meltkraft

151 E 43rd St. New York, NY 10017 (212) 380-1735meltkraft.com

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Self proclaimed as an artisan grilled cheese sandwich shop with farm-sourced everything, Meltkraft sounds like a cheesy paradise waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, if you listen closer you can also hear the sounds of wind leaving your sails, because their craft needs a little work based on the two sandwiches I tried.

The first was the Melter Skelter. I mean ya gotta love a sandwich named after a Beetles song and a movie about Charles Manson. It’s made with 3 month aged reclette, pickled green tomatoes, jalapenos, BBQ potato chips and watercress (pictured). Which sounds off the charts by description alone, and while it is certainly good, I was hard-pressed to actually taste much more than the cheese and jalapenos.

That said, at least it was far superior to the Brielle, made with Brie (obviously), as well as cranberry chutney, caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts. Again, delicious in theory, but quite bland in execution.

And so along with the ho-hum performance comes a knife count with matching syllables. For better melts just a stone’s throw away, I suggest heading down to Beecher’s in the Flatiron.

2 teeth

Aqua

The Westin Tampa Bay 7627 Courtney Campbell Causeway Tampa, FL 33607(813) 675-8700 • aquatampa.com

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Located in the Westin Hotel, and on the water (as the name suggests), this restaurant manages to pack a few surprises ranging from sushi, which one might expect based on its affiliation with the H2O, all the way to flatbread, which has very little to do with water by my estimation.

The first surprise coming in the form of a California roll. And probably one of the best I’ve ever had, mostly because the crab wasn’t that canned shit. Or that fake crap either. Oh no, they go for the real deal and you can definitely taste the fingerprint of the ocean in every morsel. Along with fresh avocado, cucumber and flying fish roe.

The Tuscan flat bread was also a winner, proving to be more well balanced than one might expect, topped with artichokes, grilled onions, asparagus, and oven-dried tomatoes, all smothered in mozzarella and sauced with a bright, basil pesto.

Then the missteps waltzed in, like the brioche crusted mahi. The crust is so overpowering that I had to scrape it off, just so I could actually taste the fish. Also, the fregola couscous and spiced red pepper puree do little for the dish as well. That said, don’t miss the watercress and pumpkin salad to the side. That’s the real star on the plate. I recommend pealing off the crust and pairing up some of that salad with every bite and you’ll be a much happier camper. Or take the easy way out and just order the scallops.

The scallops where prepared in a dark, almost squid ink-like sauce, and paired up with a wonderful mound of spicy-ass Thai black rice. Me like.

We closed with a bowl of begniets, drizzled with ribbons of chocolate and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are nothing spectacular, but they do get by on the simple fact that they are fried dough. That said, if you are looking for more from your dessert, look elsewhere.

So I’m gonna go out on a rare, kind-hearted limb here and give it three knives, by in large due to my lowered expectations… and the fact that I had a few too many glasses of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, which I normally don’t even like as a grape. Who knew? But deep down, I really do want to give Aqua only two knives in my heart of hearts, because of the major miss on the mahi, the unintentionally cheesy Miami Vice decor and the service, which is slim shady, calling the soy sauce that came with our sushi “teriyaki” and not knowing a single alcohol they had at the bar.

3 teeth

Cosme

35 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 913-9659 cosmenyc.com

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Zagat’s? You don’t need no stinking Zagat’s. Cause I got the skinny right here. And while it’s true, the hype definitely runs high on this place, Cosme still manages to put the “can” in gourmand-worthy Mexican cuisine.

The setting is more trendy than dressy, but tastefully done in a timeless way. My only gripe is that the barstools are so high you practically have to do a Fosbury Flop to get on top of them. Service was pretty darn bueno as well, although you can tell they have a tinge of New York tude at the host stand. Granted after one or two El Ninjas, their gin and mezcal cocktail, you hardly notice and are mostly worried about falling from the dizzying heights of your barstool.

At the table, things are more or less tapas-style with a twist, the first of which was the uni tostada with bone marrow. And yes it’s as good as it sounds. In fact, if God was a tostada, he would probably be this one.

Another excellent starter is the crispy octopus served over a bed of hazelnut mole and accented with pickled potatoes and watercress. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but just about as close as you can get.

Our vegetarian option of the night, the mushroom and squash barbacoa, was also good, but not quite at the same level as everything else, tasting more or less like a solid market veggie taco when all was said and done.

And as the main event, we had to go with the storied Duck Carnitas (pictured), which as the name implies is done like a giant pork roast with moisty goodness seeping out of every corner. Then, they top it with onions and radishes and serve it up with soft tacos and salsa verde. Sadly, as good as it was, I’m not sure it’s quite worth its steep price tag, though. And while I can appreciate the inventive twist of treating duck like pork, I’ve actually seen it a lot lately and done even better at places like Cask & Larder in Orlando. Whereas this one was in dire need of the hot sauce before giving it my stamp of approval.

For dessert we forwent the other “must get” meringue and opted for the manchego cheesecake served crumbled up in a bowl over a pineapple drizzle, topped with popcorn. Not the exclamation point I was hoping for, I gotta say. And that’s true about Cosme on the whole. As hard as this place is to get into, and as hyped as it has been, I have to concur with Yelp on this one and say that 3.5 stars is pretty spot on. But since I don’t do halves, as we know, it comes down to which way am I rounding… up or down? Well, they don’t call me ferocious for the nothin’…

3 teeth

Mangia

22 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 647-0200mangiatogo.com

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There are a bazillion of these type of places in the city ranging from Essen to Dishes to those not even worth remembering. You know the kind. The ones with a sandwich station, a salad bar, a soup arena, a pizza pavilion, a patisserie nook and a juicing section all under one roof. And while most of these places are usually a jack of all trades at best, Mangia actually proves to be a queen. Not quite as good as Dishes, but definitely worth its salt if you know what to get.

Working our way around by station, let’s start with the sandwiches. This is where Mangia shines brightest. The Chicken Telera was named one of the Top 100 in Manhattan by New York Magazine and I concur. Served on telera bread, which is almost challah-like, then obviously topped with chicken, plus avocado, pepper jack cheese and chipotle aioli. Then, they stuff the whole thing in the pizza oven and warm it all up. Other worthy grabs are the short rib sciacca made with horseradish aioli. Might even be better than the Telera. And another go-to of mine is the smoked turkey on pumpernickel with cucumber, watrercress and herbed aioli. I could go through all of them, but these are the highlights. Most of them are good with only a few misses.

Next in rotation for me would be the salad bar. It might not be as large as most, but Mangia seems to focus on quality versus quantity. Hard for me to list too many highlights since it’s a bit of a roulette when it comes to what they stock it with, but some of my favorites when they have them are the pasta salads, the wild rice salad, the marinated mushrooms, the quiche/frittata and the sesame noodles. Again, most everything is good, so you can feel safe to explore.

Almost on par with the salad bar would be the bakery. They nail their cookies and most of the pastries hold up as well.

From there it’s a step down to Meh-ville, not to be confused with Melville, NY, where the pizza and the juice bar both reside in underwhelming harmony.

And last but not least, Soup town. A.K.A. The slums. For whatever reason, like Linguini in Ratatouille, Mangia just can’t seem to make a soup to save their souls. Case in point, Pret next door blows them away and Pret is a massive global chain.

My only other nit is that their fridge is always on the fritz, so it’s rare to be able to get a cold drink there. Not such a big deal in the winter, but come summer it’s a bummer. Hey, that rhymes!

3 teeth

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth