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.

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Uncle Boons

7 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 (646) 370-6650 uncleboons.com

Mieng Kung, betel leaf wrap with ginger, lime, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, chilies and peanuts at Uncle Boons, a newly opened Thai restaurant and bar in SoHo.â€(R)CREDIT: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journalâ€(R)SLUG: HH.UncleBoons Published Credit: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Having waited a stupid amount of time to get into the extraordinarily disappointing Spotted Pig, you’d think I’d’ve learned my lesson with these overrated, no-reservation-taking, wastes of time. But apparently not, because one again I found myself standing there like a puppy dog, panting before the hostess in the hopes of getting a table. But had I been more self aware, perhaps I would’ve noticed déjà vu staring me in the face.

Nonetheless, my stubbornness persevered and on we marched to the back room through a tiki-style décor that did little to put a smile on my face, only to then begin a meal that would have a lot of splainin’ to do (to be read like Desi Arnaz).

Out of the gate, the gripes began with the Frozen Basil Vodka which was very good, but I think they majorly skimped on the portion, serving it in a half-filled glass. Never seen that before and I’m guessing it was because they ran out of the cocktail by 8pm on a Friday night. Something else I’d never seen before and I’m not sure which is the more inexcusable part of the story. To run out of booze by 8pm on a Friday night? Or to charge full price for a half-full glass of it?!

But at least it tasted good, the other drink our server recommended, the Bolan, was so god awful that we sent it back after one sip, opting for the Baa Baa Bo Bo which was a nice, spicy-sweet twist on a margarita.

Getting back to our server, however, she was so miserable that she ruined the experience for us (not that the food wouldn’t have done if for her), giving not one recommendation and lying through her blatantly apathetic teeth, saying everything is amazing. It’s not. Far from it. So, between her piss pour attitude and trying to charge us for that drink that she pawned off on us when they ran out of the one we liked, Uncle Boons was starting to look like that creepy uncle we all try to avoid at obligatory family outings.

Toxic service aside, now for the over-hyped menu, starting with the spicy chicken, which while spicy, was also just okay- oh, and it’s completely mislabeled as a small plate. Unless you’re Andre the Giant.

The mango salad is slightly better, but nothing worthy of the wait we endured and neither is the Thai blood sausage, for that matter, tasting a slight notch above Alpo.

And while I would love nothing more than to go on and on shitting all over this place, my integrity is going to get the better of me as I must give props where props are do, even though it pains me to do so.

The first prop going to the dorade. It is so phenomenal that it just might be the best whole fish I’ve ever had. Charcoal roasted and served with charred leeks and a Nam Prik dipping sauce that is pinch-yourself ah-maze-ing!

And believe it or not, we also stayed for dessert, regardless of the abysmal hit ratio thus far, primarily out of spite for having made us wait so long for the table, so I suppose we felt like holding onto the damn thing as long as we could. A philosophy that paid its dividends quite quickly in the form of a rich, creamy, texture-filled coconut ice cream, topped with fresh-made whipped cream, more coconut shavings on top, as well charred nuts, which kinda steal the show.

But even with the strong ending, Uncle Boons was climbing out of a hole so deep it came out the other side of the world in Thailand.

2 teeth

The John Dory Oyster Bar

1196 Broadway New York, NY 10001(212) 792-9000 •  thejohndory.com

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After having read that they offer the best whole fish in the city, I have to say I was a bit miffed when I got there and there was no such option to be found anywhere on the menu. Which is especially effed up when you have a name like John Dory and you don’t even serve the damn fish! But as deflated as I was by the “bait and switch,” I quickly perked back up when the oysters hit the table. Six East Coast, six west coast and all twelve were awesome. Fresh, not too briny. Shucked by pros, so not a shell fragment to be seen and served up with a genius jalapeno mignonette. Horseradish was also in the house, but no cocktail sauce or vinegar. And I gotta say, neither were missed, because both options really let the mollusks shine, without overpowering them.

Having nearly forgotten all about whole fish-maggeddon, the distractions continued with the Spanish mackerel crudo served in a cup of squid crackling and spiced chili. It was quite fabulous. So much so that I started to question the 3 star yelp consensus (not that it’s the first time, of course).

And that’s when the entrees arrived and things started to make more sense. The octopus, while good, didn’t quite reach great, and even at its best, was only made so with yummy additions like Bottarga, olives and the potatoes, which were surprisingly key for this dish. On the other hand, there was no saving the Beer, Lamb & Clam. Great name, but that’s about the nicest thing I can say for it. It’s basically a bowl of steamed clams with a crushed tomato sauce that vaguely resembles notes of beer.

For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding is quite good, reminding me a bit of the one you’ll find one block over at L&W Oyster Co. Granted it’s bigger, just not better. And therein lies the rub, with L&W so close by, I’m not sure I’d pick the John Dory over it 9 times out of 10. But if you’re craving a change of pace, it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and every block matters, or you simply can’t get a table at L&W, then I say jump in with both feet. You could do a helluva lot worse.

3 teeth

Fred L’Ecallier

Place de l’Etang, Cannes, France • 0493431585 • http://www.fredlecailler.com/#_=_
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If you’re staying in the heart of Cannes, it’s a bit of a hike on foot, but it’ll be worth it on your way back, because you’ll want to burn off the mounds of food you are likely to consume. Not that the food is that heavy, it’s more a result of everything looking so damn good and tasting as good as it looks. So before you know it, you’ve ordered enough seafood to deplete the Mediterranean Sea, from bountiful whole fish to shellfish and everything in between, it’s sort of like Astoux & Brun in that regard, but with much better décor.

Speaking of, this is perhaps my favorite reason for making the trek to Fred, for the setting. You sit in a secluded, yet expansive garden, with a delightful wooden trellis overhead, set away from the street, so there’s no such thing as a bad table- unless you have to sit inside due to rain, I suppose. Not that the inside is atrocious, but compared to the alternative, there’s no contest.

Service is also hard to compete with, because they are shockingly warm and friendly, and I’m not just saying that as a stereotypical dig on the French. There is just so much pride in their restaurant that you can’t help but love them for it. Not snooty pride though, sincere pride. Like it’s their baby. And whoa baby is it something to be proud of.

4 teeth

Herringbone

1755 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 971-4460herringboneeats.com

Herringbone-Whole-Fish-Ceviche

I struggle a bit to understand this one. The wait to get in is almost as big as the dinning room, which is so cavernous it’s almost to the point of making it feel like a Rain Forest Café, but for seafood. And while it is done far more tastefully (not saying much), with touches like the puffer fish tree at the foyer or the various nautical elements at every starboard turn, it can’t help escape the vibe that it’s a chain. Yet within chain-dom, there are obviously good chains and bad chains and Herringbone definitely falls in the better camp of the two. But to be fair, a chain is still a chain at the end of the day, so leave your expectations at the door, after all, it will have to wait for a table like everyone else.

To start, I opted for the Grow a Pear cocktail made with jalapeno, gin and cucumber. It was refreshing and light enough to go with anything on the menu. And I put that theory to the test, trying it with a host of starters, my favorite being the heirloom tomato salad, which I found to be the best thing of the night (not good for a “seafood” restaurant). Made with perfectly ripened orbs of red, sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by fresh, creamy chunks of mozzarella, caprese style.

The whole fish ceviche (pictured) was also nice, but mostly as a result of its novel prep, in whole fish form. The flavor of it, however was a little par for the course and nothing exceedingly fresh either.

Working our way from good to meh, the Buffalo octopus was just okay for me. Decent Buffalo flavor, but the pus itself was overcooked. Also could’ve been a bit spicier if you ask me.

But the worst by far was the Baja crab, or should I say Baja crap. Don’t let your waiter try a peddle this loser dish on you. It tastes like overcooked rice speckled with shreds of canned crab and a few squirts of Tabasco.

For my entrée, the scallops were passable, but not very well balanced because after three scallops in, I found that I had finished all of the surrounding goodies, leaving me with one scallop abandon on the plate.

Just as the ship appeared to be sinking, however, somehow Herringbone managed to raise the Titanic with their wonderful lemon poppy begniets. Kept light by the lemon. Kept awesome by the contrast of hot and cold with the addition of ice cream. But as great as the bookends were, the laggards in the middle cost this place dearly.

2 teeth

Periyali

35 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 463-7890periyali.com

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Having just been to Greece last summer I was entering with a healthy dose of “food tude.” Hey, I kinda like that. Ferocious Foodie TM!

And while décor and service failed to impress, the food rose above expectation. Not that the menu is anything inventive. Truth be told it’s all of the usual suspects from octopus to mousaka and souvlaki to baklava.

Our meal started off with an amuse bouche of sorts, a Greek bruschetta is about the only way I can describe it. Crostini topped with feta tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. I’m not exactly sure why they offer it though. It’s not inventive, nor amazing. And if it’s simply to give you a little taste of something before your meal arrives, it would seem that the olives and bread would handily suffice. Instead, it only serves as a failed attempt to reach for a class of dining they simply aren’t.

After that we split a Greek salad that passed as ruffage and an octopus, which did everything it was supposed to, clean and simple and perfectly tender, yet somehow it just didn’t reach tentacle supremacy.

Oddly enough though, the whole branzino, while not too unlike the octopus, with its classic Mediterranean prep, proved to be spectacular! So flavorful and buttery. I haven’t loved a fish this much since Dory in Finding Nemo and I’ve had more than my fair share of whole fish, being that it’s practically the official meal of Turkey and I fancy myself to be an honorary Turk by association.

Bringing up the rear was the walnut cake and ice cream, which nosed out the baklava as our choice for dessert. In hindsight, I think I’d go baklava next time, because the walnut cake was a bit of a let down after experiencing the one at Gato. This one was a little on the dry side and desperately needed the ice cream to give it the moisture it was lacking.

On the boozy end of things, there are several tasty, affordable wine options and some on the pricier side well. We went with the Burnello, more on the pricier end, and it was excellent. Additionally, they complemented our dessert course with a complimentary dessert wine, which I also enjoyed.

All in all, I liked Periyali, but not enough to rush back. There are droves of better Mediterranean restaurants in the city and two right in the Flatiron alone, Almayass and Ilili, granted both of those are more middle eastern then Mediterranean, but the lines are so blurred between the two that it’s hard to tell where the tzatziki ends and the cacik begins.

3 teeth

Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

Garos-Turkbuku2

While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

3 teeth