Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse

4 Park Ave. New York, NY 10016 (212) 889-3369 • http://wolfgangssteakhouse.net/parkave/

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Just when you think you’ve been to every steakhouse in the city you learn that there are more. Like Wolfgang’s. And apparently there are four of them! In Manhattan alone! Who knew? Okay, just me? Well, did you also know that the founder was a former waiter for many years at Peter Luger? Oh… You knew that too. Okay then. Apparently I need to get out more.

Well, for those of you not in the know, Wolfgang is an entire chain of steakhouses, not just in New York State. That said, I have only been to the one on Park Avenue and if that location is indicative of the entire franchise, I have to say, he learned well from Peter.

The first thing he learned, obviously from someone else, is that décor adds to the experience. And while it might’ve been more of a happy accident, the ceilings are absolutely stunning (pictured). My best guess is that it was an old subway station entrance/exit, judging from the tile work.

Servers are your usual steakhouse suspects, career lifers who come on strong and confident but yet somehow manage to come off likeable at the same time. Not sure about the Somm, however, didn’t need him because I managed to find the diamond in the pricey rough on the wine list, the Turley Fredrick’s 2013 Zinfandel. It’s a keeper. And it’s maybe one of a dozen reds under a C note.

Kicking off the food stuffs, I gotta say that the bread was a bit of a miss and certainly not worth filling up on. There will be plenty of other things worthy of that. For example, the bacon, which is so massive and so fatty that one slice is easily enough for two people, if not three. Otherwise it’s a little much on top of chasing it with a steak. On the lighter side, but still quite good are both the shrimp cocktail and the oysters.

For steak, I went with the rib eye, and it was perfection. Cooked spot on medium rare and bursting with salty, butteriness. Whereas the filet mignon tasted like it was stolen from an airplane tray. First Class mind you, but from airplane tray nonetheless.

For sides, all of them were solid. From the creamed spinach and potatoes to the asparagus and onion rings. None of them epic, but all very nice supporting roles.

Sadly, we pressed our luck at the end though, going with a Key Lame Pie. Typo intended. Serves me right for getting greedy with the gluttony.

3 teeth

Aromi

Mánesova 1442/78, 120 00 Praha 2-Vinohrady, Czech Republic
+420 222 713 222 • http://www.aromi.cz

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When in Prague, the temptation is to take in one of the amazing Czech bier gardens and in all honesty, should definitely do that too. However, if you find yourself growing tired of Eastern European fare, than I strongly urge you to take in one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in Europe. And strangely enough I’ve been to Italy twice and Aromi is better than 95% of the meals I had in Milan, Rome, Venice, Florence and Tuscany.

From a killer wine list to an amazing olive oil served with the bread, things started off with all systems go and not a hitch followed. Everything was delicious from the antipasti to the pastas, entrees and dessert. And for a land-locked country, even the seafood was excellent.

Service was friendly and attentive, offering great recommendations and the décor is warm and elegant, yet inviting enough to welcome even the most casual of diners.

It was easily my favorite meal in Prague- well, tied for my favorite, after all, bier gardens do have their merits.

5 teeth

NOPA

560 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117 • (415) 864-8643nopasf.com

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Great space and vibe. Contemporary, airy and open. Lots of energy. Even at 2am. And just about the only place open after midnight in SF to get a bite to eat. But not just a bite- a pretty damn good bite. The flat bread starter was awesome and the pork chop was stellar. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. Solid beer and wine list. The only miss was the bratwurst, but what can you expect so far from Wisconsin?

Service was also friendly and attentive, to which I give added kudos, after all, at 2am I would imagine that not only are you tired, but you are also tired of dealing with inebriated customers. So, to be as pleasant as she was is admirable. Well, that or I was just too drunk to notice.

4 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

Primo

4040 Central Florida Pkwy. Orlando, FL 32837 • (407) 393-4444grandelakes.com/Primo-78.html

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Hotel food is always a dicey proposition at best. And a Marriott restaurant, dicier still, even if it is of the JW variety, case in point my review of Citron, the other place in this hotel. So, with low expectations in hand, I have to say, Primo sailed over them.

Some of the highlights were the mushroom pasta with scallops, my favorite thing of the night, and the tilefish entrée. Perfectly cooked and rich with the flavors of its preparation.

A few other apps on the table ranged from good to just okay. And the dessert ranged from skip it to… well, skip it. In fact, I just wouldn’t get dessert- not worth the calories or cost. But if you must, the budino was the best of the lot (basically a molten chocolate cake).  So a note to Primo, your pastry chef should be firedo.

Service was good. Décor is nice. And the wine list is very solid. So all in all, while a touch hit and miss, the net net is that Primo is yumo.

3 teeth

Sapori Italian Restaurant

324 Central Ave. White Plains, NY 10606

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And now for a dose of reality…

It is PAINFULLY clear after eating here that the Yelpers who reviewed this place must not have been what one would call “foodies.” That said, at least they picked up on the poor service. But here’s everything else they missed, from someone who actually has discerning tastes:

First, the bread. Right out of the gate, we knew we were in trouble with stale breadsticks and dry, crumbly focaccia . Served with an olive oil that was probably Berio. And to think people actually touted this!

Then there’s the wine list, which may have some nice bottles on it, but to be out of not one, but two different choices on it is absurd. This was especially bad because they let us order the bottles both times, disappearing to fetch them, before eventually telling us that they were out of them, killing the first hour without anything to drink and our orders yet to be taken.

And then there’s the highly praised burrata. You people obviously know squat about food, because the tomatoes were served ice cold. What chef refrigerates tomatoes?!?! As a result, they were mealy and tasteless.

Then the entrees came and while mine, the osso bucco, was passable- meaning edible, my wife’s fish was as bland as balsa wood and not even served according to the preparation that was described.

And for dessert, the ice cream tasted more like redi-whip and the molten chocolate was very lacking in the molten department.

But at least the service- oh wait, that sucked royally too.

But at least the decor- nope. Nothing to speak of there either. It’s just okay.

Sad to say, but I struggle to find anything nice to say about this place other than the fact that it was good to spend time with friends- oh, and that the valet didn’t lose my car.

1 tooth