Mercato

352 W 39th StNew York, NY 10018 • (212) 643-2000 • mercatonyc.com

Mercato is located in a very weird area by all accounts, so there’s virtually no reason to go there. And after reading this review, there’s even one less reason than that.

Sure, the décor is cute, but the service is not. In fact, it’s kinda frustrating, because they disappear on you, they don’t listen and they are terrible with the recommendations. Plus, they are arrogant, acting as if they are serving up the second coming. Well, I have news for them, only one out of seven dishes was even just okay, making it the worst hit ratio I’ve seen in New York in a very long time. How Yelper’s gave this four stars is everything wrong with Yelp and why I left to start this blog in the first place.

As for the okay dish, it’s the rigatoni, but only if you blanket the thing with black pepper, crushed red pepper and parmesan. I’d go into more detail and list some of the other dishes not to get, but that would be pretty much all of them. From the stale bread on the table to the bland wine to the olives to the starters and entrees, it was lineup filled with more misses than the Three Blind Mice playing tag. Spare yourself the disappointment unless slimy octopus and airplane quality food are your thing, because Mercato is a resounding one knifer.

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Turntable Chicken

34-36 W 32nd St – Fl 5New York, NY 10001 • (212) 594-4344 • turntablelpbar.com
The vibe alone is worth a visit, almost like eating in the movie High Fidelity with John Cusack. The walls all lined with vinyl and speakers bigger than the opening scene in Back to the Future. Woah.

But that’s where the excitement ends, I’m afraid, because the fired chicken sammy that everyone raves about is not all that, nor is it a bucket of chicken, because it’s SO thin you can almost floss with it! Not an exaggeration, sadly. To quote one reviewer on Yelp, “they must use very skinny chickens.” Truer words were never spoken. Fortunately the flavor and heat are good, but let’s face it, you’re basically eating a breading sandwich.

Forager’s Table

233 8th AveNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 243-8888 • foragersmarket.com/restaurant

Swooned by many a Yelper and blog, Forager seems to make everyone’s top spots for brunch. So, when in Rome, and Chelsea, we grabbed brunch. And as much as I love hatin’ on the Yelpers, I gots to admit, they called this right as rain.* Oh, the asterisk? Well, there was a pretty egregious miss, but will get to that after some lovin’.  

First up, an Ultimate in the pancake category, their orange blossom ricotta pancakes (pictured) are fluffier than a newborn chick after a blowout. Light and brilliant and I’m so glad I don’t live or work closer to this place or I’d become the opposite of light and fluffy. Also in the sweet camp, their Belgian waffles are quite strong as well.

On the savory front, wifey had the salmon tartine and it too was a crowd-pleaser. Said crowd being her teeth and mine. And albeit a simple dish, the ingredients are terrific (like dill creme fraiche) and the balance is nailed.

Not-so nailed is the “steak” egg wrap, which sounds incredible by its description on the menu- so much so that I came dangerously close to order it over the pancakes. Well, phew! Dodged that bullet! But sadly, it hit my father in-law square in the puss. An culinary insult to its brethren dishes, it disappoints on virtually every metric, the first of which being that it is NOT steak. It is ground meat. Granted it might’ve been steak at one point, but that would be like serving up chicken and calling them eggs. Speaking of eggs, they must’ve made them with milk as opposed to crème fraiche, because the wrap was soggier than a toddler’s bed at 2:00am. MOM!!!!!

I don’t want to end on a sour note, however, because the truth is, it was a pretty sweet meal, even down to their fresh juices. But shhh! Don’t tell my father in-law or he’ll disown me.

Tavern on Main

150 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-7222 • tavernonmain.com
 

I’m not sure why this place does such good business in the summer, but in the fall and winter, I totally get it. It’s warm and cozy inside with fireplaces and old-world charm seeping out of every crack in the hardwood floor. You kinda just wanna kick off your shoes, throw on some slippers, smoke a pipe and read the paper.

But if pipes aren’t your thing, the vittles don’t disappoint. As for the menu, it’s pretty similar fare to Spotted Horse Tavern around the corner, but much better on the execution, regardless of what the Yelpers say.

I had the quinoa salad which I thought was very good. Fresh ingredients. Light and yet filling at the same time.  I also enjoyed the salmon BLT, fancied up with tapenade, roasted tomatoes, lemon pepper mayo and a brioche bun. Pretty strong.

On the whole, I look forward to going back, especially to curl up in front of one of those fireplaces during the next bomb cyclone.

Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

Torchy’s Tacos

1311 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • 512) 366-0537 • torchystacos.com

Can 1458 Yelpers be wrong? Yes. Yes they can. Granted this local legend has multiple locations around Austin, so this is only an indictment of the one in the trailer, located at the address above. That said I have a hard time believing the food varies drastically from spot to spot based on the consistent, glowing reviews, so take this as you will…

Sadly, beyond the queso I can’t really say I was impressed. So let’s start there, since it was the only highlight of the meal. Thick and creamy and spicy, it blows away that watery qurap they serve over at Kerby Lane. This is stick-to-ribs perfection.

But in terms of the breakfast tacos, which was the whole reason we came, I was nonplussed. I can make better at home. Shit, my eight year old son can make better. No, seriously! Both the Migas and the Wrangler left me scratching my head, and not just because of the dandruff. They weren’t super spicy, or super flavorful or well-balanced or anything even remotely worth mentioning, despite decent attempts to load them up with interesting ingredients like pico de gallo, green chiles, smoked brisket and huevos, naturally. But try as they may, I still walked away muy disappointed.

Kerby Lane Cafe

2606 Guadalupe StAustin, TX 78705 • (512) 477-5717 • kerbeylanecafe.com

Just steps away from the University of Texas campus, Kerby gets a ton of business from students who are either nursing a hangover or feeding the munchies. And as a result, the reviews on Yelp are insanely skewed if you ask moi.

The queso is not the second coming. It’s just okay and nowhere near as good as the hype makes it out to be. It’s way too watery and compared to Torchy’s, let’s just say it gets torched.

The pancakes are crap. Dry and flavorless. Don’t let that picture fool you. The Cinnamon Roll being only marginally better than the Lemon Poppy, but that’s not saying much. In fact, I think Kerby owes my stomach a formal apology for these discs of disappointment.

Also unworthy of my jaw muscles was the Cuban benedict, which sounds great on laminated paper, but is so overcooked you’d think they were try to kill the chicken who laid the eggs.

The only thing I can say was even mildly decent was the green chili mac & cheese with fried chicken. It’s good. But even that needed extra chili to give it enough kick. I did like how the fried chicken remained crispy even though it sat in a bowl of creamy mac though. What I did not like is that the mac and cheese is school cafeteria grade. And what I actually hate is when a typical diner gets inflated into a legend.

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

tommybahaamafood

I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

Hominy Grill

207 Rutledge Ave. Charleston, SC 29403 (843) 937-0930hominygrill.com

fwx-hominy-grill-charleston-nasty

A bit more toward the outskirts of town, we decided to make the jaunt over here because everyone said this was the best breakfast in town. And judging from the ever-present crowd, it seemed ever-promising. After all, how could 1400+ Yelpers be wrong? But either the other breakfast places in town are atrocious or the breakfast standards in the South have plummeted, because it pains me to say that this is your VERY average diner. The eggs are eggs and the grits are grits. Even though according to the waitress they were “the best grits in town,” even topping the ones at Husk. They are not. In fact, they are not even in my top ten, bested by places all over the map, from Texas to Florida and up to New York. For shame!

The homemade sausage has a nice little kick to it, but tastes no better than some of the better pre-packaged stuff out there these days. The home fries are decent too, but the only thing I can honestly say makes this place worth the trip are their biscuits (pictured). As Tina Turner would say, they are Simply the Best. In fact, they just might be the best biscuits I’ve ever had. But even as magically moist as they were, I can’t honestly say they carried the rest of the over-hyped meal.

2 teeth