Supper in Savannah

I fell in love last week. With Savannah.

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Lafayette Square, Savannah

Just the name of Georgia’s oldest city has always conjured up so much mystery and intrigue for me. Is she a girl with golden curls who ran away from home? Or the last place a unicorn was ever seen? Actually, the word savanna refers to a grassy wooded area where the tree canopy doesn’t close out the light – which is most peculiar because my favorite feature of the “southern host city” are the abundant live oak and magnolia trees whose limbs are draped in silvery moss that hang like Christmas tinsel forming an almost endless umbrella along the grid of smart avenues, interrupted by 22 green squares. Some of the locals refer to her affectionately as Slow-vannah on account of the unhurried pace of life which unavoidably permeates the culinary scene as well. Many of the must-try spots like Mrs. Wilkes, Atlantic or Cotton and Rye refuse to offer reservations, and instead feature long lines of hungry (yet patient) diners who don’t seem to mind wasting an hour or more along the leafy sidewalks as they wait and wait and wait. My inner New Yorker (just the one) prefers to rely on a table waiting for me rather than the other way around.

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Elizabeth’s on 37th

One of the stalwart establishments, Elizabeth’s on 37th occupies a magnificently illuminated colonial house built in 1900. This proud recipient of a James Beard Foundation award has been serving low-country classics for 37 years. The dozen menu items range from soup to steak (with nowhere to hide if you happen to be a local shrimp or a half-moon clam).

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Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp, Elizabeth’s on 37th

I got stuck into a Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp with bits of crab, green tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms resting on a puddle of green goddess dressing. Everything was there: sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sensational.

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Fresh Scallops, Elizabeth’s on 37th

The Fresh Scallops were seared to perfection and then layered over a soft bed of split peas and tart chives with the odd nugget of bacon for a whiff of southern smoke. But the heat from the Spicy Savannah Red Rice sure done popped my hood ‘some.

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Spicy Savannah Red Rice, Elizabeth’s on 37th

This utterly delicious southern-styled paella of Carolina rice, grouper, shrimp, clams, sausage and okra was as fresh and bright as a sweet tomato bisque, before diving into the depths of a dark and dirty gumbo.

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Shrimp and Grits, The Public Kitchen and Bar

I know one shouldn’t compare the two, but Charleston and Savannah are often thought of as sister cities that some say despite their geographic proximity haven’t spoken to one another for years! And so, it’s not surprising to discover that a great many dishes are shared and borrowed across the state line. I know I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Sean Brock’s Shrimp and Grits at Husk had sent me home starry eyed, but that was before I was ruined by Brian Gonet’s version at The Public Kitchen and Bar. (Please indulge me as I borrow a little inspiration from “Gone with the Wind” here), I do declare, that as God is my witness, I shall never order Shrimp and Grits anywhere else again! Chef Gonet spikes his grits with cheddar and bacon and then he sears chorizo sausage to extract all those piquant and peppery flavors before adding tomatoes with local shrimp before finishing everything off with sweet sherry and heavy cream. Suuuhth’n heaven!

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plethora of pecan-inspired pies, cookies, cheesecakes, bruléés and puddin’s that are as plentiful as horse-drawn carriages. That’s because I was saving room (daily) for a southern mainstay known as Leopold’s Ice-cream, where you’ll find yet another ubiquitous line of congenial Southerners snaking out into the street. My fave’s? Caramel swirl, Tutti Frutti and, of course, Butter Pecan! The 23 flavors were perfected by the original 3 Leopold brothers, and have remained unchanged since 1919.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

But don’t presume for a slow, southern second that this old city can’t do anything new. The abundance of artisanal bakeries like James Beard nominee Back in the Day or hip trinket-eries that serve coffee, cookies, candles and soap like The Paris Market, Australian salad-aries like Collins Quarter or even a counter-style South African sausage-erie called Zunzi know how to harness flawless quality and authenticity with a unique and distinctive charm.

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The Grey

But the proverbial cake has well and truly been taken by former Prune (NYC) toque Mashama Bailey. At The Grey, a meticulously renovated art deco Greyhound bus terminal from 1934, Bailey will forever be remembered as the chef who vaulted Savannah into a new era of destination dining.

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The Grey

Every inlaid wood and brushed chrome detail, every bronze and white glass lamp sconce, every section of custom curved windows and a religiously seasonal menu that changes daily, makes this the scarcest table in town. Showered with acclaim as Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”, one of Time Magazine’s “100’s greatest Places” and a James Beard nominee, Bailey and her energetic team work hard to deliver big city dishes that would easily become house favorites – in any big city. The menu is categorized by the location of the ingredients (pantry, water, dirt and pasture) and the constant blur of the gingham-shirted wait staff creates a lively, expeditious and electric atmosphere in direct contrast to Slow-vannah.

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Steak Tartare, The Grey

The earth-shatteringly wonderful Steak Tartare is butchered from an entire hind quarter, aged for about a month before being chopped and dressed with lemon, a spectacular home-made Worcestershire sauce and pickled quail egg. The house-made buttery Buccatini with Clams was inspired in its simplicity, as was the addition of salty Halumi cheese into an amazingly caramelized tumble of roasted delicate Squash and Spring onions.

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Chicken Country Captain, The Grey

And the only menu item that will hopefully remain a fixture into the next decade is the triumphant Chicken Country Captain, drenched in a sublime and memory-making curry sauce with slivers of crunchy almonds and pocks of sweet currants. I must have blacked out, as I don’t remember lifting the plate to my lips and licking it clean.

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The Diner at The Grey

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that within the next five to seven years Savannah will compete handsomely in the nation’s food scene, luring the next generation of celebra-chefs to crack open a brand-new cuisine called sophista-soul. But before anyone gets too far down the line, no more walk-in’s without reservations y’all!

http://mrswilkes.com/

https://atlanticsavannah.com/

http://www.cottonandrye.com/#intro

http://www.elizabethon37th.net/

http://www.thepublickitchen.com/

https://backinthedaybakery.com/index.html

https://theparismarket.com/

https://www.zunzis.com/

http://thegreyrestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eating my way through Seattle

The interesting thing about food in Seattle is that a random amble through the historic Pike Street public market might give you the impression that you can eat just about anything in Seattle so long as it’s salmon, whereas the “emerald city” is actually delightfully diverse and remarkably authentic. Other than the bewildering abundance of coffee bars – each promising a unique blend, a deep roast and a meticulously slow brew, there really isn’t a dish that is typically Seattlish at all. Instead, the rain-soaked metropolis on Puget Sound seems to evoke originality and individuality from chefs who might never risk as much in a more competitive market. Laotian, Vietnamese, East African, Malaysian, Bhutanese, Italian, French and schools of sushi bars make it tough to pigeonhole the local cuisine.

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Grilled House-smoked trout, Marmite

 

Chef Bruce Naftaly opened the Franco-Mediterranean inspired Marmite (pronounced Mar-meet) after 27 years of slinging pots and pans with his wife Sara at the beloved Le Gourmond. Set inside an old auto chop-shop, the rugged red brick-walled room with 30-foot ceilings and the oddly ornate Spirit within the Bottle bar at the edge of a cluster of wooden 4-tops, the space feels more like an invitation into the Naftaly home, rather than their business. Customers are treated like guests, and the experience is immensely personal. Everything is made from scratch, right in front of you. No shortcuts. No smoke. No mirrors. No fussy plating. No mysterious hail-Mary’s brought in from some “other” kitchen.

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Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Marmite

The small to large, 15-dish menu includes an astoundingly zingy Dungeness Crab Cocktail over a face-cream-smooth avocado mousse spiked with horseradish and the cheddar-iest bread stick ever. It was a tough choice between the sumptuous Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with braised tongue and bacon crumbs over a water cress salad, or the clams and nori stuffed Squash Blossom tempura – both smothered in melted cheese.

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Beouf Paupiette, Marmite

I almost bit off one of my fingers that got in the way of the wondrously flavor-forward Boeuf Paupiette – a super-tender butterflied filet stuffed with briny olives, fresh herbs and roasted garlic, seared for a minute and then finished in the oven, before being set against a tangle of sautéed zucchini ribbons.

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Rice-pudding Beignets, Marmite

Despite repeated protests, arms were finally twisted to sample a bowlful of the yummiest, crunchiest, steaming-hot Rice-pudding beignets with home-made preserves.

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The London Plane has to be one of Seattle’s coolest brunch spots. Overlooking the historic Pioneer Square with its ivy-covered brick and stone walls, Matt Dillon has hopped onto the eat-drink-read-browse-shop train. For some chefs, the battle with this concept is how to prevent the trinkets, flowers and books from overshadowing the main event, but Dillon manages this masterfully with shelves of bespoke groceries, a stellar patisserie with breads, nut meringues, cookies and the flakiest Cultured Butter Croissant in the country.

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The London Plane

The spectacularly diverse sit-down menu features eggs, crepes and sandwiches laced with harrissa, labneh, za’atar and other middle-eastern flavors.

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Baked Eggs, London Plane

There are many rules about what constitutes a real Japanese Kaiseki dinner. It’s an elegant but rather rigorous structure that starts with absolute punctuality, as the meal cannot begin until the entire “sitting” is sitting! The 7 or 8 (or sometimes more) courses are presented without substitution or preference. There is usually a starter, an appetizer, a soup and a sushi followed by braised, grilled and rice dishes and then ultimately a dessert.

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Wa’z

In Seattle’s Belltown, Wa’z chef Hiro Tawara and his conscientious crew of 3 perform double-duty not just as fastidious toques, but also as entertainers. Imagine having 9 pairs of eyes glaring at your every stir, shake, swish, splash, ting, tang, tong and sprinkle? I could never work under those conditions, but this trio delivered persnickety perfection in magnificent dish after magnificent dish, where a bowl would be rotated just a couple of degrees before being presented – just so that the most agreeable part of the floral decoration would be encountered first.

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King Crab and Chrysanthemum Leaf Salad, Wa’z

Some of the standout dishes included the Bay scallop Tempura which literally burst open upon contact to release a marvelous ocean spray; a couple of heavenly slithers of A5 (the highest grade) Wagyu Miyahaki beef sushi blow-torched and soaked in ponzu sauce with garlic chips that literally melted away; a robust and creamy Grilled Black Cod with butter-sauteed mushrooms, mirin wine and geoduck, and an astoundingly refreshing Pear Mousse with buckwheat tea ice-cream and fresh grapes and figs.

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Hassun: Assorted Appetizers, Wa’z

After repeated bowing and smiling, all 9 diners left the very sleek, feng-shui-appropriate and rather colorless room, but then without realizing we could still see them from the street, the crew threw off their aprons and high-fived one another in relief and celebration in an unusual glimmer of human imperfection in an otherwise perfect world.

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Just across the water in Fremont, chef Mutsuko Soma is churning out the freshest Soba noodles at Kamonegi. So fresh in fact, that I had to stop myself from reaching out and grabbing a few strands as they were rolled, shaped and cut individually from a big ball of buckwheat dough.

But first we did some damage to the outrageously magnificent tempura. Light, crispy, delicate and without a trace of oil. The diagonally sliced Japanese eggplants with mushrooms and shredded purple radish bathed in the most slurpily salty and wonderful dashi broth.

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Eggplant Tempura, Kamonegi

We also sampled the sublime Shrimp and the salty ocean explosion from the Uni Shiso Bomb – which is a single tempura leaf topped with a few coils of raw sea urchin.

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Impossible tan tan, Kamonegi

Soba dishes can be enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce (seiro), or in a hot broth (nanbun). We opted for the hot version of their signature Kamonegi with duck breast, duck meatballs and leaks, and the Impossible tan tan as a cold salad with sesame, chili oil and crushed peanuts. Both unspeakably wonderful.

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Tempura Oreo’s, Kamonegi

And just to prove that tempura makes the world a better place, in a rare nod to his new American roots, chef Soma throws a couple of Oreo cookies into the batter for dessert.

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Unlearn everything you ever knew about restaurants and chefs before you head into Nue – a little wooden box crammed with communal tables and quirky roadside bric-a-brac on Capital Hill. Chris Cvetkovich, the founder/restaurateur found his way into the food business as a 3D animator who travelled the globe, and then decided to open a bistro that recreated the best street food he ate along the way. And I’m so glad he did.

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Pineapple Cornbread, Nue

The gob-smackingly delicious menu spans the planet from the familiar to the peculiar to the outright bizarre. Things start off simply enough with a slice of south-sea-island-inspired Pineapple Cornbread, topped with a heavenly dome of toasted coconut that spills all over your lap as you wolf it down like cake. The Syrian Kale & Carrot Salad has a tangy citrus pomegranate dressing with bits of dates for sweetness, fetta for saltiness and toasted almonds for crunch.

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South African Bunny Chow, Nue

Being from South Africa, I had to order a plate of the nostalgically authentic and utterly amazing Bunny Chow, (which like several other South African dishes like Monkey-gland steak, has zero connection to the animal implied in the name) with a chicken curry masala poured inside a quarter-loaf of Pullman bread.

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Chendu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings, Nue

The vertical stack of dry Chengdu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings wasn’t nearly as blistering as I’d expected. With the fish sauce, lime, chili, basil and mint flavoring, these tasted much more Thai than Szechuan, but who the heck cares when they’re that moreish?

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Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Nue

And finally, the delectable flavor of the Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs is like a song I just cannot get out of my head. Marinated in an Indonesian mix of garlic, lemongrass and chilies, this rack of phenominal fall-of-the-bone smoked pork is cooked sous-vide and then lathered and slathered in a yummy Kecap Manis glaze while grilling. (If you’re wondering what classified as “bizarre”, we took a rain check on the Pigtails, Water Beetles and Fertilized Duck Eggs.)

So, while some people might be sleepless in Seattle – they definitely won’t be hungry.

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Nue

 

https://www.marmiteseattle.com/

http://www.thelondonplaneseattle.com/

https://www.wazseattle.com/

https://www.kamonegiseattle.com/

http://www.nueseattle.com/

 

Makani, Los Angeles – review

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Makani

Capped teeth, kale salad, movie studios and high-speed chases aren’t the only things that give Los Angeles her indefinable culture. It’s the sheer diversity of influences that make this bewildering collection of neighborhoods more of a patchwork quilt than a matching sheet-and-sham set. And no other hood shows off its bohemian flair with more swagger than Venice. In and amongst a row of quirky bistros and cliquey wine bars, former Bâco Mercat toque Kevin Lee has opened one of the newest (and easily the hottest) tapas joints called Makani. (And by “hot” I’m referring less to popularity than to spice. Be warned, Makani is a very proud purveyor of pepper.)

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Eggpant &  Nurungji, Makani

Raised in California by Korean parents, Lee sees his kitchen as a reflection of the city’s diverse population and therefore defines his cuisine as “Angelino!” As I try to get my head around whether that’s actually a thing or not, I notice Korean influences up and down the menu with kimchi, ssam and gochujang. But, faster than a crowd can gather around a celebrity citing, the menu swerves south for chicharrones, chipotle and aji amarillo with a dabble or two in the Middle-east for some za’atar and lebni. But unlike a United Nations policy debate, the pan-global menu seems to work together remarkably well.

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Romanesco, Makani

The same is true for the unashamed substitutions of rum for every other spirit on the cocktail list, creating some rather imaginative and delightful combinations that satisfy adequately for the duration of an al fresco evening on Rose Avenue, but probably won’t challenge the loyalty of a Vodka/Gin/Whisky/Tequila/Bourbon purist.

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Manila Clams, Makani

Stellar standouts include something called Eggplant & Nurungji which is a dark puddle of salty, tangy, umami, smoky deliciousness to be spread on woefully too few broken bits of spicy puffed-rice crackers. Romanesco is a slightly less piquant option of stir-fried mini florets in a heavenly citrus, basil and pistachio sauce.  The magnificent Manila Clams are served in an almost chuggable zippy broth of chilies and basil with a couple of toasted ciabatta slices to dip and dunk.

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Whole Grilled Fish, Makani

The entire Grilled Whole Fish arrives on a wooden board like an LAPD crime scene. Head, tail and spine still very much intact, the victim, a Branzino of average height, strangled to death by flavorful bunches of thyme, mint, basil, pickles and sharp shards of seared lemon, is perfectly flaky, fluffy and buttery.

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Braised Short Rib, Makani

While most of the waiters (and about half of social media) rave about the Crispy Duck Confit with kimchi bacon rice, I all but lost myself in a tender slither of Braised Short Rib beached atop a dune of chestnut puree, surrounded by an utterly delectable soy-flavored au-jús.

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Olive Oil Cake, Makani

Up to this point, the service had been fresh, jocular and spirited, but just as we were anxious to learn about desserts, we were somewhat soberly and rather quizzically presented with the bill instead. Is it just three-month jitters, or could a case be made for a slightly overtaxed wait staff? While we wait for the answer, be sure to save some room for the magnificently soft, moist and scrumptious Olive Oil Cake, crowned with a dollop of mascarpone and a scattering of strawberries and nuts.

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Makani

After careful introspection, reflection and digestion, I’m still not entirely convinced that chef Lee’s cooking can be labelled Angelino per se. I’m probably more in the Schizo-fornia camp, if you ask me.

www.makanivenice.com

Good eating in Dallas

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Bullion

In a world dominated by mega franchises and celebrity-chef chains, it’s refreshing to see a handful of new and original dining options emerging deep in the heart of Texas. Dallas might be proud of her storied reputation for Barbecue, but I stumbled upon a couple of culinary standouts that are taking the city of big hair to even bigger heights.

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Bullion

Curiously suspended in mid-air like a golden-tiled hornet’s nest clinging for dear life to the 3rd floor of a downtown office tower, is an oblique chocolate box that is home to Michelin star chef Bruno Devaillon’s newest bistro – Bullion. It’s hard not to wonder what a French bistro might be doing just a block-and-a-half from the Kennedy assassination site, and after overhearing a fellow diner climbing down from her white Yukon Denali proudly exclaiming: “I eat French food all the time. French fries. French toast. French bread. All of it!” I couldn’t help wondering just how much chef Bruno might have to “Tex-ify” some of his Franco masterpieces. But my fears were unfounded. After ascending the spiral stairway, you leave Texas behind you for an hour or so, and find yourself in a cruise-ship styled cocktail lounge that leads via the pastry rack to an ornate, yet unpretentious dining space with dark woods and golden trims, somewhere along the border of cosy and chic.

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Bullion

The menu reads like any you’d find along la rive gauche with a few contemporary items wedged between stalwart classics like a hearty saffron and tomato Bouillabaise with a mix of seafood shells and scales served with shards of grilled country bread, and an immaculately charred Foie Gras Torchon complete with berry marmalade and squishy brioche. But nothing gets a table arm-wrestle match going like a bowlful of the most amazing Gougéres au Gruyere. These caramel colored puffs are lighter and fluffier than a cheerleaders’ pom-pom. And as they go about their miraculous disappearing act, it feels like a kiss to the lips from a cheese-dusted feather.

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Gourgéres de Gruyére, Bullion

I was intrigued by the notion of a leek salad and so had to try the Poireaux, which features a regimented row of steamed leeks trying their best to impersonate white asparagus, dotted with soft goat-cheese and roasted hazelnuts in a super light truffle vinaigrette.

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Poireaux, Bullion

Even though this is grill country, the sumptuous Tournedos filet mignon with potato gratin and a trickle of mild oxtail au jus is an extraordinarily smooth cut that submits its salty umami without resistance.

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Tournedos, Bullion

The Cabillaud & Brandade awash with a tart tomato and caper confit is just light enough not to kill the subtle cod flavor, and the Agneau is an incredibly toffee-tender lamb loin, very gently accented with a sparkle of anchovy vinaigrette, accompanied by a bright and crunchy summer succotash. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, there was enormous restraint from over-flavoring the food – true to the kitchen’s mission to prepare dishes that don’t overshadow the key ingredients. Even the table-side flambéed guava and coconut ice-cream centered Baked Alaska is meek, mild, subtle and delicate.

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Baked Alaska, Bullion

Foxyco, chef Jon Steven’s latest effort in the Design District, is anything but meek and mild. His 6-week old second act following nearby neighborhood darling Stock & Barrel is a bucking bronco of runaway flavor. He coyly describes it as “modern American”, but that seems far too reticent for his brave, adventurous and (dare I say) aggressive approach to breaking rules and ignoring conventions. Even as you walk into the monochrome open space flanked by a massive mural that could be the result of a toddler’s paint party or a wannabe tribute to Jackson Pollack, you smell wafts of hickory coals emanating from his open kitchen. He’s obviously having loads of fun flexing his dexterous abilities with a mélange of cooking styles ranging from sous-vide to wood-fire grilling, to both at the same time!

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Foxyco

The menu is a tornado of way too many “must try” items like a red curry and Thai basil Warm Crab Dip, or a Farro Risotto, or perhaps a crab and hazelnut Squid ink Spaghetti (which will hopefully still be there on a return visit). I finally landed the plane on two starters, a main and a vegetable.

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Foxyco

First to emerge was an astoundingly delicious row of 4 cubes of crispy rice-cakes supporting a mound of miso-marinated Big Eye Tuna Tartare topped with basil, cilantro and a grate of lemon.

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Big Eye Tuna Tartare, Foxyco

Just as I was recoiling from the electric jolt of Asian flavors, a gorgeous snowball of scrumptious Burrata sailed in, surrounded by a bed of harissa and orange blossom infused olive oil. But the deal-clincher was the sprinkling of mint, salt flakes and honey-comb on top. That’s it. From now on, everything I eat will have to be topped with mint, salt and honey-comb.

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Burrata, Foxyco

As I waited for my Wagyu Short rib, contemplating how slowly it must have cooked in a sous-vide bag for 72 hours before being espresso-rubbed and then flame grilled to fall-apart perfection, the three strands of saffron continued to stain my Canary gin and kaffir lime cocktail a soft and rosy shade of gold.

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Wagyu Short rib, Foxyco

Needless to say, the combination of shaved horse-radish with pickled onions together with an anchovy salsa verde elevated the incredibly beefy flavor of the Wagyu – just the way meat used to taste in the olden days. Switching back and forth between the short rib and a heap of corn-flour dusted florets of Fried Cauliflower anchored in a spectacular cilantro-heavy green goddess dressing with parmesan and shaved dates felt like juggling between diamonds and rubies.

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Fried Cauliflower, Foxyco

So next time you’re passing through the big “D”, consider a bold detour from in-room dining. Because there’s more than oil in them there hills.

www.bullionrestaurant.com

http://foxycodallas.com/home/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lionelli Taberna – review

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Lionelli Taberna, at the Evelyn Hotel

Twelve days ago, former Lincoln Ristorante chef Jonathan Benno launched the first in a triptych of dining enterprises that will round out the newly renovated Evelyn Hotel in New York’s NoMad district. Lionelli Taberna is the Roman-inspired casual bistro that will be sandwiched between Leonelli Focacceria e Pasticceria, a bakery coffee shop which opens today, and Benno the formal Mediterranean scene stealer which will be making a grander entrance later this year.

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Lionelli Taberna

The taberna feels as much like a magnificent brass-and-glass treasure chest as an archeological discovery of original art-deco ornamentation. The L-shaped room wraps around a glass fishbowl kitchen, featuring gorgeous vertical lighting units and stained-glass accents, that complement the mix-n-match hardwood and semi-original remains of a terrazzo floor.

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Saffron & Soppressata Arancini, Lionelli Taberna

The ample menu spreads a lot further than Rome as its geo-flavor-epicenter, with seafood, veggies and cheeses that whiplash across much of Italy, plus a rather odd layover or two in Mexico (for a Salsa Verde and a classic Caesar Salad which we all know has nothing to do with Julius Caesar) but you can rest assured that the wondrous Arancini’s, Carciofi, Bistecca and Pastas are as nostalgically authentic as you’d hope for.

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Gnocchi alla Romana, Lionelli Taberna

While some dishes have yet to find some focus (the Lasagne Spinach with bolognaise ragú – which Benno lifted from his menu at Lincoln – doesn’t quite turn the lights on for me yet), the hallelujah hit has to be his Gnocchi alla Romana, which is a large, single shingle of fluffy gnoccho draped in the dreamiest stew of braised oxtail, that took everything I had not to squeal out loud.

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Lionelli Taberna

While we were watching the uniformly bearded and maroon baseball-cap toting chefs do their meticulous thing, wrangling rotisserie chickens or searing wild salmon, we didn’t realize that the maître d’hôtel was watching us (me) struggle to free a few precious morsels of mint-infused meat from the utterly delectable yet excessively fat-engulfed Elysian Fields Farm Lamb steak. Just as I was ready to cry “uncle” on the entire mission, she stepped in to apologize for my melee and promptly erased the item from the bill. Now, that’s how you spell “customer-satisfaction-with-built-in-loyalty-for-life” my friends.

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Torta di Limone, Lionelli Taberna

Armed with a knapsack of complimentary homemade Italian cookies – even after gorging on the delicious Torta di Limone with Strawberry Sorbet – we munched our way home planning, promising and predicting our very next visit.

https://www.leonellirestaurants.com/

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Focaccia with tomato, Lionelli Taberna

Eating my way through Charleston

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Breakfast biscuits, Poogan’s Porch

Since its inception, Charleston, South Carolina has been called many things. Originally  “Charles Town” or “Chuck town” in honor of King Charles II, and more recently the “Holy City” thanks to the proliferation of almost every denomination of church steeple, but I prefer to think of it as “Charmtown” – the city of warmth, charm, hospitality and phenomenal southern cooking.  Because a large part of the myrtle tree lined cobbled streets lie several feet on the wrong side of sea level, many local menus refer to their recipes as “low country” cuisine – which incorporates soul food concoctions of local grains, greens, poultry and seafood – not to mention a nirvana for any barbecue pit-master.

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Shrimp & Grits, Husk

There are several “must-try’s” on every newcomer’s list to the city: Shrimp and Grits (a gritty porridge dotted with cooked shrimp bathing in some form of roux; Pimento Cheese (a pimply pale paté of soft cheese, pickled pimentos and mayonnaise often dolloped over fried green tomatoes); Barbecue (pork, beef, catfish and poultry – usually open-pit-smoked with vinegar-forward rubs and sauces); She-crab Soup (a creamy chowder from the legs and claws of female crabs) and Fried Chicken (no explanation required!).

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F.I.G.

Food establishments are as casual as they are abundant, and every Charlestonian (from Uber drivers to baggage handlers) will recommend their favorite, but securing a table (one of the few still using white cloths) at Mike Lata’s F.I.G. (Food is Good, est. 2003) is still tougher than a hamster sandwich. The kitchen at this all-time favorite local bistro in Ansonborough is run by executive chef and James Beard Award winner Jason Stanhope, who should be thanked for averting local riots by loyally reprising several menu standards.

 

 

Top of the list has to be his velvety smooth, rich and incomparably wondrous Chicken Liver Paté, served with shards of toasted brioche, a bracing Dijon and a pile of sour pickles. Next would be a cluster of impossibly fluffy Ricotta Gnocchi with the most delectable lamb Bolognaise that could easily summon 100 angels (from wherever it is that angels need to be summoned from.) We had also hoped to sample the much-blogged-about Tomato Tarte Tatin, only to be firmly but politely corrected by our dapper apron-clad waiter, that everyone knew it would be three more weeks before tomatoes were at their most flavorful. (Did I mention that this town runs on locally sourced, available ingredients?) So, we opted for one of the highly requested seafood dishes – the Fish Stew Provençal, which beautifully merges French and Southern cooking styles into one heavenly pot of mussels, local white shrimp, squid, fish and Carolina Gold rice.

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Shrimp & Grits, Poogan’s Porch

Poogan’s Porch is an enchanting, family-run establishment set inside a double-story house with a generous porch, where you can people-watch the iPhone bungling tourists go by, while enjoying the Best Shrimp and Grits in 2016. Their secret? They add cheddar to the grits to give it a tangy creaminess, and their roux is a Tasso ham gravy with sausages and peppers.

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The Grocery

You will, without doubt, stumble upon former vegetarian chef Kevin Johnson’s The Grocery on several Charleston Top 10 lists (and via many a personal recommendation too) mostly because of his reliance on the freshest local farm produce. The daily menu is dictated by whatever appeared on the back of the truck that morning, but rest assured, the sublimely spicy Roasted Carrots in Harissa is a staple. The curiously wide space (formerly a furniture showroom) comprises a series of incongruous areas with and without views of the elaborate and high-octane kitchen. We wolfed down the house-made Charcuterie Platter, and savored an amazing mustard and au jus Glazed Duck leg confit with German potato salad and a sharp turnip kraut.

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Glazed Duck leg Confit, The Grocery

You could easily spend a year sampling every take on Fried Chicken in town without repetition, but faced with a time budget, we opted for the lonely pink cinder block box surrounded by a cluster of weeds on the side of a road just north of town called Martha Lou’s Kitchen.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Thrillst® just embraced it onto their America’s 31 Best Fried Chicken spots list, and you won’t get any arguments from me. True to the adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – this windowless room hasn’t seen much in the way of upgrades over its thirty-year history.

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Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Label-free, sticky, hot-sauce bottles pin down the hand-scribbled menus, which would otherwise be strewn across the 7 floral, vinyl-covered tables. The only sounds above the whirring of dueling electric fans are the enthusiastic shrieks of anticipation from the crowd of persistent regulars waiting patiently in line. The silverware is plastic, the dishware is Styrofoam and the linen is dispensed from a roll. But the chicken is…to…die…for.

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Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Mac ‘n Cheese and Cornbread, Martha Lou’s Kitchen

Cooked, served and cleared by two feisty sisters who offer you a choice 3 sides (some of the best collard greens, mac ‘n cheese and corn bread in town) to go along with their moist, tender, golden and candy-apple-crisp portions of dark or white meat. The salty-peppery batter is just thick enough not to pull away from the chicken, and when all is said and done, neither plate nor fingers yield a trace of oil. Be warned though – the Sweet Tea is sweeter than a honey-bee’s butt.

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Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

There’s another crowd standing in line just a few blocks away at Rodney Scott’s BBQ. Mr. Scott brought his James Beard Award winning “whole hog” technique to town after a very successful run in Hemingway, SC. Alongside the airy red, white and blue dining room is a not-so-airy pit room where hogs, chickens and large sections of beef are slowly and meticulously smoked.

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Spare Ribs, Rodney Scott’s Barbecue

The service is counter-style, and the food arrives in little red baskets lined with butcher paper to soak up the oozy, yummy, vinegary, sweet-and-spicy sauce. Popular favorites are the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a generous helping of lean strands of smoked pork between a soft, white bun, and the amazing dry rub, melt-in-your-mouth Spare Ribs that yield their dark, rich and woody flavors from years of crafting and perfecting.

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Husk

Sean Brock is probably the most notorious chef to draw attention to Charleston’s food scene. After a career under the influence of toques from multiple styles, the “Mind of a chef” starring, James Beard and Daytime Emmy Award winning southern boy opened the now legendary Husk in 2010. Set in a charming 1890’s house on Queen street with a fancy Bourbon barroom next door, Brock dedicated the menu to his strict devotion to southern produce: “If it ain’t southern,” he used to quip, “it ain’t coming in the door.”

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Pimento Cheese Bruscetta, Husk

He elevates Shrimp and Grits with a medley of cheeses for extra creaminess, and douses it in a mind-blowing tomato and shellfish broth. By now everyone has heard of his utterly amazing Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps.

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Pig’s Ear Lettuce Wraps, Husk

In reality they are a fresh leaf of butter lettuce clutching a few crispy, crackly twigs of what our waiter described as: “if bacon and pork belly had a baby,” with soft pickled cucumbers, onion slices and a spot of Togarashi sauce for some heat. But nothing can beat the pure, simple joy of his classic Cheeseburger.

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Cheeseburger, Husk

A pair of chuck, bacon and brisket patties held together by a slice of melted American cheese, a swipe of secret sauce, a sprinkle of shaved onion and 3 or 4 pickles crammed into a golden, squishy sesame bun. Uncomplicated. Unfussy. Unbelievable.

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McCrady’s

But don’t think for a hot and sticky southern second that Sean Brock can’t do fussy. Just take a seat at the U-shaped counter at his revamped McCrady’s for a serious, focused and flavor-intense degustation experience. The gold pressed-steel ceilings and exposed brick walls help warm the 18-seat dining throne at the edge of an all-induction, sous-vide kitchen with no open flames. A diverse group of line chefs labor theatrically and animatedly with tweezers, needles and miniature tongs to surgically assemble, prep and plate thirteen of the most beautiful micro-portions of amazingly fussy food. The two and a quarter hour savory thrill ride is rather like a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, with daring surprises, immaculate choreography and a story arc that builds slowly with several culinary high points, before a series of sweet endings gently lower you back down to earth. The grey seersucker-vested waiters provide all the jokes, anecdotes, punctuations and explanations, but no-one will reveal what’s coming up next.

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Royal red shrimp and Savoy Cabbage, McCrady’s

Part of the suspense includes Brock’s highly curated musical “soundtrack” to accompany each course, with selections from The Wild Club and Massive Attack, (which at times makes hearing the dish descriptions a tad challenging for these old ears) but it’s all part of the uncompromising “dinner party” experience that Chef Sean was after.

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Uni and Cucumber ice-cream, McCrady’s

Each dish is revealed in a unique way, in its own unique vessel, accompanied by a uniquely carved wooden rest that houses each unique piece of articulated cutlery. The menu updates regularly based on seasonality, fresh produce availability (noticing a theme yet?) and tons of experimentation. Some of the recent highlights included an ice-cream made from Uni; a delicious Ossabow Pork Pie (that was truly the size of a licorice all-sort); a sous-vide Royal red shrimp and Savoy cabbage mousseline splashed with Kimchi butter and topped with Osetra caviar; a marvelous risotto made from Nostrale Rice (aka Charleston ice-cream) with puffed cereal and a foamy egg custard; pan-seared Mahi Mahi covered by a thatch of thinly sliced white asparagus and New Zealand finger limes, served under a splash of chamomile and spring onion tea; and a Banana Caramel with coconut gelato and black lime zest.

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McCrady’s

With only so many meals a day, the larger question is where didn’t I get to eat? That list would have to include notables like The Glass Onion, Chez Nous, Xiao Bao Biscuit, Bertha’s Kitchen, Charleston Grill, 167 Raw, Zero, Stella’s, Lewis Barbecue and The Ordinary. Looks like I’ll be back in “Charmtown” real soon. Y’all take care now!

https://eatatfig.com/

https://www.poogansporch.com/

http://marthalouskitchen.com/

http://www.rodneyscottsbbq.com/

http://huskrestaurant.com/sean-brock-2/

http://mccradysrestaurant.com/

My favorite New York restaurant

When folks hear that I write a food blog, their first reaction is always one of shock and surprise. (Notice how I said “shock and surprise” and not “shock and awe?” That’s because there’s nothing that awesome about writing a food blog. It’s just something I happen to do.) After that, the most popular request that gets volleyed my way is to “name my favorite restaurant”. Then for some bizarre reason I become as tongue-tied as a toddler.

(You know that moment when you have just bitten through a slice of toasted baguette, but the generous slither of prosciutto refuses to be halved by your incisors, your canines, your molars or even your wisdom teeth? And so it stretches out of your mouth like a celebrity red carpet between the piece of toast on your tongue, and the piece you were hoping to return to your plate. Then, despite the fact that you are in public, you override good manners and decide to shove the entire thing into your pie hole anyway – not realizing that if the prosciutto wasn’t easy to chew when your beak was empty, it’s going to be darn near impossible now that it’s full.  And so, with cheeks puffed and lips stretched beyond their endurance with a corner of toast already crowning, someone asks you a question.)

That’s exactly how it feels when people ask me…that question.

So, as an attempt at answering it once and for all, I’ve decided to lay out a menu of all of my favorite dishes and where they are served around the city, as though this were to be my very last meal on earth. (Clearly in my case there would have to be a temporary stay of execution just to get through them all – but hey, what a way to go!)

SNACKS

I’d probably start with a greedy handful of House roasted red peanuts with chilies from Pok Pok NY, and then help myself to at least 3 light, fluffy and utterly devourable amuse bouche Cheese Puffs from Benoit before anyone notices they’re missing.

Then I’d tear off a couple of chunks of Nur’s Jerusalem Sesame Bagel before dipping each into that heavenly Lima Bean and Za’atar mouse. Next, I’d use a piece of crispy Italian country bread to scoop up the puddle of olive oil in the middle of Locanda Verde’s smooth and creamy house-made Sheep’s milk Ricotta, while saving some room for a bite or two of the splendiferously yummy Grilled Nueske’s Bacon with peanut butter and Jalapeño jelly from Quality Eats West Village.

APPETIZERS

While I have a lengthy list of establishments that hand chop a great Beef Tartare, (Estela covers theirs under a forest of yummy crispy sunchoke chips, and Cote serves theirs with equally crispy chimichurri-like puffs), only the incomparable Gabriel Kreuther serves a staggeringly delicious and audacious Lobster tartare. I’ll use any excuse to go to Le Bernadin for Eric Ripert’s perfectly circular Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio, dotted and dashed with all sorts of interesting nic-nacs like pickles, Iberico ham chutney and olive oil. And speaking of which, you can’t deny me at least a few bites of Il Buco’s magnificent olive oil Fried Artichokes.

I’m always up for a few slithers of sea urchin speckled Crab Nachos with a rich aioli “queso” from Empellón, or I could grab a handful of Indian Accent’s butter, pepper and garlic baptized Crab Claws to accompany a floret or two of the most delectable of all Indo-Asian fried cauliflowers called General Tso’s by Babu Ji.

Something noodley? It would be hard for me to pass up a nice coil of Han Dynasty’s Dan-Dan Noodles served with ground pork and chili oil, or (because I have such a proclivity for the theatrical) I’d wait and stare while someone heaves and twists the vintage duck press at The Grill to flavor their immaculate Pasta a la Presse with duck, pheasant, squab, bacon and vegetables.

If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering why there are no chicken wings on this list yet. Well, wonder no more: Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok NY always do it for me. And one size up from chickens, at least one of those finger-licking-salty-lemony Crispy Duck Wings from Justin Smillie’s Upland shall forever have my name on it.

For fresh risotto, nothing can touch the light and creamy Barley Risotto with Baby Clams from Narcissa, and when risotto makes its second-time-around appearance, I’m all about Nick Anderer’s adorable pesto flavored Arancini from Marta.

David Chang does two app’s that I could eat at just about any time of day: his Spicy Pork Sausage and Rice cakes from Momofuku Ssäm, and the absolutely ocean-stopping Sea Urchin with fermented Bean paste from Momofuku Ko.

The mere thought of a few strips of Sesame Beef Jerky with a healthy dunk into the fermented Laotian chili paste from Khe-Yo makes me about as weak at the knees as the pure, simple and garlicy red shrimp Carabineros with preserved lemon at La Vara.

And to round it out with a super spicy, lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorn dish, it would either be one bite of Danny Bowien’s Thrice Cooked Bacon and Rice Cakes at Mission Chinese Food, or one of the scaldingly hot Thai Papaya Salads from Somtum Der.

MAINS

My main course favorites come in two basic categories: Roast chicken, and everything else. While some might think there’s nothing more ho-hum than a piece of rotisserie foul, very few can do it as crispily, tenderly and succulently as Le Coq Rico, Dirty French, Le Turtle or chef Jonathan Waxman who honed his poultry skills for years at Michael’s before turning me into a broken record about his astounding Roast Chicken with Salsa Verde at Barbuto. And you can’t blame me for having a very soft spot for Pinch Chinese’s garlic-blasted Wind Sand Chicken. But the king of them all has to be The Nomad’s Roast Chicken stuffed with brioche and foie gras served two ways after being paraded around lavishly like a trophy hen. The other piece of poultry that gets – and rightfully deserves – its own parade is the magnificent and mysteriously shoe-leather-brown Honey Lacquered Duck from Legacy Records.

Moving from roasted to fried, I would have to have one final bite each of the shatter-crisp Fried Chickens from Perry Street, The Dutch and Blue Ribbon – in that order. And it’s a toss-up for who makes my favorite Chicken Kiev between Mari Vanna (who serves it Russian-style with buckwheat) or The Clocktower (who serves it inside an adorable miniature credenza).

I definitely skew French when it comes to seafood and believe that no-one can die before they’ve tried Eric Ripert’s much lauded Paupiette of Sea Bass, which is wrapped inside the thinnest skin of crispy potato scales at Le Bernadin, and Le Coucou does a wondrously faithful and nostalgic Sole Veronique. But if you’re looking for a cavalcade of shellfish flavor, Alain Ducasse whips up twin Quenelles de Brochet at Benoit that are as light and fluffy as pike meringues.

This city is drowning in amazing pasta palaces, but I’ll have anything fresh from Osteria Morini or Café Altro Paradiso’s Garganelli with chicken Ragu, not to mention the stunning Saffron Linguine from Boulud Sud, or Locanda Verde’s dreamy Paccheri with Sunday night Ragu. And while some can’t live without Yesterday’s 100 layer Lasagne from Del posto (don’t get me wrong, I can’t either), I couldn’t imagine a world without Rita Sodi’s sensational Lasagna a Sugo at the nearly-impossible-to-get-into I Sodi.

If I were to choose one last hamburger before leaving the planet, it would probably be the delectable beef patty smothered with Comte cheese inside John Fraser’s Piedmontese Burger at The Loyal, with thanks in large part to the “22-step tomato” that covers, smothers, decorates and elevates it beyond all others in its class, unless I happened to be in the mood for April Broomfield’s Chargrilled Lamb Burger with feta at The Breslin.

I’m still busy wading my way through the morass of Ramen joints across the city, but the one that felt the closest to a real Tokyo train station broth bowl with pork and veggies was the ridiculously creamy and insanely flavorful Tonkotsu Ramen from Mu Ramen in Long Island City.

Before progressing to beef, I’d have to include both of my favorite breaded veals: Wallse’s outstanding Wienerschnitzel, and the most memorable (and expensive) Veal Parm in town at Carbone.

The last two entries will have to be a cut of The Grill’s Prime-aged Ribeye smothered in a green Peppercorn and cognac sauce, and the insanely delectable Beef Tenderloin Stir Fry in the darkest, richest, garlicky, soy and oyster sauce, smothered in fries and accented with chilies, avocado and crema, and served in a chive crepe at Llama Inn.

DESSERTS

Just like the mains, I have 2 categories for desserts: those that have something to do with meringue, and those that don’t. I don’t know what it is, but when egg-whites and sugar get beaten into a foamy froth, it makes me abort every attempt at a diet without conscience. And it doesn’t matter what state it’s in either. Dominic Ansel Bakery uses meringue to cover his sublime Frozen Smores on a stick, while Enrique Olvera smashes 2 of them in his transcendent Husk Meringue at Cosme. The Musket Room somehow manages to shape it into a hollow tube that gets filled with cream and a tangy curd in their Passion Fruit Pavlova masterpiece, and vegetarian hotspot Nix spikes meringue with toasted almonds as a topping over their (off-menu) Grilled Pineapple Wedge.

I’m not much of a pie person, but my arm can be twisted without resistance by the meringue snake that gets torched on top of Llama Inn’s unsharably wondrous Graham Cracker Lime Pie. And I can’t decide between my two favorite alcohol flambéed Baked Alaska’s, (so I have to have both) – the classic one from The Grill, or the one called Omelette Norvégienne with pistachio ice-cream from Le Coucou. Neighborhood bistro Olmsted’s Lavender honey Frozen Yoghurt isn’t technically a meringue, but when they manage to whip it into a shaving-foam delight, it makes my list as something familiar, yet unique and spectacular. But the be-all and end-all of meringue desserts has to be L’Ile Flottante from Le Coq Rico, which is a pink pistachio and burnt sugar crusted island of fluff that is set adrift on a pond of vanilla custard crème.

As for the rest, I’d have to grab one more mouthful of those irresistibly hand-made Honey Butter Chips from Oiji – with or without ice-cream, and it’s a toss-up between Alex Stupak’s Avocado which is a sublime air-brushed recreation out of lime-flavored pudding, or his equally Instagrammably delicious Corn Taco Ice-cream – both from Empellón.

So next time someone asks me what my favorite New York restaurant is, they’ll just have to contend with: “It depends!”

https://pokpokny.com/

https://www.benoitny.com/

http://nurnyc.com/

http://www.locandaverdenyc.com/

https://www.qualityeats.com/west-village/

https://www.estelanyc.com/

https://www.cotenyc.com/

https://www.gknyc.com/

https://www.le-bernardin.com/

http://www.ilbuco.com/

https://www.empellon.com/empellon/

http://www.indianaccent.com/newyork/index.php

http://www.babujinyc.com/

http://handynasty.net/

http://thegrillnewyork.com/

https://www.uplandnyc.com/

http://www.standardhotels.com/new-york/features/narcissa

https://www.martamanhattan.com/

https://ssambar.momofuku.com/

https://ko.momofuku.com/

https://www.kheyo.com/

http://www.lavarany.com/

https://www.missionchinesefood.com/

http://somtumder.com/home_ny.html

http://www.lecoqriconyc.com/

https://www.dirtyfrench.com/

http://leturtle.fr/

http://www.barbutonyc.com/index.php

https://www.pinchchinese.com/

https://www.thenomadhotel.com/new-york/dining

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

http://www.perrystrestaurant.com/#!/about-perry-street/restaurant/

http://www.thedutchnyc.com/

https://blueribbonfriedchicken.com/

http://www.marivanna.ru/ny/

http://theclocktowernyc.com/

https://www.lecoucou.com/

http://osteriamorini.com/

https://www.altroparadiso.com/

https://www.bouludsud.com/

http://delposto.com/

http://www.isodinyc.com/

http://www.loyalrestaurant.com/

https://www.thebreslin.com/

http://ramennyc.wixsite.com/popup

https://www.kurtgutenbrunner.com/restaurants/wallse/

http://carbonenewyork.com/

http://www.llamainnnyc.com/

https://dominiqueansel.com/

http://www.cosmenyc.com/

https://www.musketroom.com/

http://www.nixny.com/

http://www.olmstednyc.com/

http://www.oijinyc.com/

 

 

Mu Ramen – review

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Mu Ramen

Would you be bothered if people watched you eat? I don’t mind if people see me do a great many harmless things, but for some reason chewing for a crowd feels a little unnerving. Well, that’s the way it is at Mu Ramen, the 20 (highly coveted) seat room in Queens, where homesick Japanese ex-pats and lovers of ramen from all across the 5 boroughs perch themselves for hours on benches surrounding the brick walls, staring and glaring at the lucky few who have graduated to back-less stools at the single communal table. Every one of my attempts (both failed and successful) at coiling a thick noodle neatly into my wooden spoon, every use of my chopsticks (both adept and disastrous) and every time a nugget of smoky ground pork escaped my grip and splashed back into the deliciously dark and sublime broth, I could feel the daggers, sniggers and snorts from the audience behind me: “Novice.” “Space waster.” “Unworthy.” “Manhattanite.”

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Mu Ramen

The only thing that shifted my focus from the crowd to the food – was the food. New York native Joshua Smookler who did kitchen stints at Per Se and Buddakan before opening this mega-popular ATM in Long Island City, boils bones and other carefully selected animal parts for hours and hours yielding 4 of the most delectable ramen broths in the western hemisphere. But more about them later. His 9-item menu is super simple and to the point with Treats (appetizers), Ramen (the reason we crossed the East River) and Toppings (to take the Ramen up a notch or two), but if you flip it over, you find yourself time-traveled back to Queens with three steak options, a pasta and the Harlan hamburger. Who orders a hamburger in a Ramen shop? We did. It’s a medium-rare hockey puck of chopped short rib, smothered in a super-jammy onion relish with a nest of shoestring fries and a square of melted cheese under a sesame bun. Certainly does the job – but by no means the main event.

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Harlan Hamburger, Mu Ramen

We started with something called U & I. It’s a combination of sushi rice, nori flakes, spicy tuna chunks and 3 slithers of Japanese sea urchin with salmon roe and a dollop of wasabi. It looks like a Sunomomo bowl, but the trick is to try and get a smidge of each ingredient onto the same chopstick without mixing them in order to fully appreciate the salty crash of the ocean – meets a jellyfish sting of spicy heat – meets a creaminess that folds everything into total sublimity. Next, we climbed into a bowl of charred and smoky, citrusy, salty yuzu-lemon Edamame. After finishing my “fair” share, I began to suck the remaining grains of lemony salt from the empty shells. This is most likely the moment I forgot I was being watched.

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U & I, Mu Ramen

Tebasaki Gyoza was our third “Treat” and perhaps the only real miss. When I lifted one of the scalding chicken drumettes, I became aware of two things: they are heavier than your regular breaded, deep-fried wing and they are also miraculously oil-free. The drumette bone has been replaced with a large nugget of brioche and foie gras, but as fetching as it might look – all bronzed, puffed up and seemingly crunchy, the rather gummy breading hid whatever flavor might have come from the rather mushy, fleshy stuffing. If I had a wish, it would be for chef Smookler to come up with another crowd-stopper like U & I while leaving the brioche and foie gras poultry stuffing to Daniel Humm at The Nomad.

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Tebasaki Gyoza

We tried 2 of the 4 ramen options. The Mu Ramen (a beef broth from oxtail and bone marrow) was unfortunately not available. We also skipped the I’ll Shoyu duck-based broth in favor of the two pork versions. Tonkotsu Ramen (the most frequently ordered item by my shoulder-to-shoulder neighbors) is a delightfully creamy broth with thin noodles, pork morsels, egg and vegetables. Not overly salty, very lean and wonderfully silky. They could have just as easily served it as tea.

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Tonkotsu Ramen, Mu Ramen

On the steamier end, the Spicy Miso ramen features a clear, dark, rich and wonderfully umami broth with scallion, strips of corn, ground pork clusters, thick noodles, sesame and a tinge of heat thanks to the chili oil. Once the solids were gone, I lapped up the remaining liquid like a good little Hello Kitty. Speaking of Tokyo, most of their Ramen broths tend to be more fish-forward, but either of these outstanding contenders can certainly hold their own next to any of those I sampled in the corridors beneath the Maronouchi station.

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Mu Ramen

As I rose from my seat, I could feel the spectator glares behind me turn into eager and appreciative smiles. While maneuvering my way out between their knees and umbrellas, I couldn’t help wondering if it would be too much to ask for a round of light applause for my performance.

Mu Ramen. 1209 Jackson Ave, Queens, NY. No website. Cash only.

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Legacy Records – review

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Perpetually groovy Manhattan hotspots Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones have a new baby brother. Chef Ryan Hardy of the Delicious Hospitality Group birthed his newest Italo-Seafood supper club Legacy Records in early March. The restaurant is visionary in many respects. Not only did San Francisco designer Ken Fulk do an absolute number on the new space, with a high-end tribute to art deco and mid-century luxury using liberal helpings of emerald green, gold and mahogany, but the far west location somewhere between the Javitz Convention Center and DHL’s distribution hub at the base of a condo tower is definitely out there – that is until Hudson Yards becomes the city’s newest it neighborhood.

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Legacy Records

Being able to snag a table at one of New York’s newest establishments delivers more than just bragging rights. First month jitters, growing pains and teething troubles often yield their own uniquely entertaining take-out stories, and Legacy Records is not immune. As we tried to gain access via the very masculine brick-and-steel Henry Hall condo lobby, a sign directed us to a side entrance, 50 feet away. Once there, a contradictory sign directed us back to the condo lobby. Then just as we marveled at the magnificently clubby, yet airy crescent bar and the staggering array of multi-leveled brass trumpet flower arrangements decorating the all-day dining café, we were suddenly immobilized by the instantaneous ambience destruction of a smoke alarm with intermittent deafening sirens and a pulsating cascade of flashing lights. Not exactly the tribute I had in mind for a former recording studio.

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 6.26.00 PMAs you circumnavigate the bar, a series of bold and funky artworks by Mickalene Thomas adorn the walls that lead to a somewhat less formal dining area flanked by a row of windows looking out onto a concrete wall as high as a prison yard. My hunch, hope or suggestion might be for a vertical garden to slightly diminish the claustrophobia.

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Razor Clam Crudo, Legacy Records

The service has also not quite found its groove yet. After our waiter bragged that the butter was “especially imported”, a server seemed to think that it just came from “uptown”. (Turns out he clears tables at a different location for lunch and got his butter origins confused.) The only reason I’m making such a big deal about the butter is because it is indeed imported from France, and is accompanied by a cocoon-shaped dollop of rosemary-infused lard which collectively transforms the house-baked sprouted seed bread into a sublime and decadent feast. But the kicker came later in the meal when one of the bussers who was so intent on replacing our plates and flatware mid-course, that one of our table guests – who had 4 remaining mouthfuls to go – found himself at the defensive end of a tug-of-war.

“New plates,” the busser kept insisting.

“Not finished,” we kept replying.

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Diver Scallop Crudo, Legacy Records

But the kitchen is indisputably pitch-perfect. The highly recommended Crudo for the table arrives in a multi-level ceramic sculpture resembling an architectural model of a Santorini cliffside villa. It includes a Razor Clam in a wonderfully tart and tangy saffron espellette, a delectable lime-yogurt flavored Diver Scallop – diced but still in the shell, and sweet but heat-loaded, sashimi-smooth slithers of Fluke, thanks to some citrusy jalapeno. I felt a little sorry for the Japanese Sea Urchin that got drowned out by a blasting chorus of Dungeness crab under a shellfish-flavored aioli.

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Japanese Sea Urchin Crudo, Legacy Records

Some of the other small plates included San Daniele Prosciutto, hand-pulled Mozzarella and a charcoal grilled Pigeon, but we unanimously went for the seasonally appropriate and utterly rewarding Sunchokes. I cannot ever recall ever enjoying such dark and crispy lobes of sunchoke that gave way to soft and tender artichoke hearts and anchovies in a leafy, mushroomy salad.

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Sunchoke Salad, Legacy Records

The half dozen pasta options are also more intriguing than your Italian go-to staples. We had to skip the pea and leak Raviolo Doppio and the cuttlefish Spaghetti in favor of the wondrous chestnut Tagliatelle with shards of duck ragu in a rich rosemary and liver sauce. And I hereby commit to trying the über-popular shellfish Risotto next time.

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Honey lacquered Duck for Two, Legacy Records

The mains are the usual carousel of Italian RCB’s (Ribeye, Chicken, Branzino) with a Duck for Two as the absolute showstopper. The honey-lacquered roasted bird gets paraded around in her birthday suit featuring a dark mahogany crust with a rosemary plume before being whisked away for dissection and plating. “Our” duck made 2 separate appearances by 2 separate waiters, revealing that she was perhaps selected for objectification and exhibition purposes only. Regardless, I predict that the duo of super tender breast slices bordered by a nutty, spicy and delectably sweet skin are sure to elevate this dish to billboard status before the summer is over.

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Gelatos, Legacy Records

Desserts include a Rum cake and other equally odd bits and bobs, but the popular must-haves are the Gelatos served in cracker-crispy house-made cones. Right now, flavors like Bananas foster, Chocolate fudge and Yoghurt rhubarb were all she wrote, but I have a strong feeling that this repertoire will continue to grow as the temperature rises.

What better way to usher in the spring than a fresh new hit in a hip, new hood.

https://www.legacyrecordsnyc.com/

 

Cote Korean Steakhouse – review

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If the definition of an enigma is a mysterious or puzzling riddle, chef Simon Kim has whipped the term up to a whole new frenzy at Cote, his dynamo of a Flatiron grill house. While it might be much more of a Korean barbecue than a regular steakhouse, the one thing this recently crowned Michelin hotspot is super-dooper serious about – is meat.

 

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The mysteriously dark and borderline somber interior (thanks to the dark walls, concrete floors and granite table-tops) feels less like the place you’d find wood-handled serrated knives, paper napkins and sticky bottles of dark-red sauce, and more like the set of a tragic opera titled “The Temple of Contrasts”. It’s way too mellow for a fine dining experience, and yet way too serious for a steakhouse. When you stand up it feels expensive, but when you sit down at the rows of shared tables, it’s not. Let’s call it a hybrid. Just like their American Wagyu steak – which is a byproduct of a mixed marriage from a Japanese Wagyu father and an American Black Angus mother. Is it the best of both? Absolutely. We’re talking unparalleled mecca of meat in Manhattan here.

 

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Dry aging room, Cote Korean Steakhouse

The wait staff are as delightful and helpful as kindergarten teachers, who just want you to enjoy yourselves as you wade your way through the 2-foot long laminated menu with built-in bovine anatomy lesson on the back. But no-one would dare upstage the real stars of the show who are all resting and aging quietly downstairs on a series of comfortable racks for about 2 to 20 weeks. Brief sightings are permitted via a window into their neon red chamber of patience as you pass by on your way to the sub-level lounge.

 

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Chef’s Feast, Cote Korean Steakhouse

The perfect way to dive into this heady list of options is via the Chef’s Feast, which serves as a primer for various Korean sides, salads and accoutrements plus a dealer’s choice of 4 different ages and cuts of marbled prime for $45.

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Korean Bacon, Cote Korean Steakhouse

We supplemented our order with a couple of appetizers, like the Korean Bacon – a wondrously crispy cumin and paprika rubbed, twice-smoked pork belly punctuated with pickled Jalapeno’s, and the hand-sliced (or rather – diced) top-round Steak Tartare flavored with chunks of pear and pickled mustard seeds. Uber-delectable in so many ways, even if the fluffy tendon crisps fell short in their duty of transporting every delicious scarlet morsel of flesh from plate to mouth.

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Kimchi Wagyu Paella, Cote Korean Steakhouse

And from the Savory dish section we ordered something deep and delicious called Kimchi Wagyu Paella. A rather curious name given that it didn’t much taste of Kimchi, nor did the mini-morsels of Wagyu beef get any spotlight, and I’d hardly describe it as a paella either. But who cares? The “chili-fried rice with nori flakes and a soft poached egg thing” got crispier and crispier and tastier and tastier as it waited patiently in a sizzling cast-iron pan, while the waitress sprinkled a trio of salts onto 8 bite-sized dominoes of wet-aged Hangar steak before lowering them onto the table-top grill.

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Hangar steak, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Various wait staff rotated in and out to turn the meat to ensure that it delivered the house-recommended medium-rare doneness. Meanwhile in the foreground, side dishes materialized from out of the darkness and transformed the table into a carousel of colors and flavors. Pickled cauliflower with jalapeno’s. Scallion salad with a tart dressing. Red leaf lettuces to wrap around the meat. A nice and crispy Radish kimchi. A soft and salty Savoy cabbage kimchi. A single leaf of Sesame kimchi (which despite many attempts proved un-tearable and therefore un-shareable.) Spicy kimchi stew with pork belly and rice. A rather pale and shy Savory egg soufflé, and an ochre-colored, spicy, fermented soy bean paste called Ssamjang that could transform anything – even the rear-end of a Hyundai Elantra – into something delectable.

Despite our trepidation about making a culinary faux pas, we were assured that there were no rules. You can group the steak bites together with a chorus of kimchi and paste inside a lettuce leaf for extra backup, or you can force each bite into its own solo act. Either way, the heavenly meat succumbed without resistance for a moist mouthful of umami, with hints of sear and salt in perfect unison. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore.

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(Clockwise) 45-day aged Ribeye, Wet-aged Hangar steak, American Wagyu, Galbi Marinated Shortrib, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Next on the grill was the aforementioned American Wagyu. No other way to describe it than utterly conversation-stoppingly sensational. And climbing yet another notch in tenderness – the 45-day aged Ribeye. No funky mushroomy flavors here. Just the purest, moistest, most salivatingly wonderful bite of beef ever. And finally, the popular Galbi Marinated Shortrib rounded out the quartet. Finger-thin striplets of tender meat still barely attached after bathing in a marvelously sweet and salty soy, apple, pear and mandarin juice all day. Sheer heaven. We were offered a staggering 145-day aged T-bone as the Chef’s special but heeded the warning that it can taste a little like blue-cheese on a good day.

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Steak Tartare, Cote Korean Steakhouse

Eating a steak has never been an exercise in patience for me. Quite the opposite. But I do have to confess to a certain enjoyment as I watched each morsel slowly cook in front of me, and then thoughtfully masticated and savored each bite. But once the flavor serenade burst into my mouth, I would have given anything to gobble up every last bite in sight in under a minute.

https://www.cotenyc.com/