The Surprisingly Delicious Il Mulino

I try never to listen to reviews. I don’t trust them because one man’s Dos Caminos is another man’s Taco Bell – and who is to say which one that man prefers.

Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Sometimes, it’s a draw. And sometimes, it lads me into a wonderful meal for which my expectations were really low.

Such was my delightful experience at the uptown Il Mulino.

Il Mulino is a veritable institution in the west village. It’s slightly easier to get a reservation there than its inspiration, Rao’s. It’s a club to which everyone belongs, as long as you come in with a reservation, which will likely be on the very early or somewhat late side.

Hey, I could be down with some prosecco at 6pm.

The vibe and atmosphere is old school elegance - break out your Birkin bags, and no ripped jeans, gents. The lighting is so low that even we, four young and healthy people, had to break out our iPhone flashlights. But you won’t read your menu for the first few minutes that you are there anyway.

First, you will order a bottle of wine from the rather small and overpriced list – how can you not? It’s such a celebratory feeling being ushered to your tiny, lamp lit table by a tuxedoed Italian man who spouts nothing but compliments, bella this and prego that….you need to drink to keep that buzz going!

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Then, you will receive a chunk of parmesan from a large wheel. It’s nutty, salty, and a little sweet.

Then, there is the spicy hard salami.

Then there is the zucchini, oily and addictive.

Don’t forget the mussels bruschetta, where the mussels are a little blah but the crostini is downright fabulous. Tart, juicy, sweet, and a little earthy. Just a hint of garlic. Sorry for the lack of photos – toldja that the restaurant was insanely dark!

I wish I got a photo of the overflowing bread baskets. Yes, multiple. Spicy, crispy foccacia, fresh doughy tomato foccacia, wheat country bread, and garlic bread so cheesy, savory, and delicious that it must be baked with pure crack cocaine.

Yeah, it’s that tasty.

Only then do you get to look at the impossible-to-decipher-in-this-darkness menu.

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Porcini ravioli

Keep your oysters and other aphrodisiacs. This is the sexiest dish that I ave ever eaten. It’s swimming in a creamy, truffle inflected sauce. It’s firm but pillowy and light on the inside, with cheesy, woodsy, meaty porcini mushrooms. The pasta is tender and the serving is gigantic – easily enough for 2 light eaters. It’s rich and heavy in the most wonderful way. It’s almost heady with all of those mushrooms and cream. It’s intoxicating. 

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Chicken alla Romana

The most shocking of the night, because it tastes so home cooked. If you told me that your nonna was back there cooking it, I would believe you in a heartbeat. The most tender chicken in a lemony, almost velvety sauce with capers, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. The chicken reaches that magical point of fall apart tender but not yet mushy. It’s so bright and comforting – it’s really tasty in every way. It doesn’t come with a side dish, but get some more of the garlic bread to sop up that wonderful sauce. Trust me, you will want it all.

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Veal Milanese

A lighter option to veal Parmigiano. Thin, wonderfully tender veal that is so soft and sweet that my fiance announced that it must have been smuggled into the country, because he had never tasted veal like this. It has a crunchy, thin breading that isn’t at all soggy and is well seasoned with salt and dried oregano. It’s covered with fresh tomatoes that are so sweet and juicy that it reminds me that the crap I have been eating all winter is finally giving way to spring and summer fruit. I would order this again, but would also like to try the much more sinful Parmigiano version.

Il Mulino gets an unfair rap as overly pricey and subpar. It was absolutely fair for the amount and quality of food that we got. The servers asked us if we wanted appetizers or dessert but did NOT push us. We were not rushed, pressured to upgrade our wine selection. or made to feel in any way that we were less than because we only ordered entrees. We were even gifted some fig grappa at the end to entice us to return. The service was efficient, warm, and genuine. It was an excellent meal, and though not a cheap one, a fairly priced one.

So even though I don’t  follow reviews, you should follow mine. For that time when you don’t  have to pinch pennies, Il Mulino is too delish to miss!

Tocqueville – A Second Look at a Long Ago Post

When you write a blog for almost 4 years, stuff gets lost in the mix. So, I occasionally republish posts that are especially meaningful to me. This one is about a restaurant that, time and again, has proven itself to be consistent, elegant, and truly delicious. In the three years since this post was written, the head chef has changed and the menu changes with the seasons, but the dedication to service, wine, and food, is exactly the same. 
That is, to say, exemplary. 
So, enjoy the heartfelt review, questionable photography, overly flowery prose, and liberal use of caps lock. Because though the wonderful Tocqueville restaurant hasn’t changed, my blogging skills have…thankfully. 
Although I (clearly) love everything about food, I get bogged down like everyone else does. Between work, play, blogging, sleeping and occasionally fitting in time to go to the bathroom, I use food as fuel. I don’t have the time to enjoy and respect it as I should.  I forget what it is like to sit and enjoy a meal for hours. To comment on and discuss the food. To learn about the chefs and farmers who created the  dishes. To revel in the romance that a wonderful meal is about.
When I feel a need to really “be about’ food” again, I will head straight to  Tocqueville, for the $68 chef’s tasting menu, inspired totally from seasonal ingredients, many from the Union Square Greenmarket next door.
This photo does not do justice to the elegant, quiet and refined space. The music playing is low and relaxing, the decor is classic but not stuffy and the high ceiling-ed room infused me with both relaxation and giddy anticipation. I knew something special was in store.

The house baked breads
Baked fresh, every day. If the sourdough’s hole structure was not perfect, I did not care. It was so sour, with such a crisp, nicely charred crust that went perfectly with the house churned butter. The focaccia was still warmed from the oven, with a gentle slick of olive oil on top that accented the woodsy rosemary and briny olives within. The brioche (unpictured), was butter, butter and…more butter. I simply love a good bread program!
The chef’s tasting menu (which changes every day and can be altered to include/exclude specific requests) started off with a warm apple cider. My dad said it was “apple pie in a glass.” I would say that just about says it. Tart, sweet, spicy, rounded out with a strong vanilla taste, this was simultaneously satisfying and appetite inducing. Really, it was just perfection.
 Beet Tuile filled with Goat Cheese
The server told us that the beets were pureed, then sprinkled with powdered sugar before being baked, rolled and filled. These were so extremely beet-y: that sweet, earthy taste that was just all the more vegetal tasting with the grassy goat cheese. The powdered sugar worked with the beet’s natural flavor and brought out its sweet, lighter flavor profiles.
 
Celery Root and Potato Croquette topped with a Black Truffle
Warm. Crunch. Creamy. Hearty. Heady. Umami. Could have eaten these for my main dish. Every day.
Any other questions?
 Butternut Squash Confit with Creamless Sunchoke Soup with Black Truffles
The squash confit was good but not amazing – sweet, smooth…just nothing totally memorable. The soup? My favorite dish of the day.
So incredibly rich without being heavy, it had the most wonderful taste. I have not had sunchokes too many times, but this was a celery root-potato-ey flavor that was both familiar and totally new. The truffles were generously added, giving the soup an intoxicating layer, and some tangy balsamic vinegar made everything seem lighter and sweeter. The soup was served lukewarm – which I tend to hate – but, it actually made the truffles taste different. More substantial, less ethereal, somehow. It was interesting and wholly successful.
 Cato Farm Cheddar Salad with Frisee, Roasted Bosc Pears and Hazelnut dressing
My dad requested that this be part of the tasting menu, and though I doubted his choice at first, I was totally mistaken. This was a wonderfully constructed salad. The cheese was sharp yet with a creamy finish, the frisee was soft and lightly bitter, the nuts were meaty and toasted well, and the pears were nothing short of perfection; nothing but creamy sweetness within and shattering caramelization without. The balsamic reduction on top added a tangy taste to the otherwise subtle dish, elevating it further. The ingredients were excellent and the flavor combination could not have been improved in any way.
 Parmesan Poached Lobster Sauteed in Butter with Espelette Chili, Sea Beans, Celery Root and Dill
This was the best lobster I have ever had. That is a bold statement, and also true. The lobster was positively silky, and cut with the merest touch of a fork. The chili was spicy but not hot, it just melded perfectly with the luxurious butter and salty Parmesan cheese. The celery root was toothsome but tender, the sea beans did not have the iodine-y taste they sometimes have and the dill was fresh and fragrant with the otherwise rich dish. The ingredients did not seem like they would pair well with each other, but really worked in total harmony. Inventive and totally delicious.
 Roasted Venison Loin with Black Pepper and Blackberry Glaze, served with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chanterelles
I had never had venison loin before and this was outstanding. Satisfying as beef, light as pork tenderloin. It was very rare, but had no blood, like beef would have. It was tender like filet mignon, but with a lightly gamy, very pleasant flavor that was far more pronounced than that of filet. The peppercorns made the meat spicy and the glaze was sweet, tart and delightfully sticky. The mushrooms were soft and flavorful – mushrooms and meat are always the most wonderful combination, aren’t they? The buttery potato and herb purees on the dish completed this version of “meat and potatoes.’

 

 A cheese plate with a Vermont Blue Cheese, a Spanish cheese similar to Mangchego, served with quince paste, honey, a candied walnut, and a citrus-y, sweet, soft kumquat. Literally, in LOVE with that kumquat – it was like a soft candied orange rind or maybe a slightly less sweet gumdrop. The blue cheese was slightly smokey and extremely pungent, and the Spanish cheese was nutty and salty. The house-baked raisin crostini were perfect foils for these dairy delights. A well thought out and complimentary cheese plate.

 The selection of house made sorbets: Chocolate, passion fruit, blood orange, litchi and green apple
All well balanced flavors with  creamy textures, unlike the icy way many sorbets feel in the mouth. The passion fruit was my favorite – it was tart, not too sweet, and seemed insanely bright and summery for the middle of January. My dad preferred the rich and deep chocolate sorbet.
 Coconut flavored Tofu with those same amazing candied kumquats and a Citrus Broth
Tofu for dessert? Simply put, it rocked my world. It tasted exactly like a tofu panna cotta-just that rich and indulgent. The creaminess paired well with the light and acidic citrus broth and those heavenly candied kumquats.
 The Chocolate Tasting Plate, with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Molleux, Molten Chocolate Cake, and that wonderful Chocolate Sorbet
What can I say except that it was all complex and wonderfully chocolatey. The bittersweet chocolate Moelleux was especially exceptional – bitter in the way perfectly roasted coffee beans take bitter, and just sweet enough to make the cake more sweet than savory.
After the meal’s conclusion, we were invited down to tour the kitchen by our extremely sweet, attentive, and food-loving server. We met the world’s kindest and most passionate chef, Chef Gregory Vernick. He gave us a complete tour of the entire kitchen, introduced us to everyone, talked about his philosophy of cooking each item daily with as few preserved goods as possible, and told us that we ‘made his day’ by ordering the tasting menu. We saw the ducks that they butcher and hang themselves, the extensive spice cabinet, the foccacia being baked as we spoke, and only one tiny closet filled with the barest necessities of canned and dried goods. Everything else is always fresh, all the time. Chef Vernick reveled in the fact that the owners, Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, let him cook whatever was fresh, versus being confined to a written menu, as long as the price was not exorbitant. He knew everyone in the kitchen and clearly had the utmost respect for them, and vice versa.  His passion and excitement for food was both thrilling and inspiring. I am so lucky to have dined here, and for only $68, it was a steal. I suggest you dine here soon, for not just a meal, but a deeply personal and communal experience.

Sushi Nakazawa – A Transportive Experience

I talk a big game, but a lot of times – dinner is just dinner. My family is hungry and so we go out for Korean or order in pizza or I make a quick quesadilla with some fresh guacamole. We eat, we chat and laugh, and then the meal is over – we really don’t think about it beyond that.

However, every now and then, when all the stars align perfectly, I eat a dinner that is more than a meal. It’s a total experience. It’s transportive, it’s intoxicating, and it’s something that I think about for days and months to come. Occasionally, it even changes my life.

Such was my dinner at Sushi Nakazawa.

This restaurant, given four stars by Pete Wells, is the hottest restaurant to hit New York in ages. It makes NoMad look like a positive sleeper hit, that’s how hard it is to get a seat. I logged onto the website for days at exactly 12:01 am, trying to get a seat at the sushi bar, only to fail again and again. It’s easier to get a seat in the dining room, but that’s not where you want to be. You really want to be at one of those 10 seats at the sushi bar, where you get your fish mere moments after the chefs prepare it. I happened to get the seat from the kindness of a stranger on an internet forum who wanted to make my fiance’s birthday a special one. That’s right – I posted for help on an internet forum and someone actually gave me his reservation. I can’t imagine anything more kind and unselfish. HM, you are a gentleman and a scholar. I hope that I can one day repay your kindness.

Now, onto the main event.

You might recognize the head chef, Nakazawa-san from Jiro Dreams of Sushi. He is the apprentice who worked for years to make the perfect omelette,a dn when he finally made one fit to his master’s approval, he cried from frustration, joy, and gratitude. It is one of the film’s most moving parts. He is just as sweet and focused in person – not overly chatty, but if you speak a little of your rudimentary Japanese with him, he is so gracious and overjoyed at your efforts that you may feel like you just served him dinner instead of vice versa.

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Much is made of the $40 sake pairing, but take my advice and go up a level for the $80 version. It is filled with so many delicious sakes that are both tasty on their own and paired ideally with the flights of fish. One is effervescent and bubbly, the next tastes oddly medicinal until it is eaten with the aged mackerel – then it becomes woodsy and cinnamon-y. It’s truly an excellent parings with a sommelier who is helpful and knowledgeable without being a know-it-all or overly chatty. In fact, when I mentioned that I liked nigori sake, he changed the entire sushi bar’s pairing to make sure that everyone could try this creamy, coconut-y type of unfiltered sake.

Once you are seated at the sushi bar, take in the serene black and white surroundings and relax into the  comfortable padded chair.

It’s going to be a long and luxurious night.



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Salmon from Hokkaido

The first bite of the evening – the bite that made my fiance look like he had never before used his taste buds. As his lips closed around the soft salmon and the chewy, slightly warm rice, his eyelids fluttered and he had a strange look on his face.

Oh great, I have created a giant sushi snob.

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Hay smoked salmon from Hokkaido 

The same soft texture with a slightly earthier, smoky taste.

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Scallop with yuzu and sake sauce

Buttery but clean. The yuzu is slightly spicy, with a heat that keeps deceloping long afte the bite is gone.

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Giant clam seared with soy

The only misstep of the night, and not because it isn’t repreared ideally  -it is! But I do not like the crunchy texture of these large, slightly tough clams.

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Black fin sea bas from Nakasaki with daikon

Mild and clean with a light snap from the daikon

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Golden Eye snapper from Japan

One of my favorites of the night – like a less fishy albacore with the buttery texture of maguro and the light taste of white fish.

photo 3 (11)Spotted knife jaw

Sorry for the lack of notes here…I’m blaming those generous pours of sake.

photo 4 (12)Horse Mackerel

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A strong tasting fish – ideal for someone who loves briny, deep, metallic flavors. Notice how it is scored so it is the ideal texture.

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Mackerel, aged 7 days with Japanese mustard

One of the best pieces of this fish that I have ever had. It’s scored so that it is tender, and though it has an oceanic taste it isn’t at all fishy. The Japanese mustard clears your nasal passages and wipes away any muddy residue. Beyond sensational. Worth the ticket price for this piece of fish alone.

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Florida shrimp

Seconds before I ate this, it scampered across the counter in front of me. Then, deftly and without gore, Nagasawa-san and his sous -chefs deftly killed and cleaned the shrimp, ensuring that the taste was soft and sweet.

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Madagascar Prawns

The best tasting shrimp in the world is Madagascar shrimp. The sweetest, the lightest, the most tender. This is the way that all shrimp should taste.

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Yellowtail, aged 10 days

The ageing process is what is most interesting at Nagasawa. I always thought that the best fish was the freshest fish – that isn’t necessarily so! The best fish is sometimes the fish that has been cured, that has had time to develop its flavors and become tender. That’s certainly the case with this yellowtail, which taste deeper and fuller than its unaged counterparts.

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Bonito

Tuna. Good.

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Medium fatty tuna with spicy mustard

Slightly fattier tuna, with some of that spicy mustard to cut through its rich taste. Very good.

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Toro

Exquisite. My fiance’s favorite taste of the night. Simple – fish so fatty that it literally melts upon the heat of your tongue. Served on slightly vinegared rice. No marinades, no garnishes. Just the perfect fatty, clean, singular bite.

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Santa Barbara Uni

The queen of uni. Creamy, soft, with the mineral-y taste of foie gras. Balanced between toasty nori and the bite of the rice.

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Ikura from Japan

Briny little jewels that pop in your mouth and release the taste of the ocean. Not too fishy, with the signature tense, hard bubble that means it’s fresh.

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Anago from Japan

Not quite up to the level of Yasuda, but wonderful all the same. Meaty and rich, with just enough sweet sauce to emphasize its buttery texture and taste.

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Tamago

Perhaps the world’s most famous omelette. Fluffy and very sweet. I have heard that here are yams in here, along with shrimp…who knows? This is the best dessert on the planet – bread putting or egg custard in a fluffy slab. Ask for seconds and you will get it served on some of the expertly made rice. You can taste Nakazawa-san’s blood, sweat, and tears in this omelette. It is a revelation.

This meal is so expensive. It is hard to get a reservation and the dessert is just a sorbet. But its the best meal I have had in oh so long. It made me thing of focus, of passion, of how hard my parents worked to give me the life that I now enjoy. It made me think of my dreams and of how to achieve them. It made me think of how food is not just for filling the belly, it’s for filling the soul.

Oh, and how did it change my life?

Well, the old ball-and-chain and I are currently talking about our first trip to Japan together.

A totally life altering meal. 

A Less Than Perfect Valentine’s Day Meal at Public

I have been incredibly lucky in my Valentine’s Day dining experiences. I have dined high on the hog. I have slummed it and enjoyed it. And I have always, somehow, gotten my money’s worth in both food and special atmosphere.

Well, don’t worry if you are feeling jealous. It seems as if the lucky streak has ended. I had a seriously disappointing Valentine’s Day meal at Public.

I have wanted to come here for a long time. It’s well-regarded as an Australian inspired Michelin starred restaurant with a chef who excels at cooking game meat. It’s also supposed to have a great bunch, and its website promises a super romantic atmosphere.

I could get down with some romance.

However…this isn’t what I would call romantic. Dark and candlelit, yes. Also  jammed in like sardines with a deafening din and such narrow aisles that I was nervous about servers bumping into my chair all night. It is very hip and totally fun – but not what I would call romantic. Sorry, not at all.

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The bread sounds great but it is standard. The Aleppo pepper is literally undetectable in the cottony roll, but the orange foccacia comes out better with a strong citrus aroma and tangy flavor.

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Pear and lavender gazpacho with smoked tofu and truffle oil

Better than I thought it would taste. The lavender is very mild just adding a hint of floral scent to uplift the smoky, meaty taste of the tofu. The truffle oil adds another savory level to the sweet, fruity aroma of the soup. However,this lacked flavoring for – there were no spicy notes, too much smoke in the tofu, and it was generally boring.

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Roasted carrots with cilantro, avocado, and Meyer lemon confit

Enjoyable. The carrots are sweet and covered in nutty sesame seeds. the avocado is buttery, a nice texture juxtaposition to the tender-crisp carrots. The lemon really perks up the dish, adding zest and brightness to such a grounded, earthy dish. The cilantro is a very good addition, keeping the dish from being to one note. This is good, but not destination worthy.

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Wagyu carpaccio with fried polenta and truffle aioli

By far the best dish of the night. Mm, mm good the beef is thinner than tissue paper, so well marbled that it is pale pink, not red at all. The fat actually melts on the tongue, with the meat following up with a gently mineral taste. The fried polenta is a hot, crunchy counterpart and the truffle aioli releases its heady scent thanks to the polenta’s heat. This is what I want all the dishes to taste like – it’s well seasoned and varied in texture. It lets the raw ingredients shine while still providing interesting cooking techniques. It is a definite high point.

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Lamb with Bone Marrow Toast, White Beans  and Romanesco Sauce

This is forgettable. The lamb is tender but not grassy or deep the way that lamb can be. The beans are buttery but where is the creamy, warming, hearty nature of them? The romanesco has some salt and garlic, but mostly parsley…who wants a mouthful of that?

I really can’t remember a whole lot about it, and no I wasn’t drunk. I just ate so much awesome food this last weekend and I can’t distinguish this dish.

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Sticky chocolate cake with milk foam

A very strong finish to an up and down night. The cake is indeed sticky and dense, taking more like milk chocolate than the bitter, dark stuff. It’s like a mixture between a brownie and sticky toffee pudding, with soft innards and delightfully crunchy, caramelized edges. Teh milk foam is a creamy, light component that is a fun play on vanilla ice cream.

If this restaurant didn’t get so much hype, I would have liked it more. If it hadn’t advertised itself as a cozy, romantic spot instead of a buzzy hip one, I would have liked it more. If i hadn’t had other wonderful Valentine’s Day meals out, I would have enjoyed it more. But it did. And I have. I can’t excuse a restaurant for a merely okay meal and okay service when they are charging  a premium, no matter how busy the night. Because I have had exemplary food and service on Valentin’s Day. And I hope that Public is capable of more – I feel that with the Wagyu and the dessert, there may be hope – it will just be awhile before I get up the nerve to go back and see.

NoMad – Is the Emperor Wearing Any Clothes?

If you want to read about the greatest meal I have had in awhile…go back and read the Mas (la grillade) report from yesterday.

Because this review isn’t really a love letter.

Even though I could have sworn that it would be…I ate at a restaurant I have wanted to experience for a year. I was expecting culinary fireworks, and what I got were a few sparks but mostly a dull flame.

NoMad is Daniel Humm’s and Will Guidara’s whimsical restaurant. The Eleven Madison Park alum created the hit of the 2012 restaurant season with decadent takes on classic foods like chicken, bread, and even radishes.  It has a downtown meets uptown gothic vibe – dark velvets paired with a soaring atrium and modern music paired with excellent, formal service. It was – and still is – such a hot reservation that you either have to know someone, make a reservation 30 days out, or eat incredibly early.

Hey, when it gets dark at 4:00 PM, I can eat by 5:45 at night!

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Start with one of the excellent cocktails. The Sippy Cup with vermouth, Averna, ginger, and lime, is like a tomato-less Bloody Mary. The ginger kick is strong and spicy, with a fragrant, herbal backbone from the Averna and the bright note of lime. It’s the ideal aperitif – it sparks the appetite, whets the palate, and prepares tour stomach for the meal to come.

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Radishes and butter

The restaurant’s signature appetizer and a truly delicious one. The radish is dipped in a super rich, thick butter flavored ganache and there is a small pile of coarse salt crystals in which to dip the butter. It’s different from just plain butter - it really is thicker, more intense, more buttery than…butter itself.

It’s expensive, but worth it not just for the taste but for the novelty.

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Fruits de Mer

Here’s where I stop drinking the Kool Aid. This plateau is phenomenal in variety and quality. The oysters are briny but still creamy, with an icy champagne gratine. The uni panna cotta with salty nuggets of caviar is so mild that it has just the faintest suggestion of the sea – soothing and rich. The scallops with lime and pistachio are tender and fresh as can be and the king crab is totally genius – a citrus-y poached crab with creamy foam stuffed back into the claw to resemble its appearance when whole. But…wow. This is an expensive dish. I get that this stuff is expensive and that the chefs do careful and excellent work on it. However..it’s tiny. So tiny. It wouldn’t even make a dent in my blood sugar let alone curb my appetite.

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King crab tagliatelle

My favorite dish of the night, and the one worth going back for. So simple – fresh, eggy tagliatelle, mild, sweet king crab, and a plethora of butter. Enough to stop my heart. Enough to make my heart sing. This is the buttered noodles of your youth upped a notch. The crab is so tender, so mild, so wonderfully rich and tasty. I can’t imagine a more delicious pasta dish. It’s comforting and interesting with just enough salt and the most soothing, lush texture. If you go, please get this.

And, once again, get the big portion. Because even that is JUST about enough to share as an appetizer.

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Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, apple, and bacon

Very good but nothing that I haven’t made at home. Crispy sprouts, sweet apples, smoky bacon, and crunchy hazelnuts. A great balance of flavors and textures, to be sure – it just paled in comparison to other courses.

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Broccoli roasted with lardo, lemon, and Parmesan

Some fabulous broccoli – the finest I have had since Amaya in London many years ago. It’s roasted at such a high temperature that it gets incredibly crispy without burning. It’s tender at the core but so crunchy outside that it’s almost like a high fiber potato chip. Served atop a verdant broccoli puree, it is broccoli in stereo, coming at you from all angles. The lemon and Parmesan are generously applied, adding bright, salty, and nutty flavors. The lardo is used more sparingly, but its sweet, porcine flavor literally melts onto the brocoli and really infuses the veggies with a meaty, deep flavor.

HOWEVER…

The portion is so lilliputian that my sister actually turned to me and said “you have GOT to be kidding me.” It was a size that is appropriate for a hungry 6 year old. NOT a remotely peckish adolescent, let alone an adult. I totally get small portions in a tasting menu or reasonable portions so you don’t feel sick when you leave a restaurant. I understand high prices for big ticket items like foie gras or labor intensive preparations. But this. is. insane. It’s just too much money for too little food.

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Roasted chicken with foie gras, brioche, and truffles, served 2 ways

The dark meat is served with crispy chicken skin and a poached egg – it’s wonderful.

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Juicy, tender, and succulent with a supremely poached egg and addictive salty bits of chicken skin. It’s familiar yet totally elevated – you ain’t never had no chicken and dumplings like these.

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The breast is good, if a little dry. It’s a wee bit salty and the foie gras flavor is mostly lost in the stuffing. The truffles are a wonderful counterpart to the very fresh white meat, but it isn’t the ethereal chicken of Olympus that it has been purported to be. 

And it isn’t worth the money. I’m so sorry, but it just isn’t.

The desserts are so unmemorable that I can’t even spend time on reporting on them.

Especially since we weren’t gifted the neat macarons that tables on both sides of us got to try.

Maybe we didn’t order enough wine to warrant them? (There is an amazing wine by the glass selection, including the chance to try incredible wines that you would normally never get to drink by the glass).

For whatever reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth even after a very tasty meal.

But tasty doesn’t cut it for the price tag. Or the wait to get a reservation. Or the hype. It just doesn’t cut it for something that I have waited for for a year. I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the hype and with the caveat “get a drink and some appetizers – and bring your gold card. I can’t say that I would recommend this place for anything other than a cocktail, the radishes, and a bowl of that insanely delicious pasta. Nothing  else really stands out.

NoMad is just a case of the Emperor new clothes. And – spoiler alert – he isn’t wearing any. And they still cost him a ton of money.

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The World’s Best Foie Gras

This article recently appeared at Tanja Ellis Culture Home. However…how could I not share it with you all here? It’s my favorite subject and I really want my favorite readers to enjoy it (that’s y’all). So, without further ado…the world’s priciest way to raise your cholesterol:

Foie gras is one of the world’s most coveted foods. For those who love it, nothing compares to the rich, meaty taste of foie gras. From lollipops to the classic torchon, here are the world’s ten best foie gras dishes.

Rendang and Apple Foie Gras at Frangipani, Kuala Lumpur

Frangipani’s rending and apple foie gras exemplifies Kuala Lumpur’s fusion of Asian and Westernized cuisines. Aromatic curry in the rending combines with caramelized apples and a phyllo dough sphere to complement the seared foie gras. This fusion dish seems destined to become a modern classic.

Foie Gras Lollipops at Amber, Hong Kong

Though one might not expect dessert before the main course, that’s what is on the menu at Amber. Here, a foie gras nugget is concealed within a candied shellac of raspberry and beet, topped with gingerbread and beetroot.

Le Burger at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Tokyo

Eating Joel Robuchon’s famous French food in Tokyo is not only delicious, it is totally whimsical. His “Le Burger” tops a juicy beef patty with pat of seared foie gras and sweetly caramelized bell peppers that take the American comfort food classic to a wholly new level.

Foie Gras Nigiri at Maido

Japanese expatriates in Peru have invented Nikkei food, which is the blending of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines. Nowhere is it done more exquisitely than at Maido. Try the foie gras nigiri, which consists of sushi rice placed under a tiny lobe of seared foie gras. Seasoned only with sea salt, this collision of tastes, textures, and cultures comes together seamlessly.

Cromesquis de Foie Gras at Au Pied de Cochon, Montreal

Martin Picard’s casual restaurant is an ode to all things foie gras, but the standout dish is the cromesquis de foie gras. Two golden brown cubes arrive at the table, with instructions to let them cool for a few minutes because the interior is piping hot. A thick, crispy breading surrounds a molten interior that is rich, buttery, and the essence of foie gras.

Foie Gras Crème Brulee at Sage, Las Vegas

This gamble that Chef Shawn McClain makes in Sin City pays off in spades. The foie gras is whipped into a light, creamy mousse that is then given a sugary, crackly top. It’s sweet, savory, and utterly addictive.

Foie Gras Soup Dumplings at Annisa, New York City

Chef Anita Lo has made her mark on the culinary world by fusing Chinese and French techniques, and her seared soup dumplings with foie gras have been on her flagship restaurant menu since day one. Thin skin dumplings are filled with a meaty broth then topped with seared foie for the ultimate umami experience.

Foie Gras Crunch at Osteria Francescana, Modena

The foie gras at this modernist restaurant is cooked into a smooth torchon and then filled with aged balsamic vinegar and rolled in toasted nuts before being served in “ice cream bar” form.

Foie Gras Confit at Benoit, Paris

This classic bistro’s foie gras, cooked gently in its own fat, is rich beyond compare. Served with warm brioche, the foie is positively buttery and perfectly executed.

Foie Gras En Croute at Le Relais de la Poste, La Wantzenau

Set in the city of Strasbourg, this small hotel-cum-restaurant serves traditional French cuisine in a serene setting. Get the baked foie gras and you will receive a golden, flaky pastry that cuts open to revel an entire velvety foie gras. Just book a room ahead of time, because after indulging in the the specialty of the house, you won’t be in the mood to go anywhere.

Morimoto – Sensational the Second Time Around

I haven’t been to Morimoto in years. When I went back recently, I almost wept.

How much time I have wasted! How quickly I forgot how delicious the food is!

For a quick description of the ultra modern, dreamy interior, check out my previous review.

And yes, have a laugh at my expense…if I’m not a great blogger now, I was an ABYSMAL one then!

Now, onto the good stuff!

IMG950637Morimotini with wasabi vodka and cucumbers

A drink worth mentioning. Not too spicy, but with a very slight nasal-clearing aroma that comes off as clean and crisp. It’s almost like a salad – it is light, fresh, and really stimulates the appetite. The alcoholic tang is really tempered by that slight wasabi kick.  It’s easy to drink this too quickly…be careful with this one!

IMG950638Yuburatta with black truffles and dashi

This delightful play on burrata is actually better than it even sounds. Homemade creamy, smooth ricotta is wrapped in tissue thin yuba skin. When you break it, it indeed resembles burrata both in texture and rich taste. It’s soaked in a salty, savory dashi broth and topped with truffle shavings. Spread on chargrilled sourdough bread, it is UMAMI (in capital letters). It’s so intensely savory from the broth – it really enlivens the cheese and helps the milky, clean flavors shine true. And those truffles almost take it over the top but not quite – it takes the flavors right to the brink of being overpowering without overstepping its bounds. This is a must order.
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Some tableside magic that should make Benihana hang its  head in shame.

Did I just really mention Benihana in the same post as one on Morimoto? I really am FRITOS and foie.

Imagine a 140F bowl brought to your table, filled with soy milk. Imagine a server pouring a few ingredients in there, stirring it, then leaving it in the center of the table with strict instructions to leave it alone. Touch it at the risk of losing a layer of skin and being rebuked by your server.

When the server returns…
IMG950640The soymilk has transformed into silken tofu! It is cut with a spoon and served with a mushroom broth, dashi soy, and crisped rice.
IMG950642 Transportive. Very light but intricate in flavor and texture. Soft, crispy, silken, meaty…the mushrooms provide heft and earthiness and the pops of crisped rice are unexpected and fun. That tofu is otherworldly. It’s soft but not mushy, with a cloudlike mouthfeel. The broth is very full bodied – meaty, somehow, and savory but not at all heavy or muddy. It’s a clear, clean midcourse…and it beats the hell out of sorbet as a palate cleanser!IMG950643 Miso glazed bone marrow with ikura and chimichurri

The standout dish of the night. In fact, a destination worthy dish. This is unbelievable – by FAR the best marrow that I have eaten in a restaurant ever. Sorry, Ai Fiori. You have officially been displaced. This shows me what marrow can become when it surrounds itself with good influences. The marrow is unctuous and smooth but not totally liquid – it spreads like liquid gold on the thick bread. It is laquered with garlicky, herby chimichurri and salty, briny pops of sake cured salmon roe. It’s a little spicy from the miso glaze, a little floral from the chimichurri, and soft and decadent all on its own. Creamy, zesty, garlicky, and salty…it’s indulgent and it’s perfect to share. It would be far to decadent to enjoy alone but as part of a suite of shared dishes…it’s unbeatable. IMG950644Foie gras and eel with Meyer lemon gelee and Asian pear

Decadent and rich. Well seared foie with a crunchy exterior and a still pink, soft interior. The bbq eel is sweet and fatty – it really doesn’t taste fishy – it’s the prime rib of the seafood world. However, next to the foie, it does taste brinier and actually leaner. Of course, next to foie, anything seems like a diet food. The teriyaki glaze is sweet, the Meyer lemon gelle is sour, and the entire dish – minus the sour Asian pears – is unique and delicious.

There were no missteps in this meal – not one. From the excellent service to the hip but welcoming decor to the truly memorable food, it is a night out to remember. Who cares if it’s old hat by now? Who cares if the sushi isn’t the main draw? What matters it that the food – especially that bone marrow – is not only commendable but destination worthy. It isn’t a cheap night, but it is well, well worth the money.

Even the second time around.

Park Side – Don’t Fuggedaboudit

I never watched “The Sopranos”. But I love Goodfellas. The G-dfather. Every documentary about the Gottis is currently on my DVR.

I buy into the hype. I love a good mob story! Family, loyalty, intrigue…and food. Every mob movie seems to feature mouth-watering sequences with garlic, tomatoes, and ground pork. 

And if there were a restaurant that the mob frequented in real life…not saying they DID, just saying IF…that restaurant would be Park Side in Corona, Queens.

It’s across the street from a boccee ball court, described in my Ice King of Corona post. It has a valet run by men in suits – in fact, every server in the restaurant wears a suit with a bow tie and I didn’t even see any female ones. Funny enough, this doesn’t’ strike me as sexist – this is probably because most of the head servers there are career servers. They seem to have been here since the 1960s, and maybe they have.

This is Italian-American food at its finest. This is manicotti, spaghetti bolognese, and chicken francese. Don’t be looking for any micro-farmed greens or organic wines. Look for the food that you thought was Italian. And don’t be ashamed…we all love it.

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You can sit downstairs in chairs marked with plaques that  bear the name of the regular customers who weekly sit there. You can sit upstairs, in the frosted glass, flourescent lit, fabulously 1980s Marilyn Monroe room.

You might need shoulder pads to feel truly at home here.

Feel free to come dressed in jeans or an evening gown – anything runs and the hospitality is always the same – as if you are the head of the family, gracing the restaurant with your presence.

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Bread Basket

Like none I have ever experienced – it’s what Scarpetta’s bread basket was before it got all uptown and slick. Garlicky crostini, crunchy breadsticks, and the most fabulous salami and cheese filled bread. Its’s doughy and soft, layered with spicy pork and tangy provolone cheese.

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Don’t forget to treat yourself to the hunks of salty Parmesan and the juicy, garlicky, soft roasted tomatoes on garlic crostini.

This is the start to what is sure to be a gut busting meal.

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Every meal here comes with salad or pasta. Choose the salad, but only go for the Caesar dressing if you like an aggressive, heavy hit of anchovy. You will need something green tonight, after all.

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Chicken Parmesan

The finest in the world. On the planet. No apologies, no justifications. Just the best. The juiciest thicken cutlet, pounded thin so it stays tender. The crust is thick and very crunchy. The cheese is obviously whole milk mozzarella – nothing else could be this creamy and stretchy. It is broiled until it is bubbling and brown, with crispy bits amongst the soft, chewy bits of cheese. It avoids that horrible fate of most chicken Parmesan dishes - the dreaded sog factor. This is served with a generous swath of bright, oregano-heavy tomato sauce and still remains crunchy and juicy. It just can’t be beat. There is nowhere that makes chicken parm like Park Side. 

Oh, and I lied. Get that pasta with the chicken parm – it demands it.

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Chocolate cake

Of course, for a meal this nostalgic, only chocolate cake will do, and this one delivers. Fudgy, dense, moist…just like Grandma Mary made.

Or, in this case, Grandma Maria. 

This is the grand temple of Italian American cuisine. Without it, how could places like Carbone come to be? It’s not cheap but you get what you pay for – fabulous service, atmosphere that can’t be beat, and food that is just what you want when you order it. And in huge portions.

Maybe I better start watching “The Sopranos” after all…nothing like continuing with a theme.

Why You May Wear Jeans at Asiate

Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental in the Time Warner Center isn’t the type of place you should wear jeans.

But you can.

That’s because the staff is so well trained that you will never know that you look hopelessly out of place. The only reason that they exist is to make you feel like the most important diner they have ever had the pleasure-  nay, privilege – of serving.

It probably sounds over the top.

But this was some excellent service.

Asiate serves Asian inspired seasonal food in an absolutely beautiful dining room with the best views of Central Park on the planet. Really, it’s just a solid wall of plate glass and there you are, 60 floors above one of the world’s iconic views. The decor is zen but by no means minimalist. It’s very chic and high end.

And so is the food.

IMG_20131031_123112_099Gougeres

Light, cheesy gougeres are flecked with bits of garlicky parsley pesto. It’s the sort of unexpected touch that is found everywhere in the restaurant – it takes something classic, and then puts an elegant twist on it that makes the dish memorable IMG_20131031_124427_909 Amuse bouche

A mild yellowtail sashimi topped with crispy potato chips. Light, playful, and savory. It’s an excellent start to any meal. IMG_20131031_125325_745Squash soup

This is an example of the flawless service at Asiate. I ordered only a main course but the rest of my party ordered a starter and a main. The chef sent this out, not knowing that I would be reviewing the place, but only that I should have the same number of courses as my tablemates. Pure class. And this soup is excellent – not too thick or gloopy but with a rich, sweet, earthy squash taste. The addition of roasted pumpkin seeds is a nutty, salty, pleasingly crunchy textural component. It’s warming and comforting – the perfect cold weather snack.
IMG_20131031_131753_808 Tuna nicoise salad

The tuna nicoise to end all tuna nicoises. Delicate tuna poached until it’s still pink on the inside and flaky but not at all dry or fishy on the outside. It’s in a very light, creamy dressing and layered with rich hard-boiled egg yolks, crisp frisee, juicy tomatoes, and a few briny kalamata olives. It’s a very standard nicoise salad, ingredient wise, bu the preparation really sets it apart. Each tomato is perfectly split, the yolks are finely crumbled, and the presentation is classic and beautiful. The tastes are clean and although familiar, are likely to be far finer than most you have already tasted.
IMG_20131031_140036_553Cheese plate

And a rather mammoth one, at that! This dessert easily feeds 2 people as a light meal and comes loaded with hard, soft, stinky, delicate, gooey, and tangy cheeses. Add to that the excellent house baked raisin nut bread, some salted nuts, and a whole orchard of fruit and..well…

You’re in business.

Asiate isn’t a cheap meal. It’s rather buttoned up and fancy and you will pay for it. But it’s equally suited to a business lunch or a romantic date. That’s not just because the food is excellent. It’s because the staff is. You will be neither hounded nor ignored. They will know if you want a table overlooking the park or a quiet semi-private banquette. They are there to ensure your comfort and happiness.

Even if you walk in wearing jeans.

Commander’s Palace – A Blow-Out Fine Dining Experience

I played fair. I went every small, mom and pop joint I could. I ate sandwiches. I even walked Bourbon Street.

There is no way in hell I was leaving New Orleans without having an honest-to-goodness fine dining experience.

I mean, New Orleans is one of the premiere dining destinations in our country. You can spend 10 dollars a day there and eat very well.

OR

you can  max out the credit cards, plan on eating ramen for the next month at home, and really go to town.

We obviously had to do both.

Commander’s Palace isn’t somewhere that you can wear jeans. Gentlemen wear jackets and black napkins are provided if the ladies have dark dresses. There are at least 3 servers per table, and the moment that your water glass has a sip taken from it it, is refilled. If you get up to use the restroom, the servers standing in the dining room part ways as if they are the red sea and you are Moses. If a mistake is made in service, you know that the staff feels personally responsible and they could not be more apologetic.

It’s warm and friendly but very much a “the customer is always right and thank you SO MUCH for dining here” experience.

Not as much like those places in NYC that ask for your blood type when you make  a reservation.

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Garlic toasts

Every meal starts with these.

You know, New Orleans loves its garlic.

These are exemplary in how familiar they are. You are in an exquisitely beautiful room, with servers all around, yet they want you to feel at home. This is like a better version of what your mom made growing up on spaghetti nights. The toasts are small but there is a whole loaf of them – don’t worry, you won’t go hungry. The tops are crisp and the innards are soft. The garlic is fresh and the herbs are plentiful, but the flavor is not aggressive. It just lets you know that, hey - you aren’t at The Olive Garden.

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Oyster and absinthe dome

Briny Gulf oysters poached with bacon, artichokes, tarragon, Swiss absinthe, and cream under a pastry dome

A unique, shockingly light, oyster stew. The oysters take well to the cream, and their mild flavors really do taste brinier and saltier, but not too fishy. The bacon is very mildly smoky and the tarragon is alight, sweet twist. I don’t takes absinthe, but he cream isn’t at all cloying or heavy, which may be where the absinthe comes in. Dunk the buttery crust into the creamy broth and you are in shellfish heaven. This is mild and elegant – a wonderful starter.

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Turtle soup

The kitchen’ one misstep, though my tablemate loved it. I found it very muddy.

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Roasted foie gras with basil syrup and apple beignets

I love pairing the meaty, buttery foie with light, cinnamon dusted doughnuts! Foie is best with sweet counterparts and pairing it with sweet, yeasty doughnuts is nothing less than whimsical. The accompanying basil syrup taste dlike water when tried alone, but when drizzled over the foie, it adds a light, vegetal note that really brought a whole new facet to the dish. Though  the foie could have been seared a little better and served a little warmer, it’s still a wonderful dish.

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Seared gulf fish with habanero oil and seasonal vegetables

I wish I remember more about the other ingredients in this dish, but it’s hard because the fish is so exemplary. It’s light and flaky, similar to sea bass. Here, it is seared so the flesh is moist but the skin is crispy and salty, almost like a potato chip. The habanero oil is punchy but not overwhelming – it kicks up the sweet flavor of the fish and the earthiness of the roasted tomatoes and thick stalks of asparagus. I don’t know where they get such awesome sweet vegetables in the middle of October, but I’ll take them! This is a genius main dish to order, because when you are eating so much food, you might not have enough room for the wonderful fish stuffed with buttery, rich crabmeat or the venison schnitzel that my dining companion pronounced as “life changing.”

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Apple root beer strudel

Lovely. Buttery pastry encasing sweet, soft apples infused with the aromatic, sweet taste of root beer. Served with soft vanilla ice cream. It’s comfort on a plate.

But let’s not beat around the bush.

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Bananas Foster

If you come here without ordering the tableside bananas foster, you might as well go to Popeye’s and call it a trip to The Big Easy.

Your primary server approaches your table with a rolling cart with various ingredients. Then, in front of your eyes, hem mixes butter, sugar, and bananas in a saucepan. He adds rum and…

Voila! Tableside theatrics that put Benihana to shame!

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The dessert is so tasty. Buttery, sweet, warm, cool. Bananas, ice cream, caramel, rum.

And it’s prepared tableside.

That’s the best part.

That’s the thing about Commander’s Palace – it’s not just the food that makes it famous. Yes, the food is good – the food is GREAT. But it’s more than that. It’s eating in a room with glass walls that look out onto a tropical garden. It’s having your chair taken out for you and being called ma’am. It’s walking up a staircase lined with so many James Beard awards that they are uncountable. It’s having a blow out New Orleans experience.

It’s making me want to go back to NOLA asap