Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Via Quadronno

This joint is known for its incredible panini sandwiches and fresh Italian menu selections. I’m gonna get right down to business here, because me and a group of Instagram influencers tried a ton of items.

My favorite sandwich: La Madunina. This has prosciutto, fresh mozz, olive tapenade and tomato. Very simple but incredibly delicious.

Tentazione: prosciutto, smoked mozz, arugula, shrimp and sauce.

Americano: brie, fresh mozz, corn, arugula and tomatoes.

Bip-Bip: bresaola, goat cheese, shrimp, arugula and sauce.

Il Toast: boiled ham and melted fontina cheese.

Lo Spazzino: roast pork, arugula, provolone, red onion and capers.

They also do some open faced toast style brunch sandwiches as well. We tried the smoked salmon and crab meat, fresh mozz and tomato, and asparagus with cheese.

Speaking of asparagus, they also offer it in a salad form with lots of crab meat on top. Wow! That’s a serious portion.

And this veggie salad with tuna was so fresh and tasty.

The mussels were really nice too, served in a light but spicy tomato broth. Nicely executed.

The pesto pasta had a great flavor and was perfectly cooked.

As did the lasagna. I’m usually very hard on lasagne, because my mom made a killer lasagna. This was fantastic. The photo doesn’t do it justice. You need to see the layering.

I also had a steak. Surprise! The meat quality was indeed good (DeBragga), and the peppercorn sauce for the top was delicious. It’s also served on a bed of broccoli rabe, and with a side of roasted fingerling potatoes.

Enough photos of that? I think so. We also had dessert. Several tart pies, a wonderful tiramisu, some gelato and sorbets, and an assortment of Italian cookies.

And we tasted several coffee and hot chocolate selections that had awesome designs in the foam.

And a drink made with Prosecco, raspberry jam and St. Germain.

Definitely give this place a try. There’s also another location about 10 streets down from this one.

VIA QUADRONNO
1228 Madison Ave
New York, NY 10128

Vietnam Restaurant

My wife and I hit this place before catching a bus back from Philly. Generic name aside, this place was pretty good at satisfying our cravings for Viet food.

We started with an order of banh cuon; rice noodle crepes rolled with ground chicken, mushrooms and herbs, served with a tangy, sweet and savory fish sauce and bean sprouts.

This is one of my wife’s favorite Vietnamese dishes, so we pretty much always try to order it if we see it on a menu. This one was pretty good, but I think it’s safe to say we’ve both had better.

Next were a pair of soups.

First, the classic beef pho noodle soup, with thinly sliced eye round beef (my go-to Viet soup of choice).

This packed a good amount of flavor, but, again, we have had better. Nonetheless, this bowl was still better than good portion of NYC Viet joints, which are known to suck on the whole.

Second soup: My wife had bun bo hue, which is typically a spicy lemongrass pork- and variety meat- based soup that contains everything from tripe to congealed pork blood.

This version had brisket as opposed to all that offal. It was still super spicy and had a great lemongrass kick to it. Also, the noodles were good. Lots of times the noodles used in this style of soup get too soggy and overcooked. These held up nice to strict scrutiny.

I still liked the pho better, but that’s a subjective thing for me. I think, objectively speaking, the bun bo hue was the better bowl here, even though it was dumbed down and “Americanized” a bit to avoid the use of offal meat.

VIETNAM RESTAURANT
221 N 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Pat’s v. Geno’s

The classic Pat’s / Geno’s rivalry has been done to death, so I’m not going to write a treatise here. I’m gonna tell you how it is plainly: Both are highly overrated, but they’re worth hitting at least once just to do it.

My wife and I tried one sandwich from each place, the same exact way: cheesesteak with wiz. No onions, no mushrooms, no other cheeses. Why? I wanted to test the meats out. $10 each.

PAT’S

Pat’s gives you more meat and more cheese on a superior bread.

However, that meat is riddled with chewy wads of fat. I’m a champion of rib eye fat, but this was no bueno. We spit pieces out several times throughout the process of eating our respective halves. Also, the quality of the meat seemed a bit shitty. You can just taste it. I think they also cook too much at once, because it had a steamed, rubbery texture as opposed to a nice griddled crisp.

GENO’S

Geno’s has the better ambiance, if such a thing can even be assessed.

Geno’s also had better meat quality, although that quality was still sub par on the whole. On the other hand, Geno’s didn’t give enough cheese on the sandwich. Lame.

So each had a benefit and each had a negative, but both were overrated. I think these places suffer from too much business. They make so much quantity so far ahead of time to deal with crowds, that they lose quality in the process.

In the quest for cheesesteaks, I suggest hitting Shorty’s or Wogies here in NYC. They’re better than these two joints by far. A buddy who grew up outside of Philly tells me that the better cheesesteaks are found in local pizza shops anyway down there, and that Shorty’s and 99 Miles to Philly are apparently pretty close to the real thing here in NYC.

PAT’S
1237 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147

GENO’S
1219 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Vaucluse

My wife picked up a nice Gilt City deal for this joint that gave us $200 to spend for something like $100. I had heard great things about the burger here, so I figured it was time to check it out now that there was a flash deal at play.

The cocktail menu is pricey at $18, but very nicely crafted.

We shared that burger (the “White Label Burger”) as an app. The patty is an aged beef blend; the cheese is fontina; and it’s topped with a tomato jam and dijonnaise.

They cook it nice and rare, so you don’t lose any of that aged funk to the heat. It’s a potent burger, and part of me still loves a classic roadside American burger better, but this is kinda like having a steak between a bun. Definitely nice.

And like any good French joint, it’s served with frites.

These were pretty good, but not quite on the level of Boucherie, which has now become my benchmark standard, to which all French fries must be compared.

We also tried the calamari stuffed with lobster and rice.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much lobster to this dish. In fact, I couldn’t really find any or taste any in the bites I had. In any case, the tomato sauce was nice, as was the cook on the squid.

My wife had some rabbit, truffle and cheese ravioli for her entree. This was a small portion size for $25, but they at least warned us ahead of time that it would be.

They were excellent. Each raviolo seemed to be partitioned, with one side having the rabbit, and the other side having the cheese.

Of course, I had steak.

This was served with some dressed watercress, but I quickly brushed that bullshit aside. I sliced it up so you could see the perfect cook temp on this prime NY strip steak.

This was actually a steak frites, so it came with more fries and a peppercorn au poivre on the side. Well, I asked for it on the side so I could get this intense shot of foodpourn.

Did you just bust? Because I did.

I ate every bite. It was a great little steak. I didn’t detect any aged flavor, and I assume they would have advertised that if it were the case. Not too bad at $44, but on par with the Jubilee rib eye steak frites that I had just the other day for $40. 8/10.

We shared a lemon tart with basil ice cream for dessert. This was really pretty, and tasted a bit like a key lime pie with the herbaceous basil ice cream on top. We liked this a lot.

Oh and I should mention that this place also brings out an amuse at the beginning, as well as petit fours at the end. I only snapped the amuse, which was a tiny popover style bread with a truffle cream filling. The dessert capper was a chocolate hazelnut bite.

VAUCLUSE
100 E 63rd St
New York, NY 10065

Oro

I was recently invited to Oro by the owners to try out some of the classic and modern Italian fare that they serve at their spacious, beautifully appointed Long Island City restaurant.

Oro means “gold” in Italian, and the food equivalent of gold is just what they’re serving you here, especially when you indulge in some of the highlights that I mention here in this review.

First off, there’s an excellent cocktail menu. I went with a blueberry and bourbon drink that was really nicely executed. My wife went with a selection from their Moscow Mule menu. Also excellent.

The waiter will bring out some fresh house made bread next. It’s toasty warm and served with a dish of EVOO and vinegar.

We started with two nice, fresh and delicate apps: scallop crudo with crispy prosciutto in a grapefruit sauce, and charred octopus. Both were perfect. The scallop crudo was really fresh, light and crisp. I wish we ordered two!

The octopus has a great flavor and still kept a slight firmness without being too soft or too chewy – a sweet spot middle ground. There was a good spice kick to it as well.

We shared the duck bolognese pappardelle pasta (which was good, but just needed a bit more salt):

And the 28oz tomahawk ribeye:

That blob you see is an herb butter, which added a green-tasting freshness to each bite.

The meat itself hails from Snake River Farms, which is not only a purveyor of fine standard meats, but also American Wagyu. The owners of Oro are friends with the people at Snake River, so you know the cuts will be of high quality.

The cut itself was cooked a slight bit over from what I would have preferred, being more towards medium than medium rare.

But no matter. The flavor was still good, and the fat cap was delicious. Not to mention that at a price of $52, you’re saving big money and you’re just one stop into Queens from midtown Manhattan. At a place like Cut downtown, that Snake River Farms steak is going to run you almost $100. Crazy discount here. And this can be shared with a second diner, so even better. 7/10.

The steak selection here is pretty impressive. As soon as next week, as a matter of fact, there will be even more of a “butcher’s block” selection here, which will include a 36oz porterhouse as well as what’s already on the menu (filet, strip, tomahawk, and pork chops).

On the side we had some arancini, or fried rice balls, which were fun and tasty.

We also had the sweet potato creme brulee. I didn’t think I’d like it when we were told about it by the waiter. As such, we didn’t order it. But the waiter brought it out for us to try anyhow. It turned out to be my favorite item of the night!

It was sweet without going overboard, and the brulee crunch and marshmallow topping was just thrilling. I even remarked that if you plop a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of it, it would make for a perfect dessert. Do yourself a favor and get this when you come here. It is unbelievable.

For our proper desserts, we tried the fig panna cotta and nutella bread pudding with homemade fluff. Both were incredible, but I give the edge to the panna cotta. So silky, smooth and light, but packing a big flavor punch.

ORO
41-17 Crescent St
Long Island City, NY 11101

Roki Le Izakaya

Japanese Brasserie ROKI Le Izakaya held a soft opening this past weekend. The menu features some really great stuff.

We tried pretty much everything that you see on the menu above, except for the veggie ramen. It sounds pretty good, though, and I’d like to go back and get it soon.

Canape are small bites of proteins set atop a bed of fried sticky rice. Each one is like an amuse, or hors. I tried three: uni (sea urchin), kani (crab) and ahi poke (dressed tuna). All were excellent, especially when eaten with the shiso leaf, but my favorite was the uni.

The quinoa salad with crab meat was the only menu item that seemed a bit out of place. It had a cumin spice to it, and it felt more middle eastern than Japanese. It was still very good, however.

Next up was the amberjack carpaccio. This was so clean and flavorful. t was perfectly dressed. I could eat this all night!

The duck chasiu was intense! And when the waiter came over with shaved foie gras on top, I knew I was in heaven.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

Shrimp gyoza were next. These were tasty and perfectly cooked.

A big crowd pleaser, though, was the pork buns item.

They were decadent and so tender. I mean look at that meat!

The star of the night, for me, was the ramen. I typically don’t get down on shoyu broths. I prefer a tonkotsu (which they will have on their full menu – this was just a soft open with a limited menu selection). But this shoyu broth was deep and rich! I loved it.

The toppings were also really fun. Fried lotus root, bamboo shoots, arugula, fresh pepper, fried crispy baby shrimp and char siu pork. Oh and of course, that perfect egg…

I can use a bowl right now, actually, as I sit here writing this review.

The roasted white sesame seed ice cream was awesome! It was just right for dessert – not too sweet at all. It was coated with a nice crisp, and then topped with a sesame and honey cracker. And drizzle that thick sauce on top to bring it home!!!

I will definitely be back here soon. This was a fantastic meal!

ROKI LE IZAKAYA
12 West 21st Street
New York, NY 10010

Feast

As many of you know, I occasionally gather with various friends to devour entire carcasses of animals. We call ourselves The Carcass Club. This latest “meating” went down at a joint aptly called Feast.

A buddy of mine, NYCFoodFomo, organized this as an Instagram influencer meal. It was on the house, given that we were going to glaze Instagram’s face with our “cam-shots” from this “pork-fest.”

I used “quotes” there so that you knew I was actually making a reference to something else besides food photos…

Anyway, here’s what you get at Feast, for just $75/pp:

First Courses

Flat bread with fried egg, smoked gouda, arugula and horseradish cream.

This was nice and crispy, and the arugula is even lightly dressed, which was very nice. This dish would make for a great breakfast, actually.

Brussels sprouts with lap cheong sausage, creme fraiche, grain mustard, dried cranberry and cider vinaigrette.

The sausage really works perfectly with the sprouts. Instead of the typical bacon, this swap for lap cheong was smart, because it has a similar meaty sweetness.

Second Courses

Suckling pig with gravy.

I was shocked at how well the flavor of their 24-hour brine penetrated the flesh of this 28lb pig. The meat really took on the peppercorn flavors. And one of their secrets is to use the whey byproduct from their homemade cheese making process as a tenderizer in that brine. So awesome.

They break the pig down for you and plate it into sections: head area, shoulder area, rib area, and ass/legs area. Apologies for not getting a shot of that stuff for you. It wasn’t super pretty, but it was pretty cool to see piles of meat and a pig skull.

Chicharrones with lime.

They also give you a bowl of the crispy fried skin, which some would say is the best part of the suckling pig.

Kabocha mac n’ cheese with gruyere and toasted pumpkin seed.

The sweetness of the pumpkin in this dish threw me off a bit. Perhaps I just needed to be in the Thanksgiving holiday zone to fully appreciate this one. Nonetheless, it was tasty.

Taro fries with miso aioli.

It’s always a challenge to get taro fries good and crispy. The sauce was excellent, but the fries themselves were more like mashed potato logs. Not a bad thing: just not crispy like a French fry.

Smoked mushrooms with a soy glaze.

These were fucking incredible. The smoke added such a great woodsy flavor to an already earthy and woodsy mushroom (oyster). This was my favorite item of the night.

Indochine ratatouille.

I’m generally not a huge fan of ratatouille, but this had some nice robust and savory flavors.

Dessert Course

Chef’s seasonal selection, which, during this visit, was a caramelized apple cobbler with cold maple whipped cream and pomegranate seeds. I think there was even some diced up zucchini mixed into this unique dessert.

That about does it. I highly recommend giving this feast a go. You’ll need a minimum of eight carnivores to take it down.

FEAST
102 3rd Ave
New York, NY 10003

Maroni Hot Pots

There’s a very interesting little concept restaurant on the upper east side called Maroni Hot Pots. The joint is mainly aimed at providing delivery service, but there’s still a handful of tables set up inside the beautiful little space. So what makes this concept unique? The pot.

Many of their dishes are served (and delivered!) in really nice keepsake metal pots. Yes – you get to keep them.

I’m not sure how useful they’d be on your stove top, but they’re definitely not cheap, crappy items by any means. At the very least you can use them as planters.

Okay, but enough about the pots. We tried a lot of different items.

First up, pizza bread. This is more like a garlic bread with cheese and sauce topping as opposed to your standard NYC style pizza. A more puffy, doughy pie.

It’s served in a nice glass dish and it’s seasoned generously, topped with herbs as well. Essentially, it’s like a Sicilian pizza.

I should say now that the cheeses here are all incredible. They don’t harden after a few minutes – they stay nice and stretchy. I shot this probably 15 minutes after the pizza came out:

The fresh mozz caprese salad also exhibits stellar quality cheese, and the diced tomato, dresed with a nice balsamic, was a nice change of pace from an ordinary caprese salad.

Throw that on top of a lightly breaded chicken cutlet with some arugula, and you have their delicious chicken milanese dish.

But one starter they have become known for is their million dollar potato chip. A thick cut, fried potato crisp, topped with fresh cream and caviar. Very tasty.

And it’s not often that you see baked clam dishes use high quality little necks or cockles like they do here. Most baked clam dishes use giant bait clams, with minced up meat inside. No thanks. These were whole clams, nicely breaded and stuffed, and then baked to perfection.

Okay now for the pasta dishes. We tried a bunch. I’ll start with my favorite, the penne a la vodka.

What I liked about this sauce was that it was more buttery than typical vodka sauces I’ve had in the past. The pasta was cooked perfectly in this dish too.

Their cacio e pepe is nice, but having just come back from a trip to Italy, I was a bit too spoiled to truly appreciate the dish. Cacio e pepe in Rome is just insane. Nothing quite comes close. I did, however, get a bunch of nice pics. As you can see, they used a penne pasta here as well.

One specialty they’re known for here is their cognac sauce. They hit their tomato sauce with some cognac, burn it off, and simmer it down. What they’re left with is a nicely sweetened sauce. They serve that with rigatoni and a generous glob of ricotta for mixing into the sauce. Amazing. This dish has even been featured on local news stations. I highly recommend it.

Last pasta dish: spaghetti and meatballs. This classic tasted great.

And while nothing beats mom’s homemade meatballs, these were pretty tasty. We had an order sans spaghetti as well.

Like any Italian meal, there’s always more. We also tried their chicken parm and gagootz (zucchini) parm. The last time I heard that word was probably when my grandfather was featured in the news for growing the biggest one in Long Island history out of his backyard garden, which, at one point, was more like a small farm.

Here’s a shot of my grandfather’s massive gagootz (not the actual prize winning squash, however; that one was like 15ft, and we are still trying to locate the photo).

FYI, the word “gagootz” is a dialected, faster way of saying the word “cucuzza” in Italian, which is a kind of squash. The word “gagootz” is typically used by Italians to refer to all types of squash, though, including zucchini, as is done here at Maroni Hot Pots.

In any case, both parms were excellent, and both essentially looked the same, so I’m just using one picture to showcase them. Can you guess which one this is?

The beatles are all over this joint, by the way, and the music is a great mix of classic rock. Anyway, I really enjoyed the gagootz parm. I’m not an eggplant fan, so swapping that out for zucchini is a great idea. The skin is much more pleasing, and the texture of the vegetable’s flesh itself is firmer and more snappy.

I was so full at that point that I put my camera away, thinking we were done… but Italians… Bless our hearts, and stomachs…

So dessert came out. Chocolate mousse with a toasted marshmallow topper, cannoli and tiramisu. All excellent. Here’s a nice shot of them, taken by my wife:

A photo posted by Katherine (@thecakedealer) on

The Maroni family also owns a high-end, multi-course “tasting menu” style restaurant in Northport, Long Island. I’ve heard amazing things about this place, and, from what I understand, a reservation has to be made a month in advance because it is so well received. I plan to visit soon with my cousins. Stay alert for updates!

MARONI HOT POTS
307 E. 77TH St
New York, NY 10075

Momofuku Ssam Bar Brisket & Let’s Dutch

The head honcho over at Let’s Dutch reached out to me to introduce himself and his service. Essentially it’s a place where people can host and organize group activities, and one of the things they facilitate is large format dining. That’s right up my alley, given my creation of Carcass Club, in which I and some friends try to get together to take on the various whole beast feasts that are peppered throughout this fine city.

Naturally, I was interested. The service is great for both city newbies, who are looking to meet new people with similar interests, and old fogies like me and my wife, who are just looking for seats at the feast when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to peg down a date and time among all of our friends that might be interested.

I was especially pumped when Vincent (the aforementioned head honcho) informed me that they’d be doing the new brisket feast for 10 people at Momofuku Ssam Bar. Fuck yeah.

So the meal is pretty simple. You get a massive hunk of delicious, tender, slow cooked brisket, along with lettuce for making wraps, and various sauces and kimchi items for toppings.

I highly recommend this meal to anyone who loves brisket or BBQ, as it is quasi-BBQ in nature. They even created a secret seven-spice blend for this baby. I absolutely loved it.

You may already know that I’ve been to Momofuku for their large format feasts in the past: duck and rib eye. This brisket feast is the best of the three I’ve tried, and I think they’ve also added a fourth, pork shoulder (bo ssam). I’ll have to try that one soon.

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR
207 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10003

North End Grill Bistro du Nord

The Union Square Hospitality Group is hosting a pop-up French restaurant called “Bistro du Nord” in the North End Grill space throughout January. This is the group of restaurants headed up by chef Danny Meyer, who recently went “no tip” and “service included” in the menu pricing of all his joints. Even the coat check is included! But the prices… for a tip-included place, they were amazing. I was expecting some inflated numbers, but to me, they all looked like what you’d see at any other restaurant.

I was invited in by the group to sample some of the delicious items that chef Eric Korsh is featuring on this limited run menu (though some items may still be available after the pop-up is finished). He’s the chef there at North End Grill, even when there is no pop-up going on, so you can expect the same level of execution and awesomeness if you happen to miss the pop-up.

So let me get down to it, because we tried a lot of good stuff.

Duck egg en meurette.

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If you’re like me, and have no idea what some French culinary terms mean, then I will explain. “En meurette” basically means that the duck egg is served in a red wine reduction, like a bourguignon or meat gravy type sauce. The egg here was nicely poached and served with mushrooms and black truffles.

Roasted oysters with spinach and bacon.

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I believe some cheese was involved as well. These were beautiful and fantastic.

Escargot with garlic and parsley butter.

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Really nice in the little skillet, and already plucked from the shell, so no work is involved.

Tarte flambe.

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This was essentially a nice, light, airy flatbread – almost like zaatar, but less aggressive with the spice.

French onion soup with bone marrow.

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Beautiful. This one was topped with a piece of toast and melty gruyere, but that bone marrow in the middle was just absolutely awesome.

Now for the entrees.

Steamed trout.

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I was a little skeptical of a steamed fish item, but this was so tasty. I even remarked that it reminded me of something Scandinavian, perhaps because of the presence of dill and a thickened broth sauce.

Crispy skate wing – my apologies for not getting a picture. This fish was so light yet flavorful that it threw me off guard. The crisp on the outside of the fish was so awesome.

Roast chicken.

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Super crispy outside skin and perfect tenderness within. The cabbage wrap was filled with more succulent, tender meat as well as some fois gras and parsley root. Very elegant.

Cassoulet.

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What a refreshing improvement from the last cassoulet my wife and I had at The House. This one had the meat on full display: pork belly and a duck leg. With trotter and white beans in the dish, this was a nice and hearty dish, but it didn’t seem heavy at all.

NY strip steak au poivre.

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I had the kitchen slice this for us so it was easier to share. This was perfectly cooked to medium rare, and the peppery sauce really complimented the prime beef. The chef trimmed off any gristle from the sides, and the quality of the cut was top notch. It was lean but very flavorful, and the texture was incredibly tender. 9/10.

On the side we had some wood grilled fennel, which was really nice and helped us digest. We also had some fries, as they came with the steak. They had a perfect crisp and were nicely seasoned.

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There’s always room for dessert.

Apple and huckleberry galette.

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This was right up my alley. Sweetness with a little bit of tartness, and then warm mixed with cold ice cream. Perfection.

Chocolate souffle.

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Perfect execution on this, and the chocolate was rich and decadent without being overpowering or overly sweet.

Paris-brest.

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I loved this. The one here was apple and hazelnut cream flavored. It was light and airy, soft yet crisp. I could easily inhale a few of these.

I think that about does it. Get your asses down here and try some of this delicious French fare while the pop-up lasts!

NORTH END GRILL
104 North End Ave
New York, NY 10282