Break out the confetti and champagne!! It's a perfect ten! Chef Chris Cosentino knows exactly how to work his way into that soft spot in my heart. All it took was a few of his crazy, funky, zany, inventive, and downright delicious over-the-top meat-filled culinary creations. Yes, that's right — I'm giving this place my first and only flawless 10/10 review, so buckle up for a long one as I explain why I'm so obsessed. You may know of Chris from his many stints on food TV, but I've found myself uncontrollably drawn to him because he cooks only the kind of food that he wants to eat. With his cooking, there's no remorse for pushing people's palettes to the edge of fear. Fear? Yeah, most of his food utilizes all of the delicious miscellaneous organs and obscure cuts of meat that many other chefs won't even dare to work with that most people don't ordinarily choose to consume — frequently involving complete nose-to-tail dishes. Fortunately for me, I share his love for well-prepared organ meats.
I love that we live in a time where the modest and familiar burger is treated with the same skill and care as a seared duck breast or other fancy-sounding entrée. These impressive creations are no longer haphazardly assembled by slapping together unwanted scraps and trimmings and are no longer regarded just as greasy pub food. These burgers come a pedigree. Brilliant chefs now utilize custom butcher blends of meat and have truly mastered the art of balancing and enhancing those bold, rich, cheesy flavors while still retaining the burger's undeniably attractive gutbomb essence. These cherished burgers have now become a highlighted menu staple at most high-end restaurants and while many claim to serve the best in San Francisco, I think the title belongs safely to the one I've had at Stones Throw.
That naughty V word. You know the one I'm talking about. No, not that one you perv. I'm talking about "Vegan". I don't think it would come as any surprise to any of my readers that I'm pretty obsessed with meat. All types of meat. And to be honest, I usually don't consider a meal complete without the inclusion of some sort of meat. But, a situation recently arose that gave me the perfect excuse and opportunity to check out a completely vegan restaurant that I actually had interest in trying. Amy's vegan and gluten-free cousin was staying with us in SF and it was my task to find suitable places to eat that we could all enjoy. I had heard wonderful things about the Mission vegan Mexican spot named Gracias Madre so I figured that it had the greatest shot at solving our puzzle. Seriously though, people love this restaurant. By reputation, it's the kind of place that people claim will make meat-eaters completely forget that everything they are eating is even vegan. That's a tall order – I'll see about that. I'll put that crazy claim up to the ultimate test – me.
Another day, another awesome, upscale dinner out in Austin. This place called Odd Duck is the sibling restaurant to chef Bryce Gilmore's also amazing, tasting menu-only hot spot Barley Swine which I had visited only a few night earlier. Similar to Barley Swine, the theme of this meal seemed to be small plates with either a pickled element, runny egg yolks, or both. The menu leans heavily toward Southern gastropub fare with plenty of clean, modern, cheffy flair and even a bit of molecular gastronomy trickery thrown in. The vibe of the decor matches the tone of the food with its use of mismatched country miscellany carefully arranged by an smart, upscale, interior designer's touch. This restaurant is pretty well known in the Austin food scene as one of the more exciting places to have a meal and it makes sense why. It has such an interesting menu that continues to experiment and evolve over time – the fervor is only going to grow as this place continues to get the industry recognition it rightly deserves like the James Beard Award Rising Star nod it just recieved.
*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit. Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration. I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.
I love new restaurant openings. There's always this energy in the air, an excitement, the mystery of what the gut gamble might uncover. That's why I was so excited to be invited to the soft launch of Union Bar & Kitchen in West SoHo.
*Editor's Note 11/13/14: This restaurant used to be called Aamanns-Copenhagen NYC but is now simply referred to as The Copenhagen. *Editor's Note 10/15/15: I'm sad to report that The Copenhagen has permanently closed. When you hear Danish food, what comes to mind? Maybe that eponymous jam filled pastry? Maybe you literally have absolutely no clue what Danish people eat. I know I sure didn't. That is before I checked out the New York outpost of the Scandinavian imported restaurant Aammanns-Copenhagen, known as The Copenhagen.
Delicatessen is a really interesting place. Located in the heart of Nolita, it's definitely a scene. You know, the kind of place where the cool people hang out. The ground floor is a nice, spacious, sunlit restaurant known for its classic American comfort foods like mac & cheese and burgers. These qualities also make it a very popular brunch destination. On top of all of this, the basement below Delicatessen is a sort of loungey nightclub that regularly fills up with models and the rest of the cool crowd. In general I try to avoid popular, sceney places like this, but I've found the food and experience at Delicatessen is great every time. They serve really good, quality food in a casual atmosphere without any of the pretension you might expect. They serve nice cocktails, have a good wine list, and serve big, hearty dishes making it a great spot for a date night or a meal out with the family.
I am no vegan. Really, I'm the farthest thing from it. I am meat obsessed. Pork, lamb, beef, you name it, I love it. But, every now and then I want to eat something that's actually good for me that'll leave my body feeling great afterwards. After moving to Greenwich Village I noticed a vegan sit-down restaurant just two blocks south of my apartment with a rather eye-catching name. With a name like Rockin' Raw, I wondered how rockin' raw vegan food could be? You'll be pleased to hear that I this food was actually some of the most flavorful, vibrant vegan food I'd ever tasted.
When your parents are in town and you are tasked with choosing a spot for dinner that can handle a Saturday night table of 4 in NYC on short notice, your options are often pretty limited. Because restaurants have such restricted space and have enormous competition for popular tables on weekends, you need may need to dig deep to find something suitable. Fortunately on this occasion, my girlfriend Amy had an idea, Market Table, a place that has somehow slid under my restaurant radar until now. They did in fact have a day-of four-top table reservation available on a Saturday night.