Marcha, New York, NY

It’s rare that I find myself in Harlem, much less way up in Washington Heights. My business typically takes me to Manhattan, my pleasure to Brooklyn, and the rest tends to fall somewhere in between. Winding up the hills and under the bridges uptown, falling into step with the sweet scent of incense and the bustling warmth in the air reminded me of a brusquer Tangier. I made my way up to the Heights, where I had a date with a cocktail at Marcha, a charming new Brazilian tapas and cocktail bar.

The atmosphere is too cool for school, part chic nightclub-inspired with glowing neon tiles embedded into the bar and part relaxed, bright eatery, with peppy banana-yellow chairs and steel accents creating an intimate, excited place. And before you go reaching for your G&T (ahem, before I go reaching for my G&T) remember, there’s a killer cocktail list. I started with the Caipirinha, the minimalist Brazilian answer to the mojito, with raw sugar cane cachaça liqueur, lime, rum. Marcha puts their own twist on it by adding tangy cashew juice, a zippy flavor that added to the bright flavors of the lime zest.

We went through their cocktail list with ease- many were riffs off classic cocktails, which we found were more reliable than some of their original creations. The slender mojito was jazzed up with elderflower liqueur, and a frothy pisco with egg white, passionfruit juice, and a dried rosebud went down with a creamy, effervescent flavor. Some of the drinks- the Jack Tea, for example, with Jack Daniels and a curious mix of black tea, pomegranate juice, lemon juice, and ginger, were strangely flat in flavor despite their flavorful ingredients. The drink was offered hot or cold, the former may be preferential.

With cold drinks in hand, we worked our way down a good portion of the menu, starting with an order of classic calamari. This iteration was perfectly crispy and erred toward the thin side, making for deliciously poppable rings rendered even better with the addition of smoky paprika sauce.

My dining companion tried the mushrooms in a lemon-cilantro sauce. Mushrooms, as you know, are my kryptonite, so I did not partake. She found them flavorful and tender, but almost sharply acidic and not as creamy as she expected them to be.

From there, we moved on to two of Marcha’s flatbread cocas, the first with crab meat, goat cheese, tomatoes, and jalapenos. The flatbread base was generously topped with tender shredded crab tossed with melted goat cheese, almost like crab dip on crispy crackers. The tomatoes detracted from the richness of the dish, though, and watered down the creamy base. I would have liked more than one jalapeno per piece, as the flatbread needed a little more of a spicy kick.

Our second flatbread was similar- flank steak, goat cheese, tomatoes, cabbage, and jalapeno. This was delicious in flavor, as the meat was flavorful enough to stand on its own, but had some issues in conception. The tender slices were the unfortunate downfall of the flatbread, as one bite sent the toppings slipping off the back. While smaller chunks of steak wouldn’t have as much of a visual impact, it would certainly make it easier to eat.

We finished up the meal with two more tapas, starting with albondingas, little pork and veal meatballs with tomatoes and cilantro, and a sumptuous red wine and demi-glace sauce. These were fantastic, as I found myself munching on them the more I drank. The sauce, though, almost outshone the meatballs, and was perfect to dip with the extra bread.

These croquetas were the last savory of the evening, with chicken, green plantains, and a chili aioli. A classic snack, and surprisingly heavy on the plantains, which I much appreciated. Not much to report here- just a great, solid finger food.

We finished up our meal with two desserts, a glass of port, and an espresso. The desserts were fantastic and made in-house. Our first, a clever yucca caviar pudding with strawberry sauce, served in a martini glass. This was a very neat take on rice pudding, the starchy flavors and creaminess still very much intact, with nice chunks of yucca. The dessert was well-balanced and didn’t rely on the strawberry sauce to provide an overload of sugar.

Our last dessert was a compact version of tres leches cake, rolled up into a neat roll with a condensed milk sauce in between. Fluffy, and again, deftly made without too much sugar. The perfect ending to our meal. Marcha has some work to do before it rises to the level of Richard Sandoval or Nixtamal’s deftness of spicy treats and drinks, but it offers a solid libation foundation upon which its plates can shine. It is obvious that they excel at elixir, but don’t discount their varied menu. Thanks again to the PR team and staff at Marcha for having us- our meal and drinks were comped, and we had a wonderful time and appreciated the great service.

Davio’s Northern Italian Macaroni and Cheese Spring Rolls

Now that I’m navigating the world as an intrepid, paunchy bachelor, I’m finding that food just isn’t holding as much compel as it used to. Rather, it’s taken a backseat to the exciting minutia of single adult life, like perusing the dismal grocery selection, where the Alpo is literally next to the Campbell’s, at the local convenience store with the appraised eye of a Storage Wars veteran.

So, as I briefly alluded to with my last post, a trip to the real-life, big city grocery store brings both trials and tribulations, including the almost comically depressive existential decline of this very blog’s content. I remember when this blog used to be grassroots, man. Cell phone photos and hairbrushes all over the place. Now I’m just surrounded by women, empty space, and a thousand and one iterations of Pop Tarts that no man truly needs. The selection at Target has me yearning for the days of limited-edition Doritos that weren’t throwbacks to throwbacks debuting in 2007 but really in 1963?

The sheer overload has me grabbing shit off the shelves just so I can get home and watch Community. Last week, one of those shits happened to be these spring rolls. Congratulations, Davio’s, and may God have mercy on your fillet of sole.
These are Davio’s Macaroni and Cheese Rolls, and the only unhappiness they tangentially bring to my mother comes from the fact that I purchased them in the first place, thus further shaming the family and increasing my risk of heart disease. As for the drooling, I regret to inform you that said reaction cannot be attributed to the golden-brown crust of the rolls, but the sudden stroke you’ll incur after downing one or two of these. 180 calories per roll and not a lick of flavor to show for it. For all their plump-noodled glory, they are extremely bland and far too creamy and the noodles fade into an oblivion of flour and oil.

Also, Davio’s assumes its core demographic still lives with their parents. Is there anyone they don’t abjectly hate?

Let’s get one thing off our chests: the sauce I made to accompany this, per Davio’s tutelage, bears a disproportionate resemblance to human waste. It only adds insult to injury that I attempted to arrange the rolls as though I was presenting them to a party of six drunk twenty-somethings after a showing of “Love Actually” and a rabid desire for closure and saturated fat. However, it did help detract from the sheer richness of these rolls, like mozzarella sticks wrapped in spring rolls and carefully aggregated marketing data targeting my generation’s inability to let go of their childhoods. I’m surprised it didn’t come with a $2 off coupon of the Blu-Ray re-release of The Princess Bride.
Again, that doesn’t justify these existing as miniaturized fried human salt licks. Not in the slightest, unless you are starving or trapped in a fast-casual restaurant in a blizzard and it’s between these or your coworker, Chad.

The Generous Pour at the Capital Grille, Chestnut Hill, MA

We had an awesome time last night at the Chestnut Hill Capital Grille, where the restaurant is in the thick of its second year hosting the much-lauded wine event, The Generous Pour at their locations nationwide. The three month event debuted last year with smashing success, featuring a selection of red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines curated by Master Sommelier George Miliotes that diners can add on to their meal for an extra $25. We were invited to come and try all the wines over dinner last night. This is definitely an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

The selection of nine wines, valued at over $750 at retail price, are not your typical Napa, Bordeaux, and Washington reds, although the list does include some of those. Dancing a fine line between traditional and exotic, we were pleased to see some wines from unexpected locales pop up, like a Western Slovenian Rebula white wine and a South African late harvest Semillon. None are wines that I’ve ever tried or owned, so it was fun to get that type of variation along with dinner rather than just buying a whole bottle of wine. And when they say generous, they mean generous- these aren’t small sips of wine we’re talking about! The pours varied from 2 to 4 ounces depending on the varietal and our server always made sure that we had something to drink, explaining the flavors, pairings, and information about the wine as she went along.

Our favorites included the 2008 Simcic Rebula from Western Slovenia, an austere, shimmering white wine with the full-bodied tannic rush of a red wine and the grace of a white. With a blanched almond and bitter orange zest flavor and almost Amaretto-like finish, this was a curious and clever wine to go along with our appetizers. We also enjoyed the 2009 Chateau du Pin, a classic example of a French Bordeaux, alongside our steaks and sides. It cut the richness of some of the flavors and amplified the smoky, meaty ones in the best possible way.

We started dinner with an amuse bouche of house-cured smoked salmon on a toast point and a few appetizers. Miss Love chose the lobster and crab cakes and I enjoyed the prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella with tomatoes. I was pleased to discover that the mozzarella is not only made in house, but prepared every two hours to ensure that the cheese is at its absolute freshest when it is served. It was with that in mind that I wished that the cheese’s natural flavors had not been so blanketed by the proscuitto. Although delicious and crispy after a quick stint in the broiler, it smothered the cheese with its salty, spicy flavors. This was still a unique appetizer and I really liked that it was served warm and melty.

The lobster and crab cakes were thick and meaty, with large chunks of claw and tail and buttery crab. You might be wondering what that yellow sachet is at the top of the photo. It’s a lemon covered in cheesecloth fabric to squeeze onto the crab cakes without getting citrus oil on your hands. A very nice touch. The crab cakes interacted well with the spicy corn slaw, a zippy relish served on the side, but the tartar sauce was a little salty. We loved the generous portions of the cakes and felt that they had a great flavor.

Miss Love ordered the filet Oscar, a 10 oz. filet mignon with lump crab meat, asparagus, and Bearnaise sauce on top. The steak was perfectly cooked, with a thick sear on the outside and a sweet, aged flavor. The crab meat, dusted with a little paprika, was the perfect counterpart to such a velvety cut of steak.

My steak was an absolute showstopper. If your eyes are bigger than your stomach, please order the Delmonico. Capital Grille’s Delmonico is a bone-in aged ribeye, one of my favorite cuts of steak, weighing in at a whopping 22 ounces. Perfectly marbled and cooked, this was delectable and savory, especially with the Kona rub and shallot butter on top. I’m normally a steak purist, but this was a great add-on. The rub was thick and peppery and created a great crust on top, and the butter just added to the richness of the meat. I loved it all.

We shared a skillet of the restaurant’s famous lobster mac and cheese on the side, an oozing, ooey-gooey, cheese-laden dish with massive chunks of lobster. It had to be at least 30% lobster meat. It was extremely rich alongside the steak, but the flavors were delicate and savory without being too overbearing. Definitely one to share.

For dessert, we shared an order of the coconut cream pie and a slice of the chocolate hazelnut cake. While the dessert list is decidedly safe in style, the quality is off the charts. The desserts are made daily on-site, a trait that was indicative in the coconut cream pie. It was fresh, fluffy, and not too sweet, with a salted coconut graham crust, a creamy coconut pudding base, coconut whipped cream, housemade coconut caramel sauce, and pieces of toasted coconut on top. Cocoverload! I couldn’t stop eating this. It was one of the nicest steakhouse desserts I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy. The giant, crispy coconut cookie on top was a tasty and flashy garnish. This was my favorite dish of the night. Miss Love’s chocolate hazelnut cake was also wonderful, with a gritty, nutty flavor and crispy toasted hazelnuts on the side. With the 2006 Kanu Kia-Ora, a nutty, honeyed wine in itself, it was the perfect pairing.

This was a wonderful meal and we were so glad to have the opportunity to check it out. I highly recommend this pairing, as it’s a great value and a wonderful way to step outside of your oenological comfort zone. The dinner was excellent, and the selection of entrees and appetizers are sure to please all palates. Thanks again to the staff at the Capital Grille and their PR team for facilitating our review, and we hope to come back very soon!

Blue Ribbon Classics at the Renaissance Hotel, Boston, MA

A few weeks ago, Miss Love and I took an excursion to Boston to check out the Renaissance hotel, enjoy the music of a local funk band, and try out their new menu from Blue Ribbon Classics, a New York-based restaurant company partnering with New England hotels to teach them their award-winning recipes for usage in their restaurants. It delivers an interesting concept- instead of selling the food directly to the hotels, they sell the recipes and techniques so that each hotel can deliver a fresher, tastier product based off a famous recipe.

I’m not sure if I’d ever stayed at the Renaissance before, but it’s close to the water and in an accessible area near the Boston Convention Center. Our room was bright and nautical, and we lounged on the striped chaise and bed and watched a few episodes of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and talked about boys and the mall. We don’t have a TV back home. Things get pretty intense.
Here’s the view from our room, looking out on the water.

After our television binge, we headed down to the bar area, the Capiz Lounge, for a few drinks before the show. The drink list was wonderfully eclectic, using ingredients like Tabasco, grilled fruit, and one that really caught our eye, creme de violette. Such a vintage flavor! This drink, the Aviation, was a fresh, fruity beverage with vodka, club soda, lemon, and the aforementioned creme. Really refreshing and pretty potent, too. Miss Love enjoyed a cava cocktail with raspberries and lime. This was a little more muted in flavor, but after a drive in 75 degree weather in Memorial Day traffic, it was incredibly quenching!

We decided to whack up a bunch of appetizers from the Blue Ribbon menu along with our drinks, and started off our meal with some barbecue pulled pork sliders, fried rock shrimp, Northern fried chicken wings, manchego and honey toast, and smoked salmon toast. The five appetizers were generously proportioned and loaded with toppings. I think that three of them could have easily sated us. With five, we left stuffed!

Surprisingly, our favorite part of this smorgasbord was the manchego cheese toast. The thick slices of warm white bread were saturated with honey yet not sticky at all, and the lacy slices of cheese on top were creamy, but not overwhelming at all. A very provincial, yet delightful dish. I could have eaten this for breakfast, lunch, or dessert and loved the combination of flavors.

The salmon toast was made from the same bread, but suffered from an overzealous hand with capers and onions, the loose toppings falling over the side. The composition of this was precarious and unwieldy, as the cream cheese anchored the salmon to the bread, but the remaining toppings were left to fend for themselves. While the presentation might not have been as striking, mixing the vegetables in would have made for a more compact, evenly distributed bite.
As we ate, the band played a few sets. They were really good! It was an eclectic mixture of funk and rock, and they seemed to have a great time playing. 

There are many words to describe these wings, but only one seems to fit the bill: pornalicious. For once, this dirty Fieri-ism hits the nail on the head. The wings were crazy, huge mastadon tendons drizzled with a honey cayenne sauce. We were told they were made with a matzoh-meal batter, which explained the airy, light texture and sweet, yeasty crunch. These were wonderfully seasoned with garlic, onion, paprika, and thyme.

The real downside to these, unfortunately, was their size and preparation. Because they were served whole, they were really difficult to eat without making a huge mess. Cutting them also proved to be tough as they batter easily flaked off. The only alternative was to pick them up and gnaw on them- extremely fun, but the bar is well-lit and it tends to be a bit of a date-killer. Aside from that, these were winners. I just wish they’d been easier to eat.

The fried rock shrimp were poppable, tender, and tasty, made even better with the lemon cayenne aioli. Nothing too crazy here, just a basic and reliable appetizer with a spicy kick.

Miss Love’s favorite dish of the night was a surprise! I ordered the barbecue pork sliders expecting that they’d be relinquished to me. Little did I know that we’d end up eying the last one territorially. With homemade pickles and a sweet, Carolina-style vinegar sauce, these were both filling, but not too indulgent. We loved how buttery the brioche bun was without being too dense. The sandwiches were really perfectly proportioned and had a bright, zesty flavor thanks to the citrus zest in the pork and sauce.

After all of these salty appetizers, we really needed another drink! We asked our waitress for a recommendation and was told that the bartender, Cathy, had a special sangria that she made on request. We asked for two and were told that it might be best to share one- Cathy’s recipe has twelve kinds of alcohol! It was bright yellow and studded with pieces of lemons, oranges, and lime when she brought it out. Despite the booze, this was a refreshing, crisp, lemony drink with a very smooth finish and not a hint of burn at all. Well made- I’m quite sure this made TLC 200% funnier after we shared it.
It was a fantastic trip, and I was so glad to test the new Blue Ribbon appetizers. Like I said, I think that the concept is wonderful and it’s clear from what we ate that they’re doing a great job of executing it at the Renaissance. I look forward to coming back and trying the rest of the menu, and can’t wait to get back to Boston! Thanks again to the hotel and PR team for facilitating our visit. We had an amazing time!

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse Frozen Chicken Parm Spring Rolls

For me, chicken parmesan and fried spring rolls are second-tier foods. I don’t dislike them, but I’m only going to order them when there is literally nothing else on a menu that I even vaguely like the sound of. Basically, with the exception of non-Jewish weddings, I never order chicken parmesan or spring rolls. The wild assumption that not everything needs to be deep fried in an wonton wrapper has apparently not reached the HQ at Davio’s. We’ve reviewed the Northern Italian Philly Cheesesteak spring rolls and studiously avoided the shrimp cojita. Now it’s time to sample my edible consolation prize, the Chicken Parm spring rolls from Davio’s.

These started as a result of some guy named Wayne’s fastidiously childish compulsion of only eating chicken parm regardless of the establishment he was dining at. Wayne sounds like the kind of guy who brings his own tofu burgers to 4th of July barbecues and feigns indigestion to get out of eating Indian food. Instead of dismissing this as annoying, Davio’s found it memorable enough to…create a spring roll out of? And give us permission to enjoy it even if our name isn’t Wayne? All right. Well, considering that constitutes a cool 312,041,825 out of 312,430,801 people in the USA, or 99.8% of people, I’m glad they felt the need to give us that disclaimer. I think we can all safely agree that the chief allure of chicken parmesan is the crispy, flaky crust underneath the sauce and cheese. Likewise, the prime part of an egg roll is the chewy wonton wrapper. Put the two fried goodies together and you have Tums executives everywhere laughing evilly and twiddling their mustaches in glee.
The epitome of class.
Regardless, I tried these out of shameless intrigue and a complete lack of desire to actually cook. Unfortunately, they bombed even while eaten commando. (The spring rolls, not me.) Wayne can go back to eating chicken parmesan, because these are no substitute for either dish. If I was able to have an egg roll at Davio’s made in my honor, it would be the anti-chicken parm egg roll, and would consist of all that is good and pure on this earth that I could stuff in my mouth. This egg roll, on the other hand, is the antithesis of that concept. It cooks unevenly, a small facet that just adds insult to injury. Davio’s bumbling chefs took the concept literally and stuffed breaded chicken, sauce, and cheese inside the thick, absorbent egg roll dough, which, when indirectly heated and steamed through its crispy shell, translates as a mushy, overbreaded cheesefest with a pasty, thick mouthfeel and a salty sauce recipe lifted directly from Totino’s Pizza Rolls. It was impossible to discern any chicken in this whatsoever in both texture and flavor.
A part of me really did adore the Philly cheesesteak rolls because there was no filler ingredient to gum up the works. Every aspect played a key role in the composition of the dish, with the meat and cheese as filling and the egg roll as the carbohydrate binder. Here, the balance was thrown off and the ratios were completely skewed. I felt like I was eating the end result of a rejected Epic Meal Time sketch, with the subpar quality and condescension included with the $6.49 price tag.

Pumpkin Goat Cheese Cornbread Balls

Hypocrisy! I believe we’ve met. Specifically, the time when I backhandedly insulted cake balls for being little more than a trendy fad. What I didn’t count on was loving them. And needing to make them. I still don’t see a point in baking cakes for the sole purpose of rehydrating them in ball form, but you tell me what to do with two-thirds of a leftover pan of cornbread, a log of goat cheese, and a three inch-tall bit of salsa left in the jar. Sigh. It’s like Chopped for sad bachelors.

Well, long story short, I gussied up my ill-fated flirt with Larry the Cable Guy’s muffin mix and turned it into these pumpkin goat cheese cornbread balls. I made them under the guise of pretending to throw a big, impromptu party for all my fabulous associates and dearest friends. In reality, I chilled them and ate them for dinner. They were delicious. They used up all my leftovers. And they are a bite-sized, handheld alternative to brie rings or cheese loaves or crab dip for your (actual) shindigs.
The steps were similar to making the cake balls, substituting cornbread (I had some made from a mix, but you could make it homemade if you wanted to) for cake and goat cheese and salsa for frosting. The outside was a lime-chili spice mixture, and I dipped them in the best jalapeno dip known to man, Dr. Gonzo’s Jalapenomash. I encourage you to order it in bulk or use whatever your favorite it- but please make sure it’s green. My Jewish family members will thank you and your holiday tablescape will be just as ornate as Sandra Lee’s.
Step 1. Mash the cornbread with the salsa and goat cheese.
Step 2. Roll the balls in the spices.
Step 3. ????
Step 4. PROFIT
Pumpkin Goat Cheese Cornbread Balls (makes thirty)
1 loaf of cornbread (packaged or homemade)
1 8 oz. log of goat cheese
1/2 cup of chunky salsa (I used pumpkin salsa, but any type would work)
1/4 cup of chili-lime seasoning for rolling
Salsa to dip in
1. Bake your cornbread. When it is cooled, crumble with hands or a fork until fine.
2. Mix in salsa and goat cheese until it resembles a loose, crumbly dough.
3. Roll into small balls and roll in the chili-lime seasoning.
4. Chill for one to six hours and serve with salsa!

Ballo Italian Restaurant and Social Club at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

In the heart of Mohegan Sun’s Casino of the Earth, new kid on the block Ballo’s sprawling, exuberant scale may appear to be as over the top as any Vegas establishment, but is a perfect example of big things coming in big packages. This is a quality that restaurant maverick John J. Tunney III, owner of Ballo, emphasizes in his cuisine and brainchild. At a press lunch this afternoon, we got a chance to experience Ballo’s menu and see the newly finished restaurant in the flesh.

Ballo has come a long way in two months, transforming from a nervously piecemeal jumble to a polished, stately restaurant. Long expanses of artificial greenery and red accents make a bold statement in the otherwise dark casino. Immense Gothic arches and wood-carved columns fill the 16,000 square foot expanse, serving as a persistent theme throughout the restaurant.
As we tour the restaurant, the boyish Mr. Tunney points out in a flustered, yet noticeably pleased manner, the pieces of the restaurant that were recently finished yet appear as though they took months to create. The name of the restaurant spelled out in carved metal on the floor. The slender decorative touches on the Corinthian columns. All small details that make a big splash in the atmosphere of Ballo.
The restaurant is segmented into bar areas and dinner areas, dance floors and private rooms, but not in a way that makes the eater feel separated from any one area of the restaurant. Rather, Tunney wishes to have these alcoves as ways for diners to experience the restaurant through many lenses under one roof.
High-profile customers can have their library lounges and butler doors if they so choose, complete with hired security, yet with the option to hang out at the bar or dance in the back as well. A middle coffeehouse-style area has comfortably zany zebra print chairs and candlelit tables for close contact and a comforting oasis from the bustle of the casino. No one room feels staid or added on at the last minute. Each area presents its own set of unique possibilities for customizing your dining experience.
While we did socialize at the centerpiece of the restaurant, Ballo’s enormous marble bar, 12 in the afternoon seemed a little too early to dance on the tables. We started off our tasting by noshing on some frighteningly addictive figs, roasted to gooey perfection, smeared with goat cheese, and bundled in prosciutto.

We washed these down with a selection of drinks, including Ballo’s signature cocktail, the Ballo Limonata, a delicately spritzed mixture of limonata, Spirit Vodka, and a frozen blood orange sphere. Refreshing and quenching with a neat twist on ice cubes and less dilution.

Later, we retreated to the rear, to a back room that makes a fine case for coming back, with integrated speakers and Renaissance curtained DJ area. A little dark in the afternoon, but not cavernous. This area was where we ate our meal, a special tasting menu presented by executive chef Matthew Adler and chef de cuisine Shaun Golan.
I started off dinner with a quartino of the house red, a tangy Cabernet Sauvignon. Ballo serves wine in 8 oz. quartinos, a pleasant and generous portion compared to the standard 5 oz. restaurant pour and priced like a typical glass. This is poured in 2 oz. portions from an individual pitcher that prevents the likely dribbling that comes with great, galumphing glasses of wine. With this, I was able to replenish as I pleased (though our server was so attentive there was no need to) and pace myself throughout the lunch. I enjoyed the cab. For a house wine, it was neither overly complex nor hiding poor quality under the house name. It is worth noting that Ballo boasts a wine list of over 60 wines, 16 of them offered by the quartino, and all of them Italian.

For a lunch sandwiched between an unexpected 300 person cocktail party on behalf of the Mohegan tribe and the frantic anxiety of an opening night less than 24 hours away, Ballo presented a thoughtful and well-executed taste of its offerings, from cocktails to coffee, in a special seven course tasting menu. We started with the dish that had captivated us the last time around, the Ballo Caprese with a creamy mound of burrata, roasted cherry tomatoes, and housemade pesto. For an antipasti, this was a huge portion. The burrata was creamy and silky, with a porous texture that sopped up the pesto around it. The pesto was finely mixed and added a needed boost of salinity to the cheese, along with the tomatoes. Like last time, these were roasted, which added an additional dimension to the dish, but were roasted much better than the last time around and had less of a bite. An exceptionally good start.
Bread was passed around along with the burrata, freshly baked Italian loaves hot from the oven. This was ripped off in healthy chunks, and served with a mixture of herbed garlic olive oil and butter. A traditional start to the meal and like the burrata, an excellent sponge for the leftover pesto. We followed this with another antipasti dish, crispy artichokes with arugula and lemon. These were lightly crispy on the outside and yielding on the inside, and small enough to pop in your mouth. If all my vegetables were prepared in this fashion, I’d likely be more inclined to go vegetarian. The artichokes were not breaded, and I suspect that as a result of this, did not sop up excess oil. Light and tender, the mild flavor of the artichokes was perked up by the addition of tart lemon juice and pickled scallions. More scallions and a hair more salt would have been preferred.
Following this was a dish of pork meatballs with broccoli rabe, ricotta salata, and marinara sauce. Our server said there was pancetta floating around in this somewhere, but any additional ingredient would have died an anonymous death, smothered in the rich marinara and savory cheese. Pancetta or not, these were delightfully nostalgic for all at the table, at least, those of us with marinara running through our veins. The meatballs erred toward the large side with an airy, moist texture and a rush of oregano and garlic. The sauce was equally bold with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a smooth texture. Three of these sat in a miniature skillet. Believe me when I tell you that it took all of my restraint to not inhale each one.
The lunch took a slightly different turn after our trio of appetizers, and we were brought out a communal sweet sausage pizza to share amongst us. With a mozzarella and pecorino blend pooling in crannies left between strings of caramelized onion and chunks of pepperocini, this was a hearty yet controlled pie. With so many unctuous ingredients, one would expect something richer, sopping with oil and overspiced, but this seemed almost delicate. A meat lover’s special for the lady in Louboutins. It was sweet and fragrant, with a hearty crust and a light scattering of sausage.
It is worth noting that taking on a pizza project in Connecticut is as risky as taking on lobster in Maine or maple syrup in Vermont. While nothing could replace some of my beloved New Haven eateries, this was a worthy contender and offered up some creative deviation to the by-the-book apizza standard 50 miles west.
Our next dish was a small plate of fresh ravioli, the shell of which is housemade daily on premise, filled with mascarpone, ricotta, and parmesan, and covered in more tasty pesto. A tangy and comforting dish. However, the pasta shell was a little thick for its sweet, milky contents.
From that, we moved on to another pasta dish, a lusty tagliatelle doused in bechamel with chunks of proscuitto, and broiled with an end consistency of a savory toasted marshmallow. This achieved a nice bite to a normally saucy dish and added an additionally smoky note that the prosciutto certainly couldn’t have done on its own amongst all the cheese. The flavor was rich and the sauce a bit grainy, but flavorful. We found that the pasta held the sauce well and was cooked just a bit less than most mushy al dente offerings, with a firm structure.There was a brief rest in between the tagliatelle and this steak course, and a well-needed one to digest and chat amongst ourselves. When this came out, a hush descended over the self-proclaimed carnivores of the group as we tucked into a filet mignon with heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, arugula pesto, and a balsamic reduction. This was a steakhouse standard prepared with Italian accents. A great cut of steak, elevated even higher with a thick crust and a buttery, smooth cut, cooked medium rare and very moist. The steak knife was almost superfluous, and the steak was seasoned minimally, as all steaks should be. The fresh tomatoes were sweet, but somewhat excessive. The pesto was the only low point of this dish. This was now the third dish in our menu with pesto, and this manifested itself in a peppery, earthy version that dominated most of the flavors in the steak and vegetables if applied too liberally.
Our savory courses settled in our stomachs, we moved on to coffee and dessert, of which there was thankfully only one course. Illy coffee was served along with miniature cannoli with a double garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and dark chocolate chips, baked by resident chef-of-all-trades, Mr. Adler himself.
The cannoli, yet another Wooster Street facsimile treading dangerously close to its granddaddy, was a slimmer cigarillo-type pastry, lacking the bready, oily crust and choking globs of cheese that make its larger version so delectable. Still a sumptuous offering, with a spiced mascarpone filling and a crispy, wonton-like shell. A quiet, classic way to end the whole affair, as blended and solid as the artful quotes filling the walls, Thoreau interpretations by Tunney’s brother.
As our lunch wound down, Tunney lingered, not wanting the party to end and the music to die down. He chatted with us, cards were exchanged, and his smile fell a bit as we left. Tunney expounds upon his ideas as we walk out. “Everyone has a story,” Tunney tells us as we wait outside, not wanting to leave the splendor. “And we want to hear it.” Hear them he will. The man with the golden restaurant touch opens Ballo tomorrow to the public, ready to whirl Mohegan Sun visitors around the dance floor and delight the senses. Be there, or be square. This is one dance you won’t want to miss.

Press Preview of Ballo at Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT

A few weeks ago, Keepitcoming Love and I received an invitation to a press preview of Ballo, Mohegan Sun’s newest restaurant to hit the casino. Ballo is an Italian restaurant, but with quirks and features that are very different from your standard family-style joint. At night, it transforms into a social club, where music pumps through ecclesiastic arches in the walls and guests are able to literally dance on the tables. Located in the core of the casino, Ballo thrives in the spotlight with open arms and a tight embrace.With a tentative opening date of September 12th, 2011, this will be Mohegan Sun’s second foray into Italian dining, up with Todd English’s Tuscany, but with price points, owner John J. Tunney III emphasized, that emphasize simplicity rather than spending. With a mozzarella bar and a plethora of antipasti, one can spend $15 or $150 in an evening and still sample the wide variety the restaurant has to offer.

Ballo-matching hard hats firmly in place, we stepped inside and met with the charismatic Tunney, for a tour of the facility and a taste of what was to come. While Ballo’s tables are not quite ready to dance on yet, at least, not unless you’re looking for a face full of sawdust, it is blatantly obvious that when this is ready, it is going to be a big deal, with an emphasis on big. The space itself is around 16,000 square feet, packed full of alcoves, private dining rooms, and its centerpiece, a massive carrara marble bar.

Ballo borrows small accents from Italian culture and architecture. Chairs that resemble those at schools or libraries, brick and marble construction in the Cistercian architecture, and dramatic lighting not out of place in a Rospigliosi opera. However, the visuals are not all that tantalize. Inside the kitchen, we met Executive Chef Matthew Adler and Chef de Cuisine Shaun Golan, both young, eager chefs with a diligence in their swift movements and grace in their preparation.

“I don’t care if you’re serving a hamburger or a Porterhouse, service should still be the same.” And at this moment, it was. We sampled Ballo’s signature caprese, joining other tantalizing menu items like crispy artichoke hearts with arugula and lemon, tagliatelle baked with prosciutto cotto and Parmesan, and a broccoli, caciocavallo, and chili pizza. Pasta is made on site daily and ingredients are sourced locally and served “pantry-style” where the food is prepared quickly with the least amount of touch and delivered in an open area.

Taking this mindset to the plate, I found it to be exquisite. Chef Adler deftly prepared plates of caprese faster than dealers outside deal cards, and we consumed the very essence of what Ballo has to offer. In a few small bites, so many delicious flavors were released. The caprese consisted of fresh burratta, an impressive and rare ingredient due to its freshness and inability to keep past 24 hours, housemade pesto, and roasted orange cherry tomatoes. Each bite exemplified the perfect preparation of its components. It was so aromatic, kicking my nostrils into high gear, and seemed so simple. While the whole is obviously preferable to the sum of its parts, I have a sneaking suspicion I could eat the cheese all day and slather the pesto on all of my sandwiches. It was a creamy, gooey snack, with a robust nuttiness from the pesto and the natural sugars in the tomato accentuating the salt in the cheese. A little more charred snap to the tomato’s flesh would have been preferable, but as it goes, it’s better than any bar snack I’ve ever had. If, by that bite alone, this is tantamount to all of the offerings from Ballo, I am positive that I will be back in the future.With such a quirky concept, it’s not yet clear as to how the public will receive Ballo. I do not know how it will fare three, six months from now. I am incredibly curious to come back and taste the selection. But if Tunney and his staff continue to dream big and emphasize ingredients and detail as we saw today, I predict that Ballo will dance well into the next decade of higher-end, unique casino restaurants that don’t break the bank. It may be an interesting road, but as for most things in bocca al lupo, patience and innovation will pay off.

Paragon at Foxwoods, Foxwoods Casino, Mashantucket, CT

I’ve noticed that I have some peculiar eating habits. For instance, not many things please me more than a cold drink and a plate of tacos with nary more than protein and sauce, or a grilled hot dog, or a thin griddled burger in a squishy bun. Roadside food. Stand food. My other favorite thing happens to be high-end, experimental, ballsy restaurants with wine lists that casually pair the latest overpriced Kenwood bastardization with bottles of 1998 Haut Brion Pessac-Léognan for the low, low price of $1,745, and with menu items that pop out on the page with crazy combinations and chemistry. I’ve noticed that not a whole lot in between catches my eye. But I don’t see myself as an elitist in any respect, for at the two ends of the tier, both seem to have the most consistency in style, quality, and presentation despite their distinct differences in price.
With this philosophy in mind, we decided to make reservations at Paragon, Foxwood’s elite dining experience for concert-goers like us or players who happen to have a lucky night. Paragon boasted a clever menu with local highlights, an extensive wine list, and a killer Facebook page with drool-worthy photos of their ever-changing ingredients in a few “behind the scenes” peeks. The unfortunate reality of casino fare is that there doesn’t seem to be a good medium in between the omnipresent collegiate buffet and the priciest of fancy restaurants. To give you a realistic idea of our options for our night at Foxwoods, it was either Paragon or California Pizza Kitchen. This doesn’t give enough options to the patrons who want something a little nicer than family-style pizza yet who aren’t too enthused to drop a ton of money on fine dining.
However, Paragon seemed to be the only fine restaurant in Foxwoods that really toes the line with its cuisine. While its atmosphere is distinctly similar to a Nordstrom Cafe Bistro with light jazz wafting over salad and a staid, simple decor, its menu is full of unique twists on New England classics, such as a lobster bisque with a bourbon vanilla float, and a double-wrapped lobster roll with a Thai dip. While we did notice a huge discrepancy in the pricing, like $50 for a prawn dish and a lobster dish but $25 for one steak dish and roasted duck, we reasoned that if we ordered carefully, we’d be able to experience the full spectrum of dishes and keep the price under $200 for two with a bottle of wine.
The dinner menu wasn’t the only thing with significant pricing outliers. The wine list was grossly overpriced. Of course, in a casino, one expects to see a few big hitters just like one goes to a film with the expectation of seeing a few big movie stars. Both are also hideously expensive. It is a fact that simply comes with the territory and one that I was fine with. But since I hadn’t counted cards or hit it big on the tables that evening, I wasn’t about to spring for something over $100 and didn’t expect there to be such a huge block of wines toward the $300+ range. In this respect, the wine list at Paragon faltered in my opinion. I am neither inclined nor experienced enough to pick out a reliable Californian wine for a reasonable price without gambling a bit, which limited me to the Old World reds, red being because I saw the groan-worthy 2006 Schmitt-Söhne “Relax” Riesling in its chlorinated blue bottle for $36 and never looked back. The European reds varied from $36-55 and $95-$5,500 with little in between for neither cheaping out nor splurging. Since I wasn’t ready to give up my next semester of college for a few bottles of $5,500 2006 DRC Romanée-Conti, I went for a comparable Burgundy, a 2007 Bouchard Père et Fils Reserve Bourgogne. A delicious, if unobtrusive and somewhat mid-tier selection that paired well with our meal, but didn’t really wow me.
We started off our meal with a selection of breads and a complimentary amuse-bouche of tempura chicken in a lemon sauce. This was tasty, with my experience marred only due to my recent revulsion to all things yellow and liquified with our recent acquisition of a kitten, but was a crunchy, well-prepared piece of meat in a zesty sauce. A one-noted flavor, but sadly better than most of the Chinese foods in the Western Massachusetts area. It was impossible to tell whether or not the bread was baked in house or if it was simply a standard of all the restaurants at Foxwoods, but it was plain on its own and improved by the lemon sauce and provided butter. Even David Burke Prime has its own special house bread.
Wait service ranges from friendly to lacking. When we arrived at five, the time of our reservations, the restaurant still seemed to be in the throes of opening up. Nobody attended to us for about seven minutes, by which point a line of about six or so people had formed behind us. We also encountered a distinct lack in etiquette while being served. For instance, when we were ordering our appetizers, I chose to try the Tastes of Paragon sampler and my companion, the oyster selection. None of the specials piqued our interest until we overheard another server at the table next to us reciting the specials, including one that ours had neglected to mention. When we inquired about this particular dish to our server, she merely shrugged and said she forgot about it and walked away without an apology. Throughout the duration of the meal, she was flustered and quiet after her mistake, rather than letting it be and continuing in a friendly manner. This was a serious point of contention with us, as the restaurant had conveyed an attitude of prestige, politesse, and precision. The appetizers arrived quickly, served in white bisque porcelain dishes of various shapes and sizes. The special, a soft shell crab with a black bean and bacon vinaigrette was especially delicious, with a crispy tempura battered shell and a wonderful sauce accompanying it. The sauce, which was acidic and smoky, did not impart a whole lot of black bean into its flavor, but did complement the fried crab with its texture and flavor. The bacon was cut in thick and chewy meat treats throughout the dish, and highlighted the light batter and the tender crab meat. This was a generous and innovative appetizer.
The appetizer tasting definitely seemed like a hit or miss operation. On Paragon’s Facebook page, they posted a photograph from early in July of one of their Tastes of Paragon selections, consisting of “crunchy cumin crusted veal meatball “grinder” with buffalo mozzarella, sriracha brown butter béarnaise, and lettuce, pan-fried goat cheese with black truffle vinaigrette, mangalista ham and grilled cheese, and ahi poki with Wagyu beef Singapore noodles.” Perhaps because we were in the early bird time frame, with 5 o’clock reservations, the chef mistakenly thought we would not be open to rich and exciting tastes, as I was brought out a shrimp scampi in a garlic butter sauce, a Kobe short rib in a lemongrass glaze topped with scallions, and a piece of crispy salmon in a saffron aioli with wakame salad. All were served in a shallow dish with depressions for each appetizer. It resembled a high-end dog bowl. Each of these appetizers were lacking in one way or another. The shrimp was cooked perfectly with a butter sauce, but seemed more like “Tastes of Mediocre Italian” than Tastes of Paragon and was banal, despite being well-prepared. This was our favorite bite of the three. The Kobe short rib was tender and moist, but stringy in some parts, particularly the middle, and the sauce was glutenous and bland. The salmon was the only bite that I did not have the inclination to finish. It was not crispy, but rather, overcooked and tough. Each bite crumbled and seized unpleasantly. There was nothing flaky about the texture. The wakame dominated the bite with a salty, pickled flavor and the aioli, though golden-hued, tasted like nothing more than a heavy-handed application of mustard and mayonnaise. I could not detect the earthiness of saffron in the slightest. None of the sauces were tasty enough to smear on the leftover bread.
After our appetizers, we were promptly served our entrees. I was in the mood for steak before Steely Dan that evening and went slightly against the grain of my preferences, ordering an imperial Wagyu ribeye, in the Australian carpetbag style with a Tasso ham, oyster, and mushroom sauté over a sriracha brown butter béarnaise. When this arrived, I was under the assumption that there had been a typo in the menu and that the topping really consisted of Tasso ham and oyster mushrooms, as there did not seem to be any oysters in the dish. They were not, as the carpetbag preparation entails, stuffed into the steak. After some poking around the topping, I found two oysters, one small and one medium-sized, mixed in with the sauté. They were tender but scarce.
The preparation of the steak was partially my fault. I was caught off guard when ordering, thinking about the wine that would later arrive, and mistakenly stuttered that I wanted a medium er, rare steak. I received medium, though not at the fault of the kitchen. The steak was seared well with a lovely, thick crust and was tender and evenly cooked. The sriracha brown butter béarnaise was the tastiest part of the dish. It had a mélange of elements, all well-balanced and complimentary with each component of the dish. I particularly liked the harmony in between the sweet nuttiness of the brown butter and the slight kick of heat at the end from the sriracha. The topping fell a little short of my expectations, as the Tasso ham seemed to be replaced with more of the thick cut bacon from the tempura crab dish. In the interest of full disclosure, regular readers will know that I did not eat the mushrooms, though tolerated them on my plate.
My companion ordered the cumin crusted duck breast with a kumquat relish, spelt, and rashers. The presentation was colorful and varied in flavor, but there were some aspects of the dish that were too glaringly flawed to ignore. We both agreed that duck prepared in a fine dining setting ought to be erring toward the rare side. This was tough, dry, and overcooked. Serving it in unwieldy and large slices did not help. The flavor of the duck was tempered by the kumquat relish, a spicy-sweet medley of fruits and spices. It was moist and crisp with a wonderful blend of Asian flavors. The spelt underneath was firm and yielding but was, again, studded with the thick pieces of bacon that we’d come to know and, at this stage in the meal, avoid. This was the third dish to feature yet another incarnation of bacon. Though one would assume that bacon by any other name- many, many other names; Tasso ham, wooly pig bacon, rashers, would taste just as sweet, it implied to us that the chef had simply gotten a very good deal on bacon that week.
After the hit or miss savory selections, we weren’t too keen on ordering dessert. My gluttonous side relented when I saw the peanut butter cheesecake with peanut praline shortbread, banana, and bacon gelato, despite being baconed out by the end of the meal. My lovely companion opted to finish her evening with a gin and tonic and in retrospect, I wish I had done the same. The one dish where we really counted on and desired the influence of bacon in the flavors did not have any bacon in it at all. The gelato was a blandly pedestrian vanilla and the cheesecake, largely consumed by the neat military rows of banana slices flanking from all sides. The “crust” was two small squares of flavorless shortbread kitty-cornered and topped with raspberries. Without the salinity of the meat, this was a dessert that ached with sweetness. The combination of rich, sugary cheesecake with bananas reminded me of the peanut butter, banana and cream cheese sandwiches my dad used to make me as a child, of course, forgoing the $12 premium. A huge disappointment.
You’ll notice that these photos aren’t up to the quality of my regular ones. When we arrived at the restaurant, I realized that I had forgotten the memory card to the camera at home. I was initially upset because I thought that my photos would come out badly due to not having the camera. But after the meal, I realized that adding the price of the $40 memory card for the sole purpose of documenting this meal would have been an insult in itself. The truth is, Paragon was probably one of the better dining options at Foxwoods. This is probably largely in part due to the positive reviews it has received. Had I seen a critical assessment like my own, I would not have come at all. And for its price, which came out to around $200 as we predicted, we appreciated the innovation of the menu and atmosphere of the restaurant. But when a restaurant believes that it can slack simply because it knows that people will come regardless of service on the presumption that it’s better than Fuddrucker’s, it presents a noticeable decline in quality from the standard of fine dining that eaters and guests like us are used to. It pales in comparison to far more modest restaurants and for its hype, does not deliver.

The Suburban, Branford, CT

Never before have I visited such a grossly overestimated restaurant. How odd to find a place that is resting on its laurels one week after being reviewed in the New York Times. In their fawning October 2010 praise-fest of Arturo Franco-Camacho’s third lackluster attempt at an eatery, The Suburban in Branford, CT, Connecticut Magazine bills it as “extraordinary,” where the “genius” is in the details. Unfortunately, I’m going to take a note from the misquoted Mies van der Rohe and say that the devil, and not the genius, is in the details instead. A recent visit to The Suburban proved this to be correct when my dining companion and I encountered an abundance of smarminess and a dearth of creativity.

The Suburban starts with deception, serves up deception, and ends with a big, fat load of deception on your plate. The sample daily menu is what friends of the franchise in obviously high places and deluded Roomba diehards call unique and inspired, but it is unfortunately a come-hither concealing a rather dull actual daily menu. The sample menu on the site looked fantastic and varied with small plates like Moroccan shrimp with feta, fennel, and orange segments, and blueberry ginger duck breast with brioche corn pudding serving as large plates. My only original trepidation was that with a large array of food spanning multiple continents, plus two other restaurant ventures on the way, the Franco-Camachos would be spreading themselves too thinly.
It turns out that the “daily” menu is simply a matter of cutting corners by pairing dull, typical proteins with dull, typical sauces. After being seated away from the strangely bisected bar area, which looks reminiscent of an old-timey candy store, and in the wood-paneled hipster hall, we were seated near a creepy Duggar family-esque “communal” table, the room’s focal point. We were given menus and a clothespin reminiscent of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry keepsake. This is no Thomas Keller establishment. It is a common experience to go to a restaurant and be satisfied, though not wowed by the dishes. It is regrettable to go to a restaurant that prides itself on its innovation and find the small plates and large plates so damningly boring that you have no inclination to order them and prefer to vapidly nosh on side dishes. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we did. The $26 charcuterie and cheese plate was out of the question, as we had no desire to pay that kind of money and risk receiving skimpy portions of meat and cheese, none of which were prepared in-house. We shared an order of three “snacks” for $16: Deviled eggs with olive and fig tapenade, Catalan gazpacho with lobster croutons, and chicken liver mousse with a raspberry and parsley gastrique, plus a side of pommes frites, just for the hell of it. We also ordered two of their specialty cocktails of the evening, a pineapple mint mojito and a strawberry chile margarita.
The wine list is unreasonably off the charts. For starters, their glass prices are incredibly high, with $9 for a glass of 2009 Gazela vinho verde, a wine that can be bought in stores for $11 per bottle. Here, it is $30. Even in trendy New York establishments, I can’t think of a time when I was charged a restaurant markup of over 45% for wine, and good wine at that. So $10 for cocktails seemed like the better route, though not ideal. My cocktail was visually appealing, and touted as containing strawberry puree, Cointreau, silver tequila, and fresh jalapenos. I opted against a salt rim as I did not want the savory flavors to be too overwhelming. However, there was no trace of jalapenos in either a physical or flavorful form, and the strawberry puree was a mere afterthought on the back of my palate. All I tasted was my least favorite part of a cocktail- alcohol. Yogurty, thick, burning tequila and not much else. The drink was bitter and needed sugar, agave nectar, anything to save it from pure boredom. I stopped drinking halfway through because I was buzzed and tired of its one-noted flavor.
My companion’s drink was far tastier, with little nibbler-sized chunks of fresh pineapple suspended in the clear drink. It was palatable and fruity, with distinct ginger and mint flavors thanks to the quality of Foxon Park’s damned good ginger ale, and the flavors were cohesive and well-paired. The only problem was that this seemed to be a completely virgin drink. She experienced no alcohol buzz compared to my loud, brutish one, and found it a little strange that the flavors completely concealed the rum, leading us to wonder if there was more than a thimble full of alcohol in it at all.
Our server came by multiple times to repeatedly ask us, like an automated phone operator, if we wanted more than just snacks. She begrudgingly brought us delicious steaming popovers in a basket after we asked, but did not set the basket down and instead served us two and walked away. I felt as though if I’d asked for more, I’d have been reproached like a child. Instead, I savored mine, a fluffy, crispy delight resembling an edible balloon. Served with butter conservatively dusted with crunchy crystals of Hawaiian pink salt, I’d have been happy to eat this all night. These are complimentary, but handed out more conservatively than food in the Great Depression breadlines.

Our first two snacks came to the table in a beautiful presentation that delicately danced the line between rustic and fancy. The chicken liver mousse, served in a miniature mason jar, with a clear stripe of raspberry parsley gastrique on top, was the best of our selections. The raspberry compote provided a fresh and jammy contrast to the rich flavor of the mousse below. The mousse was plentiful, leaving about half the container’s worth after the bread was consumed. We had to ask for more bread to finish it.

However, the deviled eggs were pretty disappointing. In the aforementioned Connecticut Magazine article, I was looking forward to the “twinning” of flavors in deviled eggs served two ways, but I found that these eggs were both prepared the same way, with the filling dominated by a spicy mustard flavor and dotted with tiny kalamata olive specks. They were good deviled eggs, but this preparation was significantly dumbed-down from what was lauded in that and several other reviews. With this in mind, the eggs came across as sassless, neutered bites. A mere hint of olive was left at the end of the egg, and the fig had since fled the restaurant to seek greener pastures at Le Petit Cafe down the street.

After the mousse and eggs were brought out, the gazpacho was presented in a container resembling the top half of a martini glass set in a dish of ice. The presentation looked more appropriate for caviar, and came across a little twee for gazpacho. The soup was topped with microgreens and small chunks of lobster. No idea where the croutons came in. The soup was made well with a smooth flavor but was wholly unremarkable in any aspect other than its splashy presentation.
Our server came back bearing French fries and again asked us if we were interested in rethinking our position on small and large plates. Jesus, it was more complicated than buying a timeshare. No, we were not interested. She put down our fries in a huff and scooted out. Pommes frites were made to counteract the fatty richness of a steak or protein with a pillowy, starchy carbohydrate. Five dollars gets you a small bucket of conventional, thin French fries and two housemade condiments. The fries were stacked precariously high, like edible Jenga blocks, and inevitably fell on the table when I tried to release them from their greasy prison. I was unimpressed, as these fries looked like the smaller clone of those at Local Burger, which are tastier and come in three times the quantity for half the price. The condiments were piquant and unique, with a ketchup similar to Sir Kensington’s and a tasty, herbed malt vinegar mayonnaise. These were tasty, but served up in shot glasses with the ounces marked clearly. The condiments did not go above the one ounce mark, which looked rationed and cheap.
At this point, I should mention that our server had completely given up on us. This forfeit, coming from someone who forgot the word for plantains while dutifully intoning the nightly special, was pretty ballsy. The remainder of the dinner was spent trying to usher us out as quickly as possible, asking two more times if we wanted entrees despite our obvious irritation and refusal, and going as far as to give us our check while we were still eating after we had mentioned wanting dessert. This was unacceptable and rude, and if she was trained to rush dissatisfied customers out to make room for those who care to go whole hog, clearly The Suburban is relying on the good graces of those who are susceptible to pretension.
There are plenty of restaurants where I am happy to spend upwards of $200 with a generous tip, because their food is sublime and their service impeccable. I had hoped that The Suburban would become part of that list, but no such luck. I feel that, with the unprofessional service, poor attention to detail, tense environment, and lackluster menu here, it would be akin to going back to an abusive partner again and again and being continually disappointed and upset with what they had to offer. In spite of their high ratings from multiple reputable news agencies, I observed that the staff at The Suburban were rude and unaccommodating to other customers and didn’t seem to be able to fill many seats. If I were to go here again and drop my hard-earned money, it would be only my own fault for succumbing to their smoke and mirrors again.

UPDATE 9/16: The Suburban is CLOSED! Long live G-Zen!

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