Bar Primi – New York City, NY

If you know my colleague Logan, you’ve likely encountered his wealth of knowledge on everything from film to foie gras, books to brioche, he’s a veritable Logipedia of information when it comes to arts, entertainment and food. I, on the other hand, while possibly dabbling in a wider breadth of topics, have just enough knowledge to start a conversation and quickly use up every interesting tidbit I’ve got in the bank.

There is one topic I’ve always had a firm grasp of, the ritual that is the traditional Italian supper. Antipasti, primi, secondi e contorni, insalata, formaggi, dolce, caffé e digestivo. I’ve embarked on this journey countless times in my 20+ year tenure as a Italophile, and I’ve always felt a certain affinity toward the primo piatto, especially when pasta is involved.

Well it seems Locanda Verde creator Andrew Carmellini and I share a similar passion, as his new restaurant, Bar Primi, puts the focus squarely on this hallowed dish. I can think of few chefs I’d rather have at the helm of a pasta-centric joint than Mr. Carmellini, who’s practically got pomodoro running in his veins.

Bar Primi logo

The Lobe (aka Sara) and I arrived hungry at Bar Primi after a grabbing a quick round of antipasti at Doughnut Plant. We crossed Joey Ramone Way, making sure to pay our respects, and entered the house that pasta built.

Bar Primi sign and setting

 We were early, so they were still serving brunch. We started off with a wonderful bruschetta with fresh ricotta and figs. More often than not, the best Italian food is the simplest, and that proves true here as it took less than five ingredients to impress. The ricotta on display is not the typical sad white paste found in many a potluck lasagna. No, this is the real stuff, straight from Salvatore in Brooklyn, creamy and vibrant with subtle grassy flavor. The cheese takes its rightful spot as the star of the dish, with perfectly ripe fig segments playing Johnny to the ricotta’s Joey.

Bar Primi bruschetta

Two handsome bowls of pasta arrived soon after we had lapped up the last ricotta laced crumb. As it was still brunch, we opted to start with a breakfast spaghetti of kale, pancetta and a poached egg. Breaking open a runny yolk and watching it cascade down homemade noodles never gets old. It coats everything in a thick gloss, helped along by the rendered fat from the pancetta. I longed for some caramelized onions to lend sweetness to the rich affair, but with noodles so perfectly al dente, I was hard pressed to complain.

Bar Primi breakfast spaghetti

The macaroni with Jersey corn, shiitake and scallion left me wanting for nothing. Again with the masterfully prepared pasta, surrounded by perfectly balanced flavors. Sweetness from the corn, offset by succulent and rich shiitakes all under a soft dusting of nutty parm. There just wasn’t enough in the bowl to satisfy.

Bar Primi pasta

Being the pasta fiend that I am, I had high hopes for Bar Primi. Chef Carmellini and the rest of the staff delivered on all fronts. In the vast sea of delicious Italian eats that is Manhattan, Bar Primi manages to shine by keeping things simple, both with ingredients and preparation. This is a must visit for any noodle noshing pastaholic. I only wish I could’ve made it to Locanda Verde on this visit, but there’s always next time!

Maple Custard Pie

“Ok, well…
This is the city of Lakeland,
And it always sleeps,
It may look like it doesn’t
But it does.
It doesn’t live and breathe nocturnally.
So when you’ve got no place to go find a pastry at night,
And you’re alone all huddled up by the oven,
Cause you’re cold,
Well, this recipe goes out to the bakers that’s forgotten.
Hey pie, take us home.”

This is the story of a pie for one. Triple the ingredients in a normal pie plate if you have friends. If there were stores open I would’ve added some pecans, if I had organic corn syrup I would’ve made a pecan pie. Sadly I found myself without both items, so I made a maple pie with some optional pretzel stick border. Do whatever you feel, the beauty of being alone is that no one will judge you when you fail, but you won’t fail, I’m here for you.

Crust
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold butter (cut into small cubes)
2 tbsp coconut oil (the kind that you can scoop out that’s not see through)
1/4 tsp sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat your oven to 350º
In a small bowl, incorporate salt and sugar with flour
Fold in coconut and butter until a rough crumbly dough forms
Throw it on a square of Saran then wrap up in a ball and chill in fridge for a while. Once it’s chilled roll out the dough until it’s about 1/8″ thick, lay another sheet of Saran wrap on top. Place in a small baking dish or mini pie plate roughly 3″-4″ square. I used my La Creuset 4×4 dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake for 18-20 minutes. Remove and let cool for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime make the filling, or watch one episode of Comedy Bang Bang and then make the filling.

Maple Syrup Custard
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg

Whip egg and sugar until creamed
Add the remaining ingredients
Add nuts into pie crust if desired
Pour custard into pie crust. If you want to do the pretzels, which really worked well, just line them around the edges. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. It will puff up high but once you remove the pie, the filling will fall like the walls of Jericho. Let it set and cool for 30 minutes.

Pie for one

This is a great pie to eat alone while bingeing on Netflix. You might cry tears of a pie.

Thank you Rancid for inspiring my pie-oem.

Apocalypse Cow: Hamburgeddon: Judgement Day: Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, we respectfully present for your consideration, the top five finishers in our exhaustive competition to find the best burger in the bay area. It was a hard fight for these top spots, some places narrowly edging out others by mere fractions of a point, but we expected this burger race to be a tight one. While these five are clearly the cream of the crop in the burger game, they should be cautious not to rest on their chargrilled laurels, as any of the other burgers we sampled, with a few tweaks, could easily unseat their higher ranked peers. So stay on your toes boys, because you never know when The Four Coursemen will return for a rematch!

And now…on to the results!

5. Mermaid Tavern

J: I just want to mention how I was chastised harshly when I immediately started spreading healthy amounts of the delicious garlic harissa sauce on the wonderfully toasted bun. In any event, Mermaid Tavern delivered a solid burger, well composed with fresh ingredients and a perfectly cooked patty. I loved the choice of spinach instead of iceberg, Unfortunately the Welsh cheddar hiding beneath the egg was so salty I could hardly taste the locally sourced Providence Farms meat. A small nit but a nit nonetheless.

K: The Coup de Gras burger is pretty darn coup de great. Plus, I love fried egg and chorizo on a burger so it got a special place in my heart. This is another homer burger for me, but there is a reason for that. It’s a fantastic burger.

L: I think I may have scored this lower than my compatriots for a few reasons. First, it wasn’t the end all be all “deathblow” the title implies. It may have been if the chorizo element had been perfect and the sauce, which was supposed to shellac the inside of the bun, was more present. Speaking of the bun, it’s hard to see from the background, but on the menu it says pretzel bun and we didn’t get that. Maybe the score would have been higher if we got a sweet malty bun instead. One thing that should be noted is the use of local beef from Providence farm. Putting a perfectly grilled half pound puck of Providence cattle on top of anything is never a bad idea.

The Mermaid Tavern burger

4. Tampa Tap Room

J: I was surprised by this one. Tampa Tap Room is your typical sports bar type joint where you expect to get everyday bar fare, onion rings, curly fries etc. When this monster arrived I was smug in my confidence, thinking I’d seen this burger a million times before. TTR, I owe you my apologies, this tower of meat and veg was absolutely delicious. The bleu cheese sauce was tamed with a little sour cream or mayo or something because the normal salt overload was absent. It was a good thing too because the nice crisp strips of bacon filled that role nicely. A buttered, toasted bun wrangled this circus long enough to steal a messy bite into the tender beef, juicy and pink, just like we asked. That iceberg though… the flavors were great, but I just can’t abide the iceberg. The fact that these guys reached #4 despite that vile green is a testament to this sandwich.

K: Blackened Bleu burger. Not something I would ever order, but that is what they recommended. I was impressed. There were a ton of flavors covering the burger, but the burger still stood out in its own right. Nothing fancy here at all. Just a good tasty burger.

L: This might have been the only place on the list where no judge had any prior experience. All we knew was that it had won multiple awards from outside sources, which was enough to be curious about what was going on inside. Tucked inside an ancient strip mall, where my grandma used to take me to race slot cars as a kid, lies one of the best hamburger hubs in town. If El Cap does the classic diner style burger to perfection, I think the Tap Room has done the pub style burger fraternity proud with its blackening seasoning flavor profile encompassing the burger, counterbalanced with creamy, garlicky housemade blue cheese sauce. Not to be left out was the perfectly crisped bacon strips that made their way into the thick of things. I think Iceberg lettuce played an important supporting role here, unlike my crew who hate the stuff in any amount. Also, take a look at the rest of the menu. With fried boudin balls and blue crab beignets, it’s pretty enticing to say the least.

Tampa Tap Room burger

3. Cigar City Brewpub

J: They say to save the best for last. Well we had one of the best right off the bat as CCB delivered a top notch sandwich yet again. The chef had a blast creating this burger, and it shows. Sweet plantains and aromatic onion sofrito brought a tang that was sorely missing from many of these burgers. They cooked ours a tad on the rare side, but luckily for them, that gained them points in my book. The patty was slightly over salted for my taste, but the toppings and subtly sweet bun were enough to sway me.

K: The grass fed burger from CCB is one of my regular burgers. I eat it all the time, so that should tell you something. It’s the jam. Plantains and sofrito, roasted garlic aioli-oh yes. Plus, the only one that we ate that used purely local beef. That’s a big deal.

L: Yet another top 3 performance for CCB. They continue to care most about the product that they put out there, with food being no exception. With a wonderful 70/30 beef to fat ratio, the Providence beef is a brilliant opus to the composition of Cuban inspired condiments, being that of sofrito, sweet plantains and a garlicky aioli. The Brewpub’s grass fed Burger was our first of the tour, setting the lofty table for all other burgers to live up too. Almost everything was done just so. The only drawback was the meat was slightly over salted. Everything else was faultless. We didn’t even downgrade the score for lack of cheese. It was not necessary with the amount of quality condiments that were placed inside.

Cigar City Brewpub burger

2. Boca Kitchen Bar Market

J: Something went wrong here, because I scored this burger way lower than I feel I should have. Thankfully Logan and Kurt offset my mistake to keep this fantastic specimen on the podium. Thinking back, I didn’t have a single negative comment for Boca’s offering. Super juicy, smoky bacon, nice fresh lettuce and an awesome sweet relish aioli reminiscent of In n’ Out. If you asked me which burger I’d like to have on a regular basis, this is it.

K: I like Boca, but can’t say I had high hopes for this burger. Color me wrong. This is a burger that was cooked perfectly, seasoned just right, and oh that smokiness. Plus all of its accompaniments were so spot on. Best use of mushrooms in a burger in many a year and amazing bacon.

L: This was my stand alone favorite. It’s exactly what I want in a burger. I think the perfect balance of classic and current methods used to compose this work of art was what really grabbed my attention. Looking at the photo and reminiscing about the flavors my adoration is confirmed by the fantastic stacking of ingredients. I think with any sandwich as it is in life, the ratio between meat/toppings and bread can make or destroy ones destiny. The 5 keys were, toasty buttery bread, excellent mid-rare meat, an awesome In-n-Out style special sauce to accent the fresh veg, bacon that is cured in a way that makes it takes like ribs, and pan-roasted mushrooms to heighten ones sense of meatiness. I will now dream further about this masterpiece.

Boca KBM burger

1. Z Grille

J: If you go to Z Grille to order their foie gras steak burger, just pony up and get it Z Style alright? That means pork belly and a fried egg. If you’re a real pro, you’ll have them go heavy on the foie with two slabs. Zack doesn’t mess around, so you’re going to get an experience on a bun. It’s truly a truly decadent burger, the kind that makes the table shut their yaps for a second and enjoy the moment. Can you eat it everyday? No, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to one a few times a year. My only qualm is with the pork belly. It was a touch dry when it should be juicy like a saturated sponge. A line of meat and a line of nearly rendered fat, so tender you barely have to add any pressure, that’s what I’m looking for. Maybe it stayed on the flat top a touch too long, maybe the piece we got was a little lean. In any case, it was the tiniest chink in the immaculate armor that is Zack’s foie gras steak burger. The majestic victor of our Hamburgeddon!

K: Some people like their burgers pure and simple. I am one of those people…typically. I’d kick a simple burger out of bed in a heartbeat for this burger. I love the Z Grille foie burger. It is decadence at its finest. Ground rib-eye and brisket. Seared foie. Perfect bacon. Bliss.

L: Zack called his shot on this one and like the majesty of Babe Ruth himself, pointed to each of our tummies and knocked it right out of the park. To win this competition one would have to wow all four judges. Any indiscretion as proof in the results, would lead to an immediate downgrade. I think out of all the burgers we sampled on this fateful afternoon, Z Grille’s foie gras steak burger done Z Style with crispy pork belly, a fried egg and an additional lobe of foie gras is something that health wise, should only be consumed in ones dreams. This is not an everyday kind of burger. Unless of course you’re Albert Finney and use duck fat in place of Chapstick. One can dispute the fact that so many excessive things take away from the burger. I can’t really quarrel with that because in actuality every single person is entitled to regard any burger as their personal favorite. The four course men of the Apocalypse Cow just happen to be four guys that really love stuff like house ground ribeye/brisket blends, Neuske’s bacon, fried farm eggs, roasted tomatoes, grilled onions, crispy pork belly, brioche buns and a couple tenders of seared foie gras. If you don’t like all that stuff well maybe you’d rather hail seitan.

Z Grille Foie Gras Steak Burger

Apocalypse Cow: Hamburgeddon: Judgement Day: Part I

Eating nearly a dozen burgers at eleven different Tampa/St. Pete spots to find a champion may sound like fun, gut busting task…and it is. The thought of us ingesting such a large amount of 80/20 blend was a concern for our loved ones, but we assure you, this piece has not been written posthumously. All four coursemen of the Apocalypse who participated in Hamburgeddon are alive and well. As you read this we’re all eating breakfast burgers with sausage patties and gravy aioli.

Food competitions are not like regular crawls. All we need is a taste. On the other hand, if you leave one solitary milligram of pan seared foie gras on your plate, you’ll be banished and exiled much like Corey Feldman and Christian Jacobs (aka MC Bat Commander of Aquabats fame) were in the 1990 made for Disney Sunday at the Movies on ABC cult classic, “Exile.”

The Four Coursemen 2014

Before we begin, allow us to give an overview of this competition.

We’re demanding folks, but we’re not out to bash anyone Pete Wells style. We respect any locally owned business trying to put out a superior product. Whether you’re out to be progressive with your fare, or just keeping an American classic relevant through perfect execution. However we get a little annoyed when you don’t live up to the high standards we know you’re capable of.

We chose each restaurant based on specific criteria. Either readers of Tasting Tampa and/or Eat a Duck gave it a strong recommendation, or they had won similar contests in the past which warranted a spot. The one requirement was that they had to be local, no chains. Keep in mind we are judging based on the burgers we sampled. Of course, as with any competition, for every Kristi Yamaguchi there are 11 Midori Ito’s. Even second and third place can be a bitter Cuban sandwich to swallow. Let’s not even start with all those “Honorable Mention” people out there. Yes, we know, you’re special too!!

This culling process made for stiff competition, as each spot had something special to offer. However they had to deliver an above average product to reach the top spots. For those who didn’t rank higher, it wasn’t from any glaring shortcoming, it was typically because we found your burger to be lacking slightly in certain areas compared to the top group. It’s important for us to mention this because there isn’t a single restaurant in the bunch we wouldn’t go back to. All of us want to improve the food in our community, so we’re not out simply to find the best, but also to lend some constructive criticism when we found missteps. We hope you take our comments with a grain of salt (something some of your burgers would have benefited from, hint, hint).

12. Council Oak Steakhouse

If you’ve been here before you know this place is good. It was strongly suggested by the spirit of Tasting Tampa old to put these guys on the list. However, for some reason, the good people at Council Oak decided not to sell burgers on Friday and Saturday nights. This fun fact isn’t mentioned anywhere on their website. I guess our $72 for a foie gras, shaved truffle and butter poached lobster tail topped burger will stay firmly in our pockets. We really wanted to try this excessively decadent creation, but it wasn’t meant to be. Unfortunately, without a last-minute replacement, that means an automatic last place. Please change your policy to receive a score.

11. Élevage –  Domonic’s Burger

J: With competition this tight, it’s the little things that can knock you out of contention. Conceptually, this burger is fantastic, a jalapeño bbq sauce was a standout component for me, bringing a tang that most places often overlook. Sadly the patty was woefully underseasoned and slightly overcooked which did nothing to highlight the high quality beef.

K: Bring back the Duck, Duck, Goose Burger. This burger came out more medium then medium rare. Needed way more flavor. Still better than most burgers out there.

L: I feel we all went in with really high expectations because of their association with the Bern’s name. When you’re using Bern’s trimmings for your burger, you’re already ahead of the curve. In all fairness they were closing down their lunch service for the day and probably didn’t expect any more orders to come in. I don’t fault that but I don’t give them a pass for our timing either. We asked for medium-rare and it came out pretty much medium with just a touch of pink in the center. For me, the more important issue was that I can no longer get the incredibly edible duck, duck, goose burger that used to be on the menu. That’s the real crime in all of this.

Élevage Domonic's burger

10. Burger Culture

J: This was a case of wrong place, wrong time. We had agreed to let each place tell us what they thought was their favorite burger, but as soon as we heard it was the Waffle Burger, we should have vetoed. It’s not that it’s a bad burger, it just faltered in a couple of areas. The blueberry compote was slightly out of place and the waffles were a bit too soft for the deluge of beef fat. The patty itself was delicious and perfectly cooked, which leads me to believe that one of their more savory choices would have been a real contender.

K: They sold themselves short by giving us the waffle burger. It’s interesting, but not what we wanted. The burger had great flavor, but the concept was off.

L: I felt bad that we happened to visit Burger Culture when they had employees out sick. It left one person to run the window and the grill. When asked what burger they think is the best, the grill master offered the “Waffle Burger.” So that’s what we ordered. I’ve had other things from B.C and they absolutely blew me away burgerwise, such as the “Mustard Burger.” No one else does what they do with the selection of varieties. We simply got a poor representation of what makes them good. The Waffle Burger didn’t work for this contest, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be seeking them out next time they’re in our neighborhood.

Burger Culture Waffle Burger

9. The Refinery

J: There’s an inherent risk involved with switching your burger up from week to week. Sometimes an idea needs some time to get fully developed, and seven days isn’t always enough. That’s exactly what happened at The Refinery. The idea sounds great, a creamy red bean hummus with tart pickled jalapeños, cotija cheese and sour cream and onion chips. Unfortunately the hummus turned out to be their undoing. I think a touch more oil would have kept it from drying out your mouth and hiding the other flavors. They can’t all be winners, but I applaud the courage it takes to come up with a new dish week in and week out.

K: I love the Refinery’s experimentation and weekly changes to the American classic. Unfortunately, this weeks burger left me wanting something different.

L: This is another burger that did not work conceptually. Our trepidations rang true as the red bean hummus dried out the entire thing. The sour cream chips, pickled jalapeño and cotija were all great condiments, but there really was no sauce to speak of, which didn’t help the lack of moisture. The Refinery changes their menu every single week, and with that the burger accoutrements. They were going for an ode to the torta, which is a fantastic idea if executed properly. We just hit them on a bad week, even though they cooked the burger perfectly. This makes me want to go back for a redo.

The Refinery burger

8. El Cap

J: El Cap is one of those places that’s been around so long they can do no wrong. They’re the best at what they do, taking people back to the burgers of their childhood, and I respect that, but for me, in this competition, you’ve got to do better. When I see Iceberg lettuce on a burger, I immediately temper my expectations. Just because something’s been done a certain way for 100 years doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. There’s nothing wrong with improving on a classic, maybe use some local beef, aged sharp cheddar and a nice fresh leaf of bibb lettuce. Take off your burger colored glasses people, because if you truly want the best burger in the Bay area, keep looking.

K: The most perfect simple burger. All taste, no flash. Wish we had gotten the double.

L: The burger at El Cap is a slice of St Petersburg’s rich food history. They do them darn well. I feel that they scored lower due to the inclusion of American cheese in the burger they chose to serve us. I find it to be an absolute dish destroyer. I’ve ordered many hamburgers from El Cap with the classic condiments of lettuce, tomato, white onion and mayo in between a squishy bun, and have gone home very happy. I just personally don’t like plasticky food by-product under the bun. That’s all.

El Cap world famous burger

7. Pané Rustica

J: Here’s where we start getting to the good stuff. The wood fired cooking, cured tomatoes and onion foccacia immediately made me think of pizza. It was an unexpected flavor but a welcome one. They kept the trend of perfectly cooked burgers going, however it also fell to the evils of blandness. A shame, because this was a real contender, but #7 is no slouch, this is definitely worth a visit.

K: One of the best looking burgers I’ve ever seen. Char-grilled, wood fired, just a little under seasoned today.

L: This is the third burger in the contest that cannot be faulted by the actual preparation, but only because of the choice in condiments. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say it was the best cooked burger in the competition. Whatever they are doing to sling those burgers in that white-hot wood fired oven, worked like a charm. The condiments just didn’t add anything to the overall product. First of all, I love avocado on my burger. However, the aioli which was spiked with lots of avocado added richness sure, but it was a fairly bland offering. Just a touch more seasoning and this would have cracked the top 5.

Pané Rustica burger of the moment

6. Engine No. 9

J: Ah the first of our foie spiked burgers. Toppings of brie, foie and caramelized onions sounded odd at first. I was worried the brie would get lost, but they chose a nice ripe version that stood up to the other assertive flavors. The one piece that kept this burger out of the top five was the bun. Logan hit the nail on the head below.

K: This one would have been a killer if the bun hadn’t been so dried out.

L: This is where things get tough because we start having to nitpick the little things. Let me say I find no fault in the flavor of this burger. It had some of the best grilled onions I ever had, a nice funky slice of brie and a sliver of seared foie gras just to give your heart a little wake up call. The only issue and I mean only is that the bun was literally untouched save for it being sliced in half. I think it might have been saved with a schmear of butter and a quick trip to the flat top. It’s a lesson in treating every component with tender loving care. Even the bun.

Engine No. 9 The Chubby Duck

Hungry Mother – Cambridge, MA

Dude. This place is nuts.  We made a reservation for this one, so we knew it had to be special.  It’s in a bit of a random neighborhood, very utilitarian office buildings and a bit of a residential area in Cambridge. Don’t let that fool you.  This place is full of soul, and so is the food.

Hungry Mother logo

First of all, they give you boiled peanuts. I have never had boiled peanuts. Shamefully, we had to look up exactly how to eat them, but holy whoa. Eat a boiled peanut ASAP. It’s like peanut butter made in your mouth.  Deliciously salty and mushy and nom.

We both got drinks at this place and thank goodness we did. I ordered the #43 which is rye, tawny port, maple syrup, and Angostura bitters served with one monster ice-cube (as it should be, I was so pleased.)  Diana ordered #108: Laird’s 7.5 year apple brandy, sweet tea, limoncello, lemon, and mint as recommended by our lovely waitress, Hannah. Well made drinks and boiled peanuts.  We’re off to a great start and we’ve barely begun.

Hungry Mother apps

We ordered cornbread with sorghum butter.  Cornbread is already good, but this cornbread is perfect. So perfect in fact, Diana ordered one to take home for breakfast the next morning.  Not overly sweet and when the butter begins to melt all over your slice, it’s almost too rich to eat.

Deviled eggs were next because deviled eggs are the greatest. We forgot exactly what was on these deviled eggs because they were a special and we couldn’t look it up later, but I’m pretty sure it was pork belly and chives. The tangy egg yolks against the salty pork belly was almost too much. We could have stopped there and been satiated, but we took a page out of the Eat a Duck Official Handbook and continued the feast.

The Hoppin’ John was next. A small bowl of cornmeal dumplings, slow roasted farro and pork belly with jalapeño.  I’m not sure if this is a Southern staple, but it should be.  The perfect amount of heat from the jalapeno flavored the farro and pork belly and we’ve already established that Hungry Mother kills it when it comes to corn products. All of the flavors married so well and didn’t step on each other.  We could have stopped there again. But we didn’t.

Hungry Mother escargot & hoppin' John

Yes, I had to order the escargot and pomme frites with aioli and lemon sauce.  I don’t think I could be related to Jimmy and not order this dish.  I wouldn’t normally think to put fries on top of escargot, but boy is it a good idea.  (It is.)  Getting a bit of aioli mixed in with the lemon sauce added a richness that escargot hardly needs, but we were going for gold here.  At this point, we were starting to reach our limit, but we couldn’t stop ourselves.

We had another special. The scallops with cherry tomatoes, beans and bacon in some sort of ridiculous delicious sauce that we forgot also.  These scallops were cooked so perfectly and paired so well with the rest of the ingredients that they had a chance to sing, but also be married to the rest of the dish in an effortless way.  This may have been my favorite of the meal.  But that’s like asking me to choose between my nonexistent children.

Hungry Mother mains

Our last two dishes were cornmeal-crusted catfish with Virginia andouille, dirty rice middlins, chow chow relish, pecans, lemon-mustard brown butter and baked grits with tasso ham and cheddar. I want to make a note here that as we were insanely full at this point (so full that I couldn’t sit up on the T ride home) and only ate a few bites of each of these, but I took the catfish home, put it in the fridge, proceeded to drive home 3 and a half hours from Boston to Vermont and the catfish crust was still crispy and perfect.  It tasted as good as it did in the restaurant, even after all that rigamarole and being zapped in the microwave (forgive me, Jimmy.)

This restaurant was just perfect. If you’re in Boston, please make the effort to get over there.

Also, the bathroom walls are plastered with pages from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. What else is there to say?

Hungry Mother on Urbanspoon

Beauty & Essex – New York City, NY

There’s something special about flying into New York City late in the evening, watching the skyline shimmer as you prepare to touch down, knowing that at the end of the journey lies a dinner reservation with tasty implications. You crane your neck to catch a glimpse of the neighborhood where, in minutes, you’ll be sharing a tartare or bone marrow of some sort with a loved one.

I miss New York, it felt like coming home, and one of my favorite things about returning to one of my old towns, is checking out all the new eats that have popped up in my absence. Beauty & Essex happens to be one of those, having opened mere months after I had flown south. After a delayed flight caused me to miss my much-anticipated table at Alder, I made some last-minute adjustments to my itinerary and somehow managed to land a table at  Beauty & Essex for 11:00 pm. “That’s a safe time”, I said to myself, “the crowds should be dying down by then.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Beauty & Essex spread photo: Jason Michael Lang

I met my little sister outside an unusually busy pawn shop storefront, complete with bouncer. We were pointed past the glass cases containing antique wristwatches, and through a door way surrounded by vintage guitars. The next room exploded with sound and energy as if the threshold we had just crossed was a time warp to Studio 54 circa 1977, only with more dubstep.

We were escorted through room after room like a Flintstones panning shot until we arrived at the dining area, plush and filled to the brim with hyper-hungry diners.  The noise level is substantial, it takes a mild scream to get anything across the table or even your server. This might be a negative to some, I found it energizing. The contrast of high energy dance club atmosphere in a decidedly high-end dining setting was an experience, but could the food sustain the same level of controlled chaos and still deliver the impeccable quality we’ve come to expect from this city?

Though we sampled eight dishes, it only took a couple to answer that question.

A soothing amuse bouche of warm pumpkin and mushroom soup arrived just in time to distract us from the adjacent table of posers doing their best Pauly D and Snookie impressions. The incredible din all but disappeared as we snacked on luxurious, bite sized toast with Hudson Valley foie gras terrine with smoked peach jam and homemade corn nuts. Steak tartare on chive and sticky rice cakes and crispy mustard was a refreshing take on an old classic.

Beauty & Essex apps

The tasty canapés ramped up our appetite for a succulent roasted bone marrow with a punchy rioja braised shallot marmalade. Six spoons filled to the brim with tangy tomato soup presented a floating dumpling of gooey cheese and smoked bacon. A creative presentation with flavors that were instantly familiar.

Beauty & Essex bone marrow and grilled cheese dumplings

Naturally I had to sample two of the pasta dishes. Basil pesto ravioli with blistered heirloom cherry tomato were outstanding. The tart broth and perfectly cooked pasta created the perfect foundation for a pesto which was clearly made that day with fresh picked basil as the grassy, citrus notes were front and center. I’ve sampled enough pestos to know how quickly the flavor can deteriorate. Equally impressive with a completely different personality was the garganelli with spicy veal bolognese and a mountain of whipped ricotta from Little Italy. The veal and cheese played good cop, bad cop with my taste buds, at once decadent and delicate. A subtle drizzle of balsamic balanced the dish with a touch of sweetness.

Beauty & Essex pasta

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to dessert. For the PSL crowd, there’s a pumpkin pie bread pudding with cranberry compote. Chocolate fiends can sample the devil’s food layer cake with dark chocolate glaze and concord grape sauce. Haven’t had enough booze? Try the fireball hot chocolate shot with cinnamon whisky and vanilla marshmallow. For me, there was only one option, the box of doughnuts. Dueling trios of vanilla beignets stuffed with chocolate hazelnut creme and raspberry jam fought for my affection. It was like picking your favorite child, it just couldn’t be done.

Beauty & Essex box of doughnuts

I left Beauty & Essex in an even better mood than when I arrived. Some purists might rag on Chris Santos for appearing on Food Network shows from time to time, but my experience at his joint in the Lower East Side solidified my opinion. It was top shelf food in a city known for top shelf food. Eat here, now.

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Apocalypse Cow: Prologue

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Not long ago, we published the results of our exhaustive competition to determine the bay area’s most delicious Cubano. The #Apuercolypse Tour was a mathematically charged, statistic based taste exploration into what makes this much loved sandwich truly great. We did our best to put personal bias aside, in order to crown the true champion based on the cold hard (or in this case piping hot and tender) facts.

If a Cuban sandwich was a baseball player, our champion would be a 5 tool superstar. That winner happened to be Dochos Concessions, and if you’ve yet to eat one of their amazing sandwiches, your mouth-hole is missing out.

So where do we go from here?

We hemmed and hawed for weeks to come up with a worthy follow up to such an epic event. Finally we landed on a classic, the hamburger.  Meat, cheese, bun, simplicity at its finest, yet everyone does it so differently. Who has the best Hamburger in your town? In many towns the answer might be obvious, but Tampa’s top burger is not so easily decided.

We are a collective group of experts on all things that taste good. We have different styles and viewpoints, but if anything can move us to fall in line, not unlike the kids of Voltron, it’s the love of a great hamburger.

Logan – Eat a Duck extraordinaire, the yin to his own yang and hater of all things American…Cheese.  No, really, he hates the stuff.
Jimmy – Eat a Duck’s photo blaster and California ex-pat. He likes his double double animal style and don’t you dare hit that thing with lettuce!
Chris – Tasting Tampa’s newest compadre and lover of the junk burger. The more on top, the merrier for this heavy hitter.
Kurt – Tasting Tampa’s newest evil leader. He loves the classics, and by classic we mean with bacon and fried eggs and maybe some foie. Luxury has never looked so good.
Todd – Tasting Tampa’s founder here in spirit, because San Diego is a long long way away. Offering advice and overseeing our junket.

These 4 men and one in spirit are setting out on a quest of glory and greatness to seek out the one true burger above all other burgers. There will be danger and anguish, heartbreak and pain (well heartburn and pain), there will be much meat.

Therefore, on this, the eighth day of November in the year 2014, we will declare it to be Apocalypse Cow!

Our newest food crawl will pit 12 unique bay area spots in an all-out rumble for burger greatness. We’ve compiled this list from our own experiences, tireless research and a heaping helping from you, the readers. With our focus solely on the bay area, we made sure not to include chains or establishments with locations out of town. This way, our winner will be truly local, the undisputed burger king of Tampa. To even the playing field, we’ll be judging based on the execution of 6 key components, each with its own value of importance. Luxury won’t be enough to win the day, it’ll be fantastic ingredients, cooked with care, assembled with skill and executed to perfection.

Let the burger games begin!