Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chez Fonfon (Birmingham, AL)

Chez Fonfon is not a typical Birmingham restaurant. But the master chef of this bistro, Frank Stitt, is not a typical Birmingham chef either. So far I’ve had the pleasure of dining at Fonfon twice, and each time I’ve felt like I’m 21 again, sipping French wine, downing mussels, and marveling at the great city beyond the cozy walls of New York’s Pastis. Fonfon is upscale, yet familiar. I absolutely loved the bar area—high stools and cute silver hardboiled egg holders. For dinner I was fortunate enough to taste a lot of my friend’s bites. On the starter front, we ordered escargot for the table. I’ve never been a fan of snails but this escargot was very tasty—bursting with garlic and oozing butter. I opted for the swordfish which was grilled perfectly and accompanied by a very light artichoke-caper sauce. I thought it was very pleasant, but it didn’t blow me away… probably because it felt too healthy! The coco au vin shined. I do not think I have ever tasted more tender a chicken. The red wine sauce was rich but certainly not overpowering. Desserts were a mixed bag—the German chocolate cake was moist but nothing special, the pot de crème on the other hand was velvet flawlessness. The cocktail list boasted fun drinks with silly names like “Orange Thing” and “Dijon Sidecar.” I downed an impeccable gimlet—tart and fresh. I enjoyed Fonfon so much that I petitioned my co-clerks to have lunch there the next day. One of my co-clerks raved about the Fonfon burger which I was especially eager to try because this burger had taken the coveted “Best Burger Birmingham” title this past year. Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed. It was a very good burger and there was nothing wrong with it per se. The burger itself was juicy and well seasoned and the veggies were fresh. But, in the words of my favorite blonde burger critic, Victoria, the burger was not burgasmic. I felt it missed that special umph that makes a good burger an outstanding burger. Altogether though, Fonfon is a fabulous place and I look forward to heading back soon! Note however—the restaurant does not take reservations and is extremely crowded.

Relatively Expensive ($$$). 4 out of 5 spoons!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Flip Burger Boutique (Birmingham, AL)

I really like Richard Blais. Scratch that, I love Richard Blais. For those of you with a life (which unlike mine, doesn't revolve around delicious food and television shows that revolve around delicious food), Richard Blais is a culinary genius. He won Top Chef all-stars, beating out Mike Isabella (of DC's Graffiato). He also has a burger place in both Atlanta and Birmingham. When I first learned that I was headed to Alabama for a year, one of my first thoughts was that I would get to try his burger place-- Flip Burger Boutique.

So with eager anticipation I headed there the first day I moved to Birmingham. It did not disappoint. It's super trendy looking-- red/black/white motif. Cool high booths and out door seating.

I ordered the nutella & burnt marshmallow milkshake and the "local" burger. This burger was perfect-- grass-fed beef, cheddar cheese, heirloom tomato, grilled vidalia onion, chow chow, and coca cola ketchup. Chow chow, for those of you who are wondering, is this very excellent Southern relish. Anyway, it was probably the best burger I have ever eaten, and it was huge. I ordered it medium rare (is there any other way?). It was oozing in flavor and juice. Tom opted for the captain crunch milkshake with peanut butter foam and the d+lux burger. The d+lux burger is a black diamond beef, seared foie gras, wild mushrooms, fried shallots, red wine jam, and truffle aioli masterpiece. I only had a bite, but it was pretty fantastic. The milkshakes were also amazing-- super filling and creamy. My nutella milkshake really did come with a top burnt level of marshmallows (which was awesome). Tom's milkshake was also awesome, especially the peanut butter foam. We also split some tempura sweet potato fries that came with chocolate salt and a side of truffle ranch dressing. I don't even like sweet potatoes but they were so delicious, especially with the sauce and the chocolate salt.

Ultimately, I cannot wait to go back!

4.5 spoons (the service was a bit slow). Moderately expensive (the burgers were slightly pricey, especially the $21 d+lux).

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bottega (Birmingham, AL)

Hi friends! I'm back and now in Alabama. I hope to update this a lot more. My new roommate & her boyfriend are not only super nice but also have some good recommendations that I will hit up and report on.

So I knew about Bottega before I came here as I had done some research on the "it" chefs in Birmingham. One of them is Frank Stitt. He's been nominated for a James Beard award a glittering 10 times and won for best Southern chef in 2001.

Unfortunately Bottega did not blow me away but I want to try it again because I didn't quite care for the things I ordered.

Starters: Yelpers described the parmesan souffle as "to die for," so I eagerly started with that. I thought it was "meh"-- it tasted like and somewhat resembled quiche. I don't like quiche but I suppose if you like quiche you would have thought it was good. I did like the mushrooms and prosciutto on the side. Tom started with the red snapper crudo. It was light and the fish was very fresh but I thought the mint warped the flavor. When I was little and misbehaved my mom use to punish me by forcing me to drink mint flavored cod liver oil. It was so gross-- and for some reason the mint on the fish just triggered that taste of the cod liver oil. Tom loved it though-- he called the crudo "beautiful" and "inspired."

Entrees: My entree was also relatively mediocre. I had the pork loin. I thought it was over seasoned (too much pepper for my tastes) and a bit dry. I really enjoy pork with an a jus sauce or a fruit chutney. This pork came with figs which were interesting but didn't really satisfy the craving for a sauce. The farro side was just okay-- kind of bland. But the polenta was divine-- creamy, cheesy, almost like grits. Tom enjoyed the lobster spaghetti with crushed tomatoes and hot chili. I had a bite and it was incredibly flavorful. I wanted more but Tom liked it too much!

Desserts: We split the gelato trio. Usually dessert is not my favorite part of the meal but this gelato was scrumptious. Chocolate Jack-Daniels, fig ricotta, and caramel. All were creamy. Maybe the best gelato I've had (at least in awhile).

I really liked the atmosphere-- very modern, Spanish/Italian feel. The service was a bit slow. They never gave us menus after they brought us our drinks-- I had to ask for the menus. Though I've noticed that about a few of the Southern restaurants so maybe it's just a culture thing?

In short, I wasn't that impressed but I'd like to try it again. And I'm still very interested in trying Stitt's other restaurants-- Highlands & Chez Fonfon.

I should note that Tom LOVED this restaurant and would have rated it 5 spoons (plus a bronze!). When I told him I gave it three spoons he threatened to "destroy me" with a counter-point in the comments.

Three spoons. Moderately expensive.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scalini Fedeli (NYC)

A quick trip to NYC to visit some friends/my sister led me to Tribeca's Scalini Fedeli. What a delightful experience! Scalini features two options: the prix fixe menu where you select a primi, secondi, and dolce plates or the tasting menu. Tom & I opted for the prix fixe menu and it was definitely enough food.

The restaurant itself is beautiful, albeit a bit stuck in the 1980s. Beautiful green velvet covered chairs, pink roses with baby's breath at every table, waiters in tuxedos, wine bottles cramp the windowsill, classical music. Very Old School. Think the Soprano's Vesuvio's. The waiters were definitely from Italy and extremely charming.

The food was gorgeous and delightful.

The waiters first served a cute amuse bouche-- a porcini ravioli with a truffle foam. Fresh and as a sucker for truffles, delicious!

I started with the butternut agnolotti. It was served with a warm sage butter sauce, top
ped with amaretti & buffalo mozzarella. The mozzarella definitely elevated the agnolotti. Sage butter sauce has been done-- but the cheese brought it over the top. And it still tasted and felt light. Tom started with the restaurant's take on spaghetti arrabiata. It was served with mushrooms, black olives, and minced Spanish anchovy in a spicy tomato sauce. I thought it was a bit too heavy on the olives (but I don't like olives); Tom loved it.

Next I absolutely devoured the slow roasted duck breast and leg confit, smothered in black truffle sauce, gently set on a warm corn risotto. In the words of the venerable Gail Simmons, "Yum!" I thought the duck breast was delicious but the leg confit was out of this world-- absolutely the most tender duck I have ever had. Tom opted for the veal chop with orange and fennel dusted sweetbreads in a porcini-Dijon and green peppercorn sauce. The veal chop was crazy huge. I'd never seen veal prepared that way. The sauce was interesting. I didn't care for the sauce as it tasted kind of horseradishy and overpowering. But again, Tom loved it.

On to desserts. Another amuse bouche! The waiter served me a roasted pineapple with sorbet and Tom received a strawberry sauce with mascarpone sorbet. Both were bright and absolutely delicious. At this point I cannot eat another bite but the waiter insists on bringing dessert. Who can argue? I opt for an apple tart with caramel ice cream; Tom had a trio of gelato (which the waiter mercilessly mocked given the other fabulous options). Every bite was stupendous. I couldn't fit in the last bite (a pistachio biscotti) but it looked excellent.

The service was tremendous. The waiter was delightful and recommended some truly excellent wines. My favorite was a new one for me-- an amarone wine. I definitely got chocolate and vanilla on the nose. And it tasted like chocolate too. The waiter explained we should have gotten mocha so I was close! He explained how winemakers craft amarone--very interesting, they dry out the grapes until they are of a raisin consistency. Amarone has one of the highest alcohol content of all wines (15%). And he even gave us each a complimentary glass of moscat for dessert. I wanted to be his friend. He was awesome.

5 of 5 spoons plus a bronze spoon! A word on rating: the restaurant absolutely deserved five spoons. But it wasn't as good as Next and it was certainly better than Ardeo. So for every restaurant that reaches five spoons, I may also add a bronze, silver, or gold spoon (like Michelin stars).

Relatively expensive ($$$).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ripple (DC)

I have absolutely no idea why this place is so popular, especially because Ardeo is only doors down and does what Ripple does except much much better.

The service at Ripple might be the worst I've seen at the nice restaurants in DC. We waited 5 minutes to get seated at the bar, 10 minutes to get the bartender to give us menus, another 10 minutes for the bartender to take our order, and 15 minutes to get the drinks. At some point another bartender came over to see if we had been helped and when we said that supposedly the bartender was making our drinks he gave us a completely condescending look and told us that the bar had gotten busy very fast. No apology. Our table is ready after 45 minutes and the hostess told us it would be easier if we closed out our tab. So we try. First we ask the hostess. She can't close out our tab-- only the bartender can. Um, ok. Another half an hour later (not exaggerating) we finally are able to close out our tab despite exp
ressing such a desire thrice times.

At this point I am starving and so very ready to go to Ardeo instead of wasting my time here. But we stick it out. The hostess was nice enough and kept thanking us for being patient. Our waitress too was very nice. But honestly the food did not blow me away. I started with the farm egg and tomato consume. It was OK. It tasted like spicy chorizo. If you like chorizo you would love this dish. My boyfriend ordered the popcorn soup. It looked like vomit. I had to close my eyes when I tasted it. Like the consume, it was just ok- flavor wise. For entrees I had the steak (which was waaay too chewy) and my boyfriend had the angoletti which was tiny sized and a bit too olivey for my tastes.

The cheeses and the drinks were very good. Between us we sampled three wines and three cocktails. All were on par with a place like Gibson's. But ultimately I could not get over how unapologetically bad the service was. At first I thought it was just under staffed but I came to realize that the problem was that not enough people were trained to be bartenders. Three people managing as hostess were not needed-- instead they needed more bartenders.

Ultimately, this place really sucked but could get better with a new manager.

2 of 5 spoons!

Moderately expensive ($$$).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ardeo (DC)

In the heart of Cleveland Park lies Ardeo—perhaps D.C.’s best kept secret. Ardeo use to be two establishments—Bardeo, a wine bar and Ardeo, the restaurant. Now only Ardeo remains.

Simply put, Ardeo is my favorite D.C. restaurant. In fact, it may be my favorite restaurant, period. The service is sublime. The food never disappoints. I’ve dined at Ardeo perhaps a dozen times – every Sunday after mass. Last week I visited my parents in Rhode Island and Tom and I drove back to D.C. for nine hours straight in order to visit our favorite place. Ardeo is that good.

I’ve sampled too much Ardeo food to write about it all but standouts include the foie gras, the pork cacciatore, the chilled corn soup, the tuna tartare, and the crispy brussel sprouts. The foie gras is creamy, served with a side of Brioche toast and fig mustard. The cacciatore is filling and comes with a crispy bacon top. The chilled corn soup is bowl licking worthy. The tuna tartare is served with grilled watermelon and pistachio nuts. The crispy sprouts rival Rasika’s famous flash fried spinach. The desserts here are divine—the pecan pie with Bourbon ice cream is a must.

The service is absolutely perfect. Last week they sat us at 930 even though the kitchen closed at 10. The manager asked if we wouldn’t mind closing out our check at 10 and gave us a complimentary drink and a dessert sampler. We thought the sampler would include small bites. The sampler consisted of four FULL desserts. Like I said, the service is impeachable.

I describe Ardeo as D.C.’s best kept secret only because it’s never that crowded. We’ve never had a reservation and we’ve always been accommodated right away. It’s a beautiful place too—candles everywhere and you eat under arches filled with wine bottles. It feels romantic and homey at the same time.

The only thing Tom and I weren’t wild about was the brunch here but even the brunch is better than most.

5 of 5 spoons!

Moderately expensive ($$$).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Angelo's (Providence, RI)

In the middle of the Italian section of Providence, Rhode Island is a gem of a place called Angelo's. Eating at Angelo's is like eating in Nonna's kitchen. Granted, I don't have an Italian grandma but if I did this is how I imagine it would be like. The menu includes tripe and braciola.

There isn't much by way of atmosphere. This is a no frills kind of place-- booths,
no tablecloths, no candles, no water glasses, noisy, family oriented. A toy train on a track attached to the ceiling hums above your head. The walls are covered in family pictures-- weddings from the old county, smiling grandchildren from America. It's comfortable at Angelo's and it's cash only.

The food is delicious, for the most part. The salad and bread is nothing to write home about but the entrees shine. I opted for the chicken parmigiana with a side of freshly made linguine. The chicken portion was huge (I took home leftovers which is a rarity!). The sauce (Angelo's house sauce) turned out to be a very lovely marinara-- very flavorful. I wish there had been more cheese on it but I tend to like an insane amount of mozzarella. The pasta was very fresh-- but perhaps cooked slightly took long-- it was a bit limp, not al dente. My mother had the lasagna-- she said it was a bit mushy but that the noodles were nice and light.

Inexpensive ($$) and definitely worth a second visit. Remember to bring cash!
Three of five spoons!