Salazar – Cincinnati, OH

Do you ever walk or drive by somewhere often and always say “we really should go there”?  Salazar New American Restaurant has been THAT place for over a year now for me.  Fortunately, I finally made it to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood specifically to have dinner there.  And I am happy to share that they did NOT fall short of the rave reviews and high expectations.

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A farmhouse-like setting in a historical building in downtown Cincinnati, there is a comfortable feeling when you walk through the door.  It’s cozy, and I mean small, but not loud or overcrowded.  As we looked at the menu, our server approached us with specials and recommendations.  What I love is that she told the story behind the restaurant, the local vendors they procure their food from and why they do what they do.  I love when you get an experience vs. an in-and-out meal.  She made a recommendation of a delicious wine and we made some selections from the farm-to-table menu.

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We began with simple warm marinated olives and manchego cheese, which were a perfect compliment to our wine.  Next, the duck leg rillette with pickled onion and jalapeño jam on Blue Oven toast.  The richness of the duck was expertly balanced by the acidic condiments.  Finally, the starter du jour was Blue Oven toast spread with spring pea puree and topped with cured meats, pickled vegetables and edible flowers.  It was almost too pretty to eat!

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I had the roasted sea bass with spring peas, potato puree and hazelnut butter.  My artistic plate was rich, tasted of summer and somehow tasted like everything was separate and perfectly combined at the same time.  My fellow guests all had the steak special which was a hearty portion of local beef.  We finished dinner and could barely utter the words fast enough that we wanted dessert.  The warm chocolate cake with coffee cremeux was a decadent treat!  And how could you not love the berry fry pie with chocolate ganache and lemon buttermilk ice cream?  Every day, I want to eat it every day…

Chef Jose Salazar makes this experience one that you’ll want to relive over and over again.  Local ingredients, beautifully prepared and served by passionate experts.  This is everything I had hoped it would be.  Find out more and make a reservations at salazarcincinnati.com.  Dig in!

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Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill – Leith, Scotland

On the way back to Edinburgh from playing golf, we asked our driver for recommendations for dinner.  He said we absolutely needed to eat down by the water in Leith so we made a reservation for Loch Fyne.  A small UK chain, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but read lots of great reviews.  We were welcomed to a beautiful store on the pier with modern nautical-themed interior.  It was open, comfortable and casual.  It also wasn’t too busy on a weeknight, which was fine by us.

Our server was swamped and a little slow, but she was charming and super-sweet.  After running through specials and recommendations, we settled on a bottle of wine and a couple starters.  The king prawns were sweet and firm and fresh.  The smoked ham hock terrine was surprisingly light and a tasty combination of salty and fresh pops of sweet peas.  I also had to have a few of their signature oysters.  From the brackish waters of Loch Fyne, they were beautiful mouthfuls of sweet ocean candy.  There is NOTHING like them!!

The selection of mains celebrates all that the area has to offer in fresh seafood.  The seafood pasta in a light cream sauce was rich and full of perfectly-cooked scallops, mussels and shrimp.  The seared cod with fresh pesto was simple, but well done too.  My father couldn’t pass up the ridiculously-huge platter of steamed seafood.  A hubcap-sized plate piled with prawns, clams, oysters and mussels was enough to keep my dad quiet for the next 30 minutes.  While nothing was unusual about the preparation, everything was exactly as you hope such local fare would be.

Cappuccino and a mixed-berry crumble rounded out our evening and a delightful dinner  on the water.  Given the number of locations, you should be able to find one near you while in and around the UK.  It’ll be tough to beat the experience and location of the Leith store however.  Find a spot and for God’s sake have some of those oysters!!  You can take a look at their menu and particulars at lochfyneseafoodandgrill.co.uk.  Dig in!

The Gourmet Mash Bar Company – Edinburgh

I expected a hearty dose of good food when we spent some time recently in Scotland.  And nothing could’ve been more satisfying than our first night’s dinner at the highly recommended Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar Company.  Sitting atop The Mound between Old Town and New Town, this cozy spot gives you beautiful views of the city, especially at sunset.  The GMB fulfills all of my checklist items in a new eatery:  craft beer/cocktails, locally sourced ingredients, regional cuisine, great service and an un-fussy atmosphere.

Seating no more than 50 people, this shotgun-style eatery was busy on a Tuesday evening.  Our attentive server shared a few recommendations and quickly took orders for our local beer and wine selections.  We perused the menu of inventive combinations of rosti’s (a potato fritter stacked with meat and vegetables) and mains with varying selections of mash.  The aromas wafting in the dining room had our heads turning every time a new dish was brought out!  Given the wide selection of delicious mashes, we all settled on one combination.

The confit duck with orange marmalade glaze on traditional butter/cream mash was crispy, tender and just sweet enough.  The wild boar sausages were some of the finest I’ve ever had.  Robust with herbs and spices, I still could appreciate the perkiness of the boar.  These guys are experts at braising!  The ox cheek and lamb shank were rich, tender and decadent like a holiday dinner at your grandmother’s house.  All of these we ordered with the Scottish cheddar/chive mash which was over-the-top indulgent.

We honestly couldn’t have chosen a better place or felt more welcomed on our first night in Edinburgh.  I highly recommend making this a stop on your next trip to the area – and make a reservation for their busy dining room!  Take a look at their menu, suppliers and story at gourmet-mash-bar.com.  Dig in!

Burger & Lobster – London

When you’re looking for surf-n-turf, but want to dispense with the maitre de and suit you find a Burger & Lobster location and get after it!  Friends of ours recommended this spot from their recent visit to London as did a few books and websites.  My dad was also obsessed with the idea of this narrow menu done very well.  While there are plenty of locations in London, Bangkok, New York, Dubai and others, we settled into the location on the top floor of Harvey Nichols.

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A casual, but refined interior was a lively place filled with shoppers, date-nighters and all manner of guests.  Our common bond?  Devour the delicious choices of surf and turf in front of us.  We ordered a few cocktails and a particularly tasty watermelon iced tea concoction and reviewed the small, but delicious menu.  The Nebraska beef burger was thick and juicy topped appropriately with bacon and cheese.  It was served with crispy salty french fries and their signature salad.  While not the best burger we’ve had, it was a top-notch sandwich for sure.

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Our lobster rolls were some of the best we’ve had!  The traditional buttery toasted bun, lightly-dressed sweet lobster and touch of chives came together for a Cape Cod-worthy sandwich.  Add those fries and salad and you will be one happy customer.  My father tried the lobster burger (think of the two dishes above combined on a single sandwich) and raved about how much he loved it.

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Whether you want the burger, a whole lobster or some variant in between, you’ll want to  make this a priority if anywhere close to one.  Functionally descriptive, calorically excessive and potentially addictive, Burger & Lobster will quickly become a favorite.  Find out more and view their locations at burgerandlobster.com.  Dig in!

Sale & Pepe – London

For beautiful classic Italian fare in the heart of London’s shopping district, be sure to make your reservation at Sale & Pepe.  Among one of our busier days touring the city, we made a late reservation for dinner at this highly-rated eatery.  Tightly packed and slightly up upscale, the restaurant has a lovely interior decor with small tables and a lively atmosphere.  The maitre de was especially entertaining and made every person that walked through the door feel special and part of the family.  We were immediately thrilled to be there!

While the seating is tight and service a bit slow, we enjoyed the atmosphere while we reviewed the menu.  Sipping a great pinot grigio and nibbling on bread, we made selections from the ample menu filled with traditional dishes.  I loved that there were lots of seafood options to take advantage of the local bounty!  We started with a few basic salads and a very fresh melon and prosciutto starter.  All of them were well-prepared with as much local produce available.

We made our way to our mains where everything was equally as tasty.  The veal ravioli with fresh marinara we rich and decadent, but not heavy.  The linguini and clams was beautiful and a great rendition of the classic.  I opted for the mixed seafood grill which was a top-notch preparation of langoustine, scallops, fish and squid.

There was no doubt we were ordering cappuccino and dessert to round out our evening! Both the creme brûlée and chocolate semifreddo were outstanding.  If we only had more time to try more on the menu – we’ll have to make another trip!  You’ll have a wonderful dinner out with the famiglia or your sweetheart at Sale & Pepe.  Make sure you book a reservation!  Find out more on their website at saleepepe.co.uk.  Dig in!

Stoke House – London

Whether you’re playing tourist in the heart of London or just out for a day of shopping, a stop at Stoke House is the perfect recharge and refresh!  Located just off Victoria Street, this spacious and modern eatery celebrates the bounty of local produce and meats with inventive and straightforward preparation.  While the patio was crowded on a Saturday afternoon, there was ample seating inside the colorful combination of rustic and modern.  We were thrilled for a few craft beers and cocktails from their ample list while we perused the menu.

There’s a lovely selection of starters from a British cheese board to smoked bone marrow.  While it all looked delicious, we were ready to move right into sandwiches.  The smoked chicken salad with spicy mayo on a brioche bun was outstanding.  Moist, rich and super-satisfying, this is a must-have sandwich on any trip to Stoke House.  The rare cornish rump sandwich was tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Just the opposite of that was the short rib with chili rib jam and pickles.  As an avid BBQer and short rib fan, this was one well-done sammich!

While I love the locally sourced meats and great sandwiches, the star of the show was the selection of sides.  Smoked cauliflower cheese was a bubbling crock of cauliflower smothered in a rich cheese sauce.  There was a depth of flavor and warm spiciness that wouldn’t let you put your spoon down.  My favorite part of the meal is the fresh salads prepared daily.  There are always four or more colorful dishes that you can select three of as a shared plate for the table.  On this occasion, we fell in love with our choices:  peas, edamame & mint, watermelon, tomato, feta & basil and finally a tomato and pepper panzanella salad.  All of them were knock-your-socks-off fresh and well-seasoned – we couldn’t ask for a prettier selection either!

Whether a casual lunch or an evening out, Stoke House will profile a wonderful experience and a lively atmosphere.  It’s exciting to see smoked meats done well in the heart of London, we would have loved to come back at dinner for the lamb belly or beer can chicken.  Find out more and check out the menu at thestokehouse.com.  Dig in!

The Anglesea Arms – South Kensington, London

On the first night of our summer trip to the UK, we made reservations for dinner at The Anglesea Arms, a perfectly quaint British pub not far from out hotel in South Kensington.  This lively location was bustling with a huge crowd sipping pints and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on a Friday night.  Despite all the people, the restaurant in the lower portion of the pub was quiet, comfortable an classically British.

Our friendly server offered some ideas while we perused the menu.  Settling on a scotch and a bottle of wine from the healthy selection, we also ordered the charcuterie board and baked camembert as starters.  The meat selection included salami, prosciutto, wild boar capicola, fresh vegetables and jam.  The camembert was luscious and warm topped with pecans and served with apricot jam and toast points.  Both were ample enough to be shared among the four of us.

There’s a variety of mains that utilize local fresh ingredients and celebrate British cuisine.  Two of us ordered the local bone-in pork chop.  It was beautifully pan-seared and served with potatoes, cabbage and scalloped apples.  It was both juicy and perfectly porky!  My wife had the grilled ribeye steak with herbed butter served with chips.  It was rich, juicy and expertly cooked.  Finally, I devoured the roast lamb served with fresh baby spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes.  You could taste the countryside in this dish, deftly prepared by the local chef.  I have not had a finer lamb dish!

The experience, location, food and service here was a warm welcome to the start of our holiday.  I recommend making the trip to South Kensington for a wonderful experience and a true taste of updated British pub fare.  While the menu is outdated online, you can find out more details at The Anglesea Arms.  Dig in!

Twiisted Burgers & Sushi – Medina, OH

You don’t exactly expect to find the unusual combination of burgers & sushi anywhere, but especially not 30 miles south of Cleveland in Medina, Ohio.  The surprise and delight were both there though when we settled on this spot this past weekend for dinner with my aunt and uncle.  A few miles north of the town square, this free-standing building has a modern, but causal decor split into a dining room and bar with high top tables.  We were greeted quickly on a Friday night and sat immediately at a dining table close to the sushi chefs.

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Our friendly server took our drink order as we settled on various martinis, wine and a Kentucky mule.  There’s a good selection of cocktails, wines and craft beers and the prices are all reasonable.  With drinks in hand, we looked over the large menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and of course their signature burgers and sushi.  While we didn’t get any starters, the duck wings and pulled pork egg rolls sounded and looked amazing.

Two in our group had burgers.  This Fun-Gi was a fresh burger patty topped with a marinated portobello mushroom, roasted garlic mayo, onion straws, melted swiss and a fried egg.  My uncle thought it was awesome and it looked delicious!  My wife had the Twiisted Classic with bacon, cheddar, pickled onion, lettuce and tomato and was equally pleased.  Both were served on fresh brioche buns and were topped with a “sushi pickle” – dill and cream cheese rolled in rice and seaweed.  Your choice of sweet potato waffle or regular fries were hot and crispy, the latter served with house made ketchup.

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My aunt and I sampled a few sushi rolls which were fresh and well-prepared.  The traditional spicy tuna and Philly rolls were good and prepared well, but nothing special.  The specialty rolls though were fantastic combinations, and frankly, gigantic!  The Embassy is shrimp tempura, smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese, tempura battered and fried, then topped with spicy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce.  The Medina Bee (the high school mascot) is shrimp tempura, spicy crab, tuna and carrots topped with eel sauce, spicy mayo and wasabi mayo.  Equally tasty, both specialties were beautiful and expertly prepared.

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It was a surprising night out in Medina, but it won’t be anymore when we return again and again!  And there’s no doubt why the folks here have catered for the Indians, Cavs and many companies in the area.  Whether a weeknight, special night out or a group event, I suggest you add Twiisted to your list of places to visit.  You can find out more on their website at twiisted.com.  Dig in!

The Tousey House Tavern – Burlington, KY

We were looking for someplace unique for Mother’s Day dinner a few weeks ago and made a reservation at the highly-recommended Tousey House.  When we pulled up in front of the historic federalist-style home, I had a feeling we were in for a treat.  Beautiful decor throughout this period home provides a comfortable atmosphere with ample seating inside and out.  Whether inside, outside or in the tiny bar area, you’re swept away to era gone by.

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Our friendly server shared with us the menu and a few stories to introduce us to the location.  As expected, there’s a beautiful selection of southern fare along with some local and updated dishes.  While we didn’t have an appetizer, I was longing for the fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits.  The goetta egg rolls really had me intrigued as well, but we were sticking to dinner and dessert.  Salads were fresh, crisp and a good portion size – the Ceasar looked especially good.  We went about ordering and enjoyed warm homemade biscuits with our drinks.

My wife ordered the ribeye which is served with a smoked tomato-rosemary demi-glace and crispy onions.  A huge piece of beef, it was cooked to perfection.  The sauce was a beautiful highlight to the tender beef.  A few people at the table ordered the Tousey Hot Brown – a traditional execution of ham, turkey, tomato and bacon served over toast points and covered in Mornay sauce and melted cheese.  While not as creamy as others we’ve had, it was delicious!  Being the traditionalist, I had to order the fried chicken.  The four large pieces (half a chicken) were lightly breaded and crispy golden brown.  It was a terrific execution and served with mashed potatoes (a bit average) and southern-style green beans.  We felt the southern hospitality as we enjoyed the home cooking and tasty favorites.

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We really enjoyed our dinner as well as a few sweet treats – it’s a variable dessert menu, but the chocolate cake and berry cobbler were grandma-worthy preparations!  Executive chef Jonathan Weiss has done a beautiful job with the menu and delivers on every expectation.  Open for lunch and weekend brunch as well, you’ll want to stop in or make a reservation soon.  It’s too good to not make a special trip!  Find out more about the history, location and menu at touseyhouse.com.  Dig in!

Lucky’s Burger & Brew – Roswell, GA

When we visited Atlanta for a concert last weekend, we had a chance to have lunch with friends at Lucky’s.  I’ll tell you that after a warm afternoon baseball game, there was no better place in the northern ‘burbs to go!  A family-friendly sports bar with an ample menu and great atmosphere, we loved our visit.  Even mid-afternoon there was a 20-minute wait, but we managed to pass the time with a selection of local craft beers and a few tosses of cornhole bags on the back lawn.  There’s also a large “party pavilion” outside, complete with large-screen TV, that seats as many as 60 people!  You have the option of sitting in the restaurant or on the dog-friendly patio and we opted for the former.

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Surrounded by dog pictures and plenty of TV’s, we perused the large menu.  I was really impressed with the appetizer selection and ordered the fried pickles – my wife never turns them down!  Crispy and hot, they’re served with ranch or blue cheese for dipping and are some of the best I’ve had!  I’d have loved the fried pimento cheese bites and/or chili cheese tots, but I had a burger to get to.  The table ordered a variety of burgers and wings so we could get a good taste of the most important stuff.  The Memphis Blood Hound was cooked to order and topped with pickled red onion, cheddar cheese, bacon and sweet and spicy mango BBQ sauce.  It was awesome in every way and left me with no regrets on my choice.  The signature is the award-winning Georgia Dawg Pounder topped with a fried pimento cheese ball, red pepper jelly and mayo – whoa!  While I would have loved fresh-cut fries, both of their regular and sweet potato fries were pretty good.

An order of wings came out plump, hot and crispy.  They were smothered in medium sauce, but had a serious kick to them as you had a few!  They were really good though and I would definitely get them again as an appetizer or meal again.  The kids were thrilled with their burger and chicken fingers so you know it’s a place everyone can enjoy.  I saw other sandwiches and salads come from the kitchen and everything looked fresh and delicious.  Really, there’s a ton to try and we can’t wait to go back again!

Who doesn’t love great service, tasty food and a fun atmosphere?  You have three locations to visit in the Atlanta area and I suggest you get to one near you ASAP!  You can find out more about their locations, menu and party planning at luckysburgerandbrew.com.  Dig in!