Simit Sarayi

435 5th AveNew York, NY 10016 • (929) 374-3237 • simitsarayi.com

For all intensive purpose the name basically translates to Bagel Palace. And a palace it is not. In Turkey it is essentially a Panera, a local chain of decent baked goods and other dishes. And if I was in Turkey I’d probably only give this place 3 knives, but that’s in Turkey. To have this in New York City on my walk to work, it is a godsend!

About once a month I go butt-wild and buy a double Noah’s Ark- four of everything. The spinach rose borek might just be my favorite thing of all. Warm it up with a dollop of plain yogurt and sliced tomatoes on the side and you’ve got yourself one of the easiest, bestest meals you could wish for.

I also loves me some su boregi, which is sort of like a savory kugel or sauceless, meatless lasagna. It sounds awful the way I’m describing it, but I promise it’s delish. Granted it’s even better at Gulluoglu on the East Side, but since Gulluoglu isn’t on my walk to work, this one is plenty good enough.

Their dill and feta buns are terrific too, which are pseudo pogaça-like. For those of you who don’t find the poaça analogy helpful, it’s a small, savory pastry filled with herbs and cheese.

Ironically the top billing, the simit, can be a bit of a wild card. Sometimes it’s true to the motherland, thin and dense and seeded galore. Other times it tries to masquerade as a wannabe sesame bagel. I prefer the former.

On the sweet side, they also kick some serious ay çöreği, a crescent-shaped, semi-sweet dessert filled with ground hazelnuts that are so dense they almost taste like chocolate. Then, they top it off with sliced almonds.

All of the little cookies are money too. Perfect for çay sati (tea time). They have chocolate chip, Nutella filled, hazelnut and fig. You really can’t go wrong. And that’s what I love about this place. You could throw a dart anywhere in the joint and still be happy with what you got to eat, unless you hit the cashier, of course.

Patisserie Florentine

10 S Dean StEnglewood, NJ 07631 • (201) 408-4890 • patisserieflorentine.com

Engle-fucking-wood Cliffs?! Are you kidding me?! How is this place in Englewood Cliffs? Scratch that- WHY is this place in Englewood Cliffs? Their Banana, Nutella, almond croissant is such a baller it needs to be playing on a much bigger court, like Manhattan.

This Ultimate of a pastry is messier than a Sean Spicer press conference, but far more enjoyable. Oozing in all directions with a miraculously well balanced treat that doesn’t overdo it, despite the potential to do so looming large.

Other players in the baked game are the regular almond croissants, which are great, and less messy than their banana-Nutella siblings, but they are also less novel. Of the muffins, the granola is the one to get, followed by the orange. But I say skip the blueberry. It was surprisingly the weakest of the lot.

Even the egg dishes are nothing to overlook as the eggs benny proves to be a savory powerhouse in its own right. But be sure to ask them to make the eggs runny, because they have a tendency to overcook them a touch. Tisk, tisk.

Where Florentine fails miserably, however, is with their service. It is god awful. So bad in fact that I feel a moral imperative to dock them a knife. It’s as if the entire wait staff is simultaneously starting their first day on the job. Every table in the joint is yelling at them. Complaining. “No silverware” over here. “No one has taken my order yet” over there. They are slow, forgetful and worst of all, inept. So much so that the last time I visited I asked for three of the Banana Nutella Almond croissants to go and they gave me three plain old almond.

So if you are the owner or the manager and you are reading this, please start over with the staff, because eventually people will grow tired of their shit, regardless of how great the food is. I know I am.

The Whelk

575 Riverside AveWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0902 • thewhelkwestport.com

Having been to Le Farm (RIP) many, many years ago and loving it, I was pleased to learn that The Whelk was actually the mother ship. Plus, I had heard from just about everyone who lives within 50 miles of Westport that this is the best place to eat in town, so expectations were as high as the studio producers who thought Office Christmas Party was a good script.

But The Whelk delivers, hype and all. With its casual Cape Cod charm and equally warm service, I was sucked into being a convert faster than Vin Diesel, strapped to Usain Bolt, glued to a cheetah, duct taped to a rocket booster, wired to nitrous oxide packs.

A great deal of that being due to our adorable server who made us feel welcome, special and taken care of. What more could you ask for? Well, good food, of course, and The Whelk answered that call without a moment to spare, starting with some heavenly deviled eggs topped with fried oysters (pictured). They were literally amazeballs- ball-shaped and amazing. Oh, and an Ultimate in two categories; deviled eggs and oyster dishes.

And just as we were descending back to earth, up we went again with the scallop crudo and another Ultimate, which is also amazeballs, but not literally this time. Blessed with heat and blood orange, this place definitely knows how to handle its mollusks, which shouldn’t come as a shock I suppose considering the name of the establishment is a mollusk.

Another brilliant starter is the crab toast. Bright and lemony with the perfect hit of spice on the finish. Simple, but perfection.

For entrees, I highly recommend hake if it’s still on the menu by the time you go. It’s cooked like a boss, with a beautiful preparation that I won’t taunt you with because it was already gone by the second time we went, replaced by a trout with collard greens that didn’t quite fill the void left by the wonderful hake.

What is always there, however, is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a very long time, so if you’re not feelin’ the fish, you will not go hungry my friend.

The only mortal dish for me that I have discovered thus far (apart from the trout, which technically I didn’t order) would be the salt and pepper squid. I mean it’s good, but no better than any halfway decent fried calamari you could get a bagillion other places.

Capping things off on high, we ended the night with the white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, which if you’ve been following me for any length of time you know is my weak spot. But weakness aside, The Whelk finished strong. And while the Banana Bavarian is also good, it’s not even worth comparing it to the bread pudding, therefore I won’t.

The place packs ‘em in almost every night, for good reason, so be sure to make a reservation, go on an off night or an off hour, or prepare to wait. Fortunately it’s worth it, because as those before me suggest, it truly is the best restaurant in Westport. Hell, I think it gives Pearl and L&W in NYC a run for their money!

Croissant Gourmet

120 E Morse BlvdWinter Park, FL 32789 • (407) 622-7753

Any place called Croissant Gourmet is either overstating their offering to lure suckers in (like me), or they are so unbelievably confident in their product that they didn’t spend more than five minutes thinking up a name for their bakery. Well, one bite in and I can assure you the reason is the latter, because their almond croissants are the stuff upon which empires are built. A flaky, almond, crescent-shaped masterpiece that would bring tears to Napoleon’s eyes.

Speaking of empires, that’s the other thing I love about this place. It isn’t one. And sadly that’s what 80% of Park Avenue has become, an outdoor shopping mall filled with chain store empires. Long gone are the charms of mom ‘n pops and boutiques. So please give the few stragglers all the love you can. Binge mightily on their croissants and perhaps one day that demand will help transform Park Ave. back into its glory of yore.

A word of caution: don’t eat too many croissants, not just for health reasons, but so that Croissant Gourmet doesn’t blow up and turn into a chain itself, because it would defeat the purpose.

Sono Baking Company

44 Church LnWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8626 • sonobaking.com

I can’t say I looooove Sono Bakery, but they definitely have far better croissants than Isabella et Vincent which everyone seems to tout. Guess I’m just spoiled by the ones I used to get at La Tulipe in Mt. Kisco, NY where I used to live. Although, to be fair, that was pretty stiff competition, because those croissants were world-class. Then again, to be fair in the other direction, Patisserie Florentine in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, and even the friggin’ Croissant Gourmet (terrible name) in Winter Park, FL both have much superior croissants, so I’m not sure what the problem is here in Westport, a town that has no shortage of amazing restaurants.

But before I get off on a rant (TM Dennis Miller), Sono has lots of merits. The first being that it’s more than just a bakery, offering a full menu of made-to-order breakfast and brunch options. Plus, the seating area and vibe inside is pretty cool, granted the parking situation outside is not. No parking lot and most of the street parking is off limits for one reason or another, making it feel more reminiscent of Manhattan than Westport. So personally, I recommend walking or biking if you’re close enough, it’ll help burn off what you’re about to eat.

And now for the BIGGEST reason to come here, two words; Monkey Bread. Yes, the Monkey Bread, or more like “money bread” steals the show. Dense and dripping with frosting. It’s worth a parking ticket, it’s so damn sintastic. I also dig their cranberry zucchini muffin for a less sweet option that’s nice and moist and can help balance things out if you go splitsies with someone on one of the sweeter options. #bestofbothworlds

Gourdough’s

1503 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • gourdoughs.com

This place has a sense of humor about it from the name, a play on the Spanish word gordo, which means “fat,” to the guy inside the Airstream dishing out jokes about as freely as they dish out calories. Even the menu items are one pun after another, and the price, while steep for a donut, is diffused by the light-hearted declaration in the form of pennies, which makes everything sound cheaper.

As a base, the donuts are not your cake-like variety. They are more akin to Krispy Kreme when they come hot out of the oven, the sweet dough evaporating in your mouth almost as if it were cotton candy. But what makes these donuts truly muy bueno is the stuff on top.

Exhibit A. The Squealing Pig. A shot put-sized doughnut smothered in cream cheese icing and strawberry jalapeno jelly, then topped with even more jalapeno’s of the candied variety and as the name would suggest, bacon. It’s about five different kinds of wrong that somehow come out tasting so very right. And I’ve had my share of bacon donuts in my past, but this one beats the livin’ pork out of ‘em!

My other fav was the Funky Monkey. Again with the cream cheese icing, but this one is topped with freshly grilled bananas and brown sugar. Just W-O-W-!

In third I would give it to Sara’s Joy. This time with a fudge icing, coconut filling and shaved coconut on top. Now I have no clue who Sara is, but I like the cut of her jib. And the topping of her donut. She apparently has a soft spot for coconuts and eating killer donuts that make your stomach its bitch.

Coming in a strong fourth, the Son of a Peach. Almost as fun to say as it is to eat. Blessed with a cake mix topping, filled with peaches and dusted with cinnamon. It’ll do ya right, and by that I mean you will feel like a donut just had its way with you. Granted that’s pretty much true of any of them. Every last one of them is a beast, so bring a big appetite if you want to tame it.

Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

Paradise by way of Kensal Green

19 Kilburn Ln. London W10 4AE United Kingdom • +44 20 8969 0098 • theparadise.co.uk

Yup. That’s actually the name. And it’s quite a mouthful. Unfortunately the food, not so much. But more on that later. Let’s start by talking digs, because I’m starting to get the feeling that you can pretty much walk into any building in London and it will be stunning. Hell, I bet even their meth labs are tastefully appointed, dripping with old-world charm and yet somehow contrasted with just the right amount of modernity and eclectic flair. And Paradise carries that torch handily.

They also carry a healthy bevy of tasty cocktails like the one I had which I can’t even recall the name. All I remember are flashes of mint and gin, which are so deceptively refreshing they will knock-you-on-you-ass before your appetizer ever hits the table.

The food, however, was in stark contrast and a bit of a bore. Not by preparation, but by taste. The burrata and beet root salad with hazelnut and watercress pesto was as flavorless as the food on the flight over. The lamb shoulder was the best of my three courses mostly due to the flavors of the parsnip puree, spiced Swiss chard and Marsala jus, but the meat itself was pretty dry and overcooked. And come dessert, I didn’t even both to finish the ginger pavlova with marscapone mousse, blood orange and red currants. A blasphemous use of Pavlov’s name, because the dish is hardly drool-worthy.

Yes, there’s trouble in Paradise, but nothing a new chef couldn’t fix, because they’ve got it going on just about everywhere else.

Holborn Dining Room

 

Rosewood Hotel • 252 High Holborn London WC1V 7EN United Kingdom • +44 20 3747 8633 • holborndiningroom.com

Behold! The answer to the age-old question. You heard it here first folks. The world’s first definitive proof that the egg came before the chicken. Well, at least as it pertains to the chronology of my meal.

For my starter I had an amazing scotch egg of Ultimate proportions. Served over a bed of mushroom risotto to sweeten the deal, and by that I mean savory. The only dish of its equal for me would be The Rumpus Room in Milwaukee.

To follow, I ordered the chicken (obviously) pot pie with mushrooms served over a bed of English peas. Sadly, the presentation outshined the flavor, but it was still a solid good. Just an awfully steep step down from the egg that preceded it.

For dessert, the chocolate volcano with ginger ice cream is a really strong get, made with really strong ginger, like sushi grade. Not that sweetened cutesy stuff. It’s real McCoy and it makes the dish shine.

The other thing that shines is the exceedingly cool and expansive industrial décor. Every bit as tasteful as the food- after all, it is a Rosewood hotel… in London. Regrettably the service lacks the energy of the crowd, at least in terms of speed of service.

*** In a follow up visit, the fish and chips also proved damn skippy. That’s Yankee for good.

Kawa Ni

19A Bridge SqWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8775 • kawaniwestport.com

kawa_ni_westport_ct_happy_hour1

Kawa Ni is the sister restaurant to The Whelk, located just around the corner from here, and if you know anything about The Whelk, then you also know you are in for a real treat. Granted the two siblings have virtually nothing in common with the exception of exceptionalness.

The Whelk, as the name implies, is primarily seafood, feeling like it was plucked right out of Cape Cod, as does the entire town of Westport I suppose. Whereas Kawa Ni is pan-Asian and pan-Awesome. Casual, like the Whelk, and not your typical Asian fare with inventive twists everywhere you look.

It’s also slightly easier to get into than The Whelk. We walked in at 8:30 on a Thursday night and got a seat at the bar without any wait. And it was then that the fun began, our bartender, Owen, welcoming us like an old friend with great service, great conversation and most importantly, great recommendations. I think it’s safe to say that I love him. In fact, if I wasn’t there with my wife, who knows what might’ve happened?!

Starting with the booze, this place is a whisky lover’s wet dream, boasting a selection 100 deep. Not to mention great cocktails like the refreshing Tokyo made with gin, sparkling sake and yuzu or the wintery bourbon and scotch blended Kyushiki with amaro bitters and black sugar.

For small plates it should be a law that you have to try the shaved broccoli salad. It is remarkable. To quote my new bestie, Owen, “it may very well be the first time in your life you look down at a plate of raw broccoli and say, ‘Wow! I’d like another plate of raw broccoli!’”

Equally impressive are the tofu pockets made with pumpernickel and stuffed to the gills with crabmeat, sushi rice and yuzu tartar. It’s almost like a lobster roll and a sushi hand roll made a joint venture.

Even something as bone simple as pork dumplings are taken to the next level, made special by the pure freshness of its ingredients.

The only mortal dish of the line up was the BBQ eel served with cucumber slices and placed over a bed of slaw. It’s good, but nothing I will ever order here again.

As for dessert, however, that’s a different story. The banana bruleé is stupid good! As in you’d have to be stupid not to order it. Or, meaning you will look stupid eating it, because you will likely frolic around the restaurant, batting your arms wildly with glee.

5 teeth