Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

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Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Bella Sombra

Bagarasi Cad. No:24, Golturkbuku 48400, Turkey • T +9 0252 377 6100 • bellasombrahotel.com

Secrets, contrary to conventional wisdom, are better shared than kept. Obviously not all secrets, however. Like “I have another family” or “I’m actually a man” or “It’s not your baby.” But when it comes to restaurant finds, I lean towards letting the word get out. Sure it will make the place more popular and harder to get into, but it beats the alternative of no one ever hearing about it and the place disappears. This is a fate I would like to save Bella Sombra from.

As the name implies it is VERY “bella.” The setting when you walk down those steps toward the pool courtyard is breathtaking. Stone villas flanking it on all sides. The glow from the water, the moon and the lanterns on the steps luring you deeper into the seduction. And as you make your way around the pool, you will come upon the dining area, which is set apart by greenery and charmed with strung lights (pictured). The bar next door enjoys some of the same, but with a very spacious, more casual vibe. Almost done like an amphitheater of chaise-like sofas all facing the wooden bar meets hut in the center of the arena.

Sadly though, it is all wasted, because the crowd is not just virtually non-existent. It’s actually non-existent. We were the only table of the night. There were more stray cats than people, that’s how dead it was. On the upside, service was great. How could it not be?

So maybe it’s the food that’s killing them? Not really. I actually found most of the dishes to be quite worthy (not to mention large). The best dish being an inventive eggplant starter that tasted similar to baba ghanouj only better. The other winner was the paella for two, made with sucuk for a Turkish spin (resisting the temptation to make a dervish joke here).

In the middle for me would be the vegetarian sushi that tasted a bit like red lentil kofte. And the only miss was the manti. I get what they were trying to do, similar in some ways to how it is done at Limon. But in execution, it comes off like chickpeas and yogurt with Cheez-its stuck in it. So a pretty mighty miss in retrospect, but not enough for me to lose confidence as a recommendation. In other words, please go. It would be a shame to see this place disappear.

Musto

Eski Çeşme Mah. Neyzen Tevfik Cad. No: 130 48960 Muğla, TK • +90 252 3133394

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Me gusto Musto. Well, the food at least. Can’t say I’m really a fan of how packed it gets. Or of the cigarette smoke vortex you get caught in on the patio, but fortunately somehow the food pokes through.

Like the octopus starter, for example, which is pretty darn great, with good char and nice accompaniments. The Roka salad, however, was a soggy second. It was overdressed and mushy.

Musto also went one for two on the entrees as well, with the café du Paris delivering in the sauce department, but failing with a tough and chewy cut of beef. Also, they only give you a sprig of frites, so be sure to ask for extra should you still wish to order it regardless of my cautions.

The winner of the entrees, and the entire night, was the seafood linguini, filled with calamari, octopus and shrimp in a red sauce that does a good impression of a fra diavolo with its noticeable kick. The pasta is cooked perfectly and between this and the octopus app, I think Musto earned a healthy three.

3 teeth

Bobo

21 rue Commandant André 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 93 99 97 33

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While the place may be named after a clown, whoever is in the kitchen is dead serious, serving up dishes of salmon with lo mein that would turn many a head in China. Roughly 1.35 billion heads to be precise. And while I didn’t have the tuna carpacio with caper berries, I ogled my neighbors quite longingly. And said neighbor affirmed that it was even better than it looks. So not your traditional French fare, but far superior to that over-hyped blowhard across the rue, Pastis.

For dessert we shared a strawberry tiramisu, which didn’t taste very tiramisu-ish, and more strawberry parfait-ish. So if I had to do it again, I’d go with that carpacio app and forego dessert.

Bobo also does breakfast well, although it’s significantly more traditional at this meal time. But the basics are done well, from the freshest OJ I had all week to a cheese omelet that hit the spot.

I’m torn between three and four knives on this one, but because I had so many lacking meals prior to eating here, I think my palate was overjoyed to have something with flavor. So trying to account for the curve, let’s assume it’s a three until I return for a third-time’s-a-charm confirmation on four.

3 teeth

251 Lex

251 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 218-8156 •  251lex.com

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I was excited to try this relative newcomer, which seemed to have promise from the outside looking in. Unfortunately, the promise only seems to be on the outside. In fact, the only nice thing I can say about the inside is that the people are nice. Oh, and the prices were pretty great, granted it was restaurant week, but only twelve dollars for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc is worthy of a star in and of itself.

Beyond the wine and the warm pita with olive oil, the restaurant falls short on virtually every other metric possible, coming off like a child’s doll house dressed up to play a game of restaurant. The kids, a.k.a. waiters, inside trying so hard to please that it’s almost charming, but when they keep spilling water everywhere and forgetting silverware, the charm wears thin.

In terms of grub, nothing was god awful, but if tepid is the response you’re looking for, then you’ve come to the right place. Starting with the oysters, they were probably the best thing of the night, clean and fresh, served with a beet mignonette that overpowers them, so I would skip it. And while we’re on the subject of skipping things, the kale Caesar salad was cream based, a major no-no, and blah based, also a no-no.

For entrees, the salmon with cracked bulgur struggled to even register a pulse, as did the signature octopus dish, served with Israeli couscous in a skillet that’s so friggin piping hot you could probably still use it as a kiln to bake ceramics after it cools down a touch.

With the writing already firmly on the wall, there was little dessert could do to sway my already solidified opinion and as one would expect, dessert did little to even try. The Greek yogurt and honey panna cotta with fig mostrada, while interesting in theory, proved par for the course in terms of taste. That said, I’m not the biggest panna cotta fan, so the fact that I didn’t hate it is a major coup for 251. And finally the gelati was also semi-decent in the most average sense possible, falling short of supermarket gems like Talenti and Steve’s.

And falling short was theme throughout. Short of expectations and hopes. Really not sure what people see in this place or why it has the crowd or reviews that it does, but I suppose I’ll chalk it up to the fact that people are easily fooled. Case in point, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. Mic drop.

2 teeth

Fred L’Ecallier

Place de l’Etang, Cannes, France • 0493431585 • http://www.fredlecailler.com/#_=_
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If you’re staying in the heart of Cannes, it’s a bit of a hike on foot, but it’ll be worth it on your way back, because you’ll want to burn off the mounds of food you are likely to consume. Not that the food is that heavy, it’s more a result of everything looking so damn good and tasting as good as it looks. So before you know it, you’ve ordered enough seafood to deplete the Mediterranean Sea, from bountiful whole fish to shellfish and everything in between, it’s sort of like Astoux & Brun in that regard, but with much better décor.

Speaking of, this is perhaps my favorite reason for making the trek to Fred, for the setting. You sit in a secluded, yet expansive garden, with a delightful wooden trellis overhead, set away from the street, so there’s no such thing as a bad table- unless you have to sit inside due to rain, I suppose. Not that the inside is atrocious, but compared to the alternative, there’s no contest.

Service is also hard to compete with, because they are shockingly warm and friendly, and I’m not just saying that as a stereotypical dig on the French. There is just so much pride in their restaurant that you can’t help but love them for it. Not snooty pride though, sincere pride. Like it’s their baby. And whoa baby is it something to be proud of.

4 teeth

Four Seasons Sultanahmet

No. 1, Cankurtaran Mh., Tevkifhane Sk., 34122 Sultanahmet-Eminönü/Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey+90 212 402 3000 • fourseasons.com/content/fourseasons/en/properties/istanbul
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For those of you still hung up on Midnight Express, the notion of dining in a Turkish Prison is probably not high up on your Istanbul bucket list, but rest assured, your fears would be sorely misplaced, because this prison is the Four Seasons of prisons. No, seriously. It’s actually a Four Seasons. With prison yards turned into lush gardens, cells turned into rooms and the cafeteria turned into an expansive restaurant atrium.

Like all Four Seasons restaurants, the food falls somewhere between good and great, although I would temper your expectations toward the lower end of that spectrum, because compared to the Four Seasons in New York it’s not even close. I mean that food-wise. In terms of décor it blows New York out of the water. Crazy to say about a prison, I know, but true nonetheless.

The food itself is a classic array of the usual suspects, mezes and iconic Mediterranean dishes ranging from whole sea bass (levrek), to dolma (stuffed grape leaves), to kufte (meatballs), to lentil soup (lentil soup). And while they all hold strong, there are better to be had throughout the city. But the food is not why you’re heading here, it’s for the one-of-a-kind experience, and on that The Four Seasons Sultanahmet delivers in spades.

3 teeth

Vine

851 Avenue Of The Americas New York, NY 10001(212) 201-4065 eventihotel.com

The Vine - Eventi Hotel in NYC 2015

One of the lesser-known gems in the area can be found in the back of the Eventi Hotel, which to be fair is one of the lesser-known hotels in the city. Yet deep within this vortex of obscurity lies an admirably appointed décor with cozy nooks for seating, warm, natural elements and huge windows that open up to a courtyard as opposed to the street (pictured), making for a relatively Zen dining experience.

The menu also got off on the right foot with a salmon entrée cooked perfectly, served over a bed of supped up cous cous and tzatziki sauce. It’s clean livin’ and tasty too. Wash that down with a slightly sweet Arnold Palmer and you could do a lot worse. Sure, it’s no Ilili if we’re comparing Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in the area, but it’s way easier to get a table and I find the décor much more inviting as opposed to the ironically more hotel-like vibe at Ilili.

On the guiltier side of things, the gelato is actually quite atrocious. So much so that I feel the need to outwardly shame our server for even recommending it, much less swooning about it as if it were the reincarnation of the Cup of Life.

But, on the alcoholier side, I have to give it up again to the Vine for going big on the spice and not going home in terms of their Bloody Mary. I love when places say fuck all and do what a Bloody Mary was meant to do, regardless of mass appeal. Because as the saying goes, the masses are asses, and greatness seldom lies at the feet of consensus. Okay, things are getting a bit preachy up in here for a food blog. Gonna dial it back and go out on a solid three.

3 teeth

Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

3 teeth