Cafe Mogador

101 St Marks PlNew York, NY 10009 • (212) 677-2226 • cafemogador.com
 

I don’t mean to sound like that obnoxious guy in the movie BIG, but “I don’t get it.” This place is at the top of virtually every food blog’s list in the city and it is mediocre at best. I mean c’mon, there are SOOO many other middle eastern and mediterranean joints that are far superior. And it’s not like the vibe is anything special either, dressed like your typical bistro. So what am I missing? The tagines aren’t even served in tagines and are decent at best. 95% of menu lacks inventiveness, not to mention excellence. I mean sure it’s good, but since when does good make it amongst the best Manhattan has to offer?

  

The only things that impressed me were the spicy carrot app and the baklava. Both are worth getting assuming you still wind up here. Beyond that, the tagines and the falafels, lamb kebab and the kofte were all quite good, which apparently mean “eh” in England. Just learnt this and trying it on for size. Thoughts? Confusing?  Well welcome to the club, because the love of this place has me almost as baffled as I was after dining at Uncle Boons. 

 

 

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Kahwet Fairuz

Karakol bostan sokak No:13, 34367 İstanbul • (0212) 219 6530
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I loved this place walking in and hated it walking out. Reason primarily being my own fault I suppose. I clearly had baklava on the brain and when we stopped here for teatime, we should’ve just walked back out when we saw they didn’t carry any regionally authentic desserts. But nooooo, me and my stubborn ass just had to see if a Lebanese place could actually pull off a decent cheesecake. Well, I think we all knew the answer before the plate ever hit the table, but the depths to which this cheesecake sank are only rivaled by the core of the Earth.

And while it may seem unfair to throw a place under the bus from such a minute sampling, if you clearly ask the server to suggest the single best thing on the menu and he says “the cheesecake,” it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the food if their best is the worst.

On the plus side, however, I must give props to the decorator. The place is simply impeccable when it comes to detail and charm. Not a inch of this place went without thought from the fez lighting to the upside down hand mirrors to the bright colors and hookah centerpieces. Which brings me to an observation… I think the restaurateurs of Istanbul have handily cracked the code on how to make a place look cool. Now they just need to get their acts together and hire chefs worth their salt, because in four days we didn’t eat a single meal north of three knives.

2 teeth

 

Taïm Falafel and Smoothie Bar

222 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10014(212) 691-1287taimfalafel.com taimmobile.com

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I’ve only eaten from their food truck, so this review is technically not for the restaurant. Which means décor and service are relatively moot unless you really have a thing for black and green food trucks. But, as far as trucks go I will admit that it’s very nice looking, I suppose. My estimation of the food, however, should hold quite nicely for both, because if they can serve up holy shitters like this off a truck, just imagine what they can do in the kitchen of a full-on restaurant!

Well, fortunately you don’t have to imagine, because I’m about to tell you. For starters let’s give it up to the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had, no contest. I’ve downed about a hundred of these over the last couple of years and I’m poised to down another hundred without batting an eye, it’s that good. Worth-standing-in-line-for good. So what makes it the messiah of fried chickpeas? First I’d say it’s because these aren’t merely your run of the mill falafels. Be sure to ask for the special falafel of the day and you’ll be taste budazzled by kalamata olive falafels, roasted red pepper falafels, harissa falafels and spinach too. But the awesome doesn’t stop there. These little overachievers go above and beyond, packing their pitas with a cornucopia of goodies that make this thing the size of your head, yet good as all get out.

And if by chance a head-sized falafel sandwich doesn’t sound filling enough for you, I also highly recommend their fries, served with an insanely addictive saffron aioli. So good you won’t know whether to eat it, snort it or shoot it into a vein.

Then, for a tasty beverage to wash it all down with, you can either go smoothie, or in my case, I favor the pomegranate, honey iced tea. Mainly because the other stuff is so damn filling that I couldn’t possibly cram a smoothie down my gullet as well, but also because the iced tea is really great.

So there it is. A falafel food truck worth chasing down like a kid to an ice cream truck.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Cauliflower

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Tamarind – New York, NY

It’s actually not on the menu, but if you ask them to make it, make it they shall. Along with your day. And I mean that in the Dirty Harry-est way possible. Apparently it’s more of a street food favorite in India, fried up in a ketchup-based sauce of all things. So damn yummy you’ll wish you were reincarnated as a cow so you could come back here and enjoy four portions of it as a time with all of your stomachs.

Ilili – New York, NY

If you’ve read my Ultimate Brussels Sprouts post, than this will seem a tad redundant. It’s the identical dish, just seasonally modified when sprouts are out of season. It’s every bit as crazy delicious though. Made the exact same way, sauteed in a dream-inducing mixture of fig jam, mint yogurt, chopped walnuts, sherry vinegar and grapes. It’s the best thing to happen to the albino broccoli since cheese.

Cleo

1717 Vine St. Los Angeles, CA 90028(323) 962-1711www.cleorestaurant.com

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I’m not sure why this place is such the scene that it is considering the decor is pretty underwhelming by comparison to the usual LA scene. Rather tame compared to the likes of The Bazaar at SLS for example. That said, if eye candy is what you consider decor, than you are heading to the right place.

On the upside, when it comes to things that you appreciate with your mouth Cleo did much better, the Brussels Sprouts are indeed the shiznit, but if you’ve ever been to Ilili’s in New York, they are a carbon copy in terms of recipe and fall a close second in terms of taste. The artichoke flat bread was also a winner. The octopus was good, but nothing all that inventive. The pumpkin salad proved to be just okay, as was the beef stew thing. Oh, and the bread pudding for dessert was also a bit of a pass, especially compared to the one we just had the night before at Animal (my favorite place in LA, in case I haven’t made that abundantly clear yet).

As for the other thing you can put in your mouth- no, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter. I speak of  the special cocktails, which are VERY good. My fav being the Clementina which was designated-driver good.

So not quite up to the hype, nor up to it’s namesake, the face that launched a thousand ships, but a worthy outing if you’re curiosity is so peaked it’s about to kill a cat.

P.S. There’s now a Cleo in South Beach Miami too. As well as The Bazaar right across the street.

3 teeth

Glasserie

95 Commercial St. New York, NY 11222(718) 389-0640glasserienyc.com

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Being that it is currently a James Beard nominee, this was way up on my list of Brooklyn bites, so when the chance arose to dine here on an expense account, I was in Ferocious heaven.

Regrettably, heavenly is not exactly how I would describe the aroma upon entering. Rather the word dishwater comes to mind. Such a turn off right out of the gate to be hit by a wall of wafting stank from the kitchen opposite the foyer. Not great planning on that one. Nor on the chairs, which make you feel like you’re auditioning for the shrinking role in Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately the rest of the setting is nice, with its exposed brick, charming divided-light windows and mid-century touches, mixed with a little rustic industrialism.

In terms of food, I really appreciated the inventive fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Not that there isn’t already an inherent overlap between the two, but the way the chef blended those elements was truly original.

Not wasting any time, our painfully hip waitress delivered a series of wows, the biggest and Ultimatest being the flatbread with labneh. Served piping hot, so much so that no one could even tear it apart for the first several minutes. And the labneh (yogurt) is unbelievably thick and creamy, filled with a lagoon of wonderful olive oil and harissa. The grilled bread was also good, but next to the flat, it was Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

I also loved the mixed nuts with leblebi. The latter are dried, crunchy chickpeas that are popular during cocktail hour in Turkey. The olives were also nice. Home marinated I’m guessing, because the stems were still on many of them.

After that the courses started hitting the table fast and furious, with a lot of hits, but unfortunately a few misses as well. The hits for me would be the lamb sweetbreads, done grilled as opposed to fried, which I really liked. Feels like a more faithful preparation. The rabbit tacos were also quite nice, served in what I believe was a jicama taco shell. The stuffed cabbage was such a blast from my past that I almost had to love it. And it did Bubby proud, granted a much more inventive spin, made with hanger steak inside, as well as couscous.

In the middle of the field I would put the chicken entree, the leaves and leaves salad, the Syrian cheese plate (pictured) and the Brussels sprouts. All are good, but the fact that sprouts are on every friggin’ menu these days is growing a bit played. And while I appreciate the brown bag serving vessel, I can’t get past the “me too” factor. It’s like kale and Brussels sprouts are being mandated by some sort of foodie mafia overlord.

Bringing up the rear would be the cauliflower and the hanger steak. The former for being way too basic to the point where you could make as good or better at home, and the latter because it was undercooked and chewy, without enough flavor to make the jaw work worthwhile.

In terms of cocktails, they all sounded better than they tasted and the Arak, while served up on a silver platter, literally, is as basic as it gets at its core. The only inventive twist being an actual twist- and a shot grapefruit juice to mix in with your ice, water and anise booze. For a better Arak cocktail try the Hana at Balaboosta.

During dessert things went a little off the rails. The cookie assortment was easily the best. The ice creams went 1 for 3, pistachio being the only one anybody touched. The cardamom and tahini both melted in the bowl like a lonely Wicked Witch of the North. And the chocolate mousse was so bad it shat the bed, or should I say the diaper, which is what it looked like once you opened the bag, like a diaper with shit in it. Not sure what they were thinking on this one, or more than likely it was a lack thinking that lead to this abomination of presentation, but unless you want to test the fortitude of your constitution, I’d take a pass.

So while the performance most certainly ended on a foul note, the earlier winners were enough to carry it over the mid-line.

3 teeth

Almayass

24 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 473-3100almayassnyc.com

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Attention all Ilili lovers, there’s another game in town. And what’s especially nice about this game is that it’s easier to play. In case my obtuse analogy isn’t tracking, what I mean to say is that it’s way easier to get a table, especially at lunch.

But settle you will not. Almayass is not just an alternative. It’s very much a destination in its own right. From the moment you enter, you are immediately taken by the elegant décor which is much warmer than Ilili,, blending more classic elements with contemporary, and accented with wonderful works of art.

Another plus is that the staff is much more pleasant and much less snooty than at Ilili, which is nice if you don’t want a side of attitude with your fattoush, speaking of which, it was very good.

In fact, most everything was good. A few misses. A few homeruns. And lots in between. Among the homers would be the Soujuk Almayass. Best thing I’ve ever had with this Middle Eastern sausage. It’s painfully simple really, just a slice of sausage sitting on a crostini with a sunny side quail egg on top. But holy Lebanon was it good! Chased with a little arak (Lebanese anise liquor) and I was all like “Ilili who?”

Another dish that was surprisingly better than any I’d ever had before was the mantee. It’s the same thing as the Turkish dish “manti, which are tiny ravioli filled with meat, covered in yogurt. What made it so special, however, was how crisp it was on the outside, and so most and creamy on the inside. And we all know what a softy I am for contrasting textures.

Three other dishes that were also very strong were the kebab made with filet mignon, the baba ganoush served with pomegranate seeds and the lentil soup. Granted my review of the soup is only hearsay, and by that I mean “MMMMMMMMM!!!” from across the table.

In the middle of the road was the pita bread, tzatziki and hummus. And bringing up the rear, the three biggest misses for me were the olives, the tabouleh salad and the sarma.

The olives because they were served pitted, which I can only assume was due to the fact that they’re afraid of getting sued by someone for cracking a tooth on a pit, because no self-respecting restaurant from the region would ever serve olives pitted otherwise.

The tabouleh because it was very leafy and dry. I like mine more moist and hearty.

And last but- well actually least, the sarma. Among the worst stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. Such a shame too, because this place was so close to five knives, but I’m afraid they fell shy by one.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Brussels Sprouts

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Ilili – New York, NY

This dish is so good, everybody and their grandmother is now copying it from coast to coast. Case in point Cleo in Hollywood, CA. But nobody does it better than these guys. In fact, they do it so well, I think Brussels sprout farmers around the world should have to share a portion of their proceeds because I guarantee the sales of sprouts are at an all time high.

The genius of the dish is that it’s grounded by such a healthy, strong tasting green vegetable that it allows for such extremes in the other direction. Those extremes coming in the form of frying ’em up with a little fig jam, mint yogurt, toasted walnuts, sherry vinegar and grapes. So it’s actually hell and gone from healthy, but hey, it’s a green vegetable so RDA box checked!

All’onda – New York, NY

I honestly never thought the day would come when I added a second entry to this post. I mean Ilili’s sprouts were just so far and away above anything else that it seemed like it was going to take almost as long as it did for someone to tie Roger Maris’ 61 home runs. Well, it took about six years. And All’onda’s sprouts are all that and a bucket of pancetta. Candied pancetta to be precise. And bottarga, a salty byproduct made from shaved mullet roe. I had to look it up. Learn something new everyday. Like wow are these friggin’ these dangerous. Speaking of buckets, I could easily eat one filled with these puppies.

Rintintin

14 Spring St. New York, NY 10012(646) 666-0114rintintinnyc.com

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While the name is likely to evoke imagery of a German Shepherd, there is nothing German, nor Shepard-like about the restaurant. And being that I was a fan of Bon Marche, I was sad to see that it had been replaced. Well, I was sad until I tried the food, which is even better than its predecessor.  I’m guessing the space must’ve left some good juju for this newbie, because the good vibes were abundant from top to bottom.

First off, the decor is much more open. The space is still small and charming, with nice touches like giant palm leaf arrangements and cymbals as lighting fixtures. And the service, while being a one man show from bartender to host, and waiter in between, managed to outdo many who only have a third of the task.

For drinks we did the cucumber gimlet made with arak (anis arabic booze), which was very refreshing almost like the cucumber water you would get in a spa, only with alcohol in it. And the other cocktail was the spicy cucumber margarita. It was also good, but not as impressive as one would hope, granted I’m part dragon when it comes to my tolerance for heat.

For an appetizer we split a burrata special served with a colorful spectrum of heirloom tomatoes, garlic roasted eggplant and proscuitto. If you should be so lucky as to see it offered when you go, I highly recommend. The garlicky eggplant and the salty dried ham make the dish something special. Ask for extra bread as well. It’s a thin focaccia perfect for sopping up the oil and balsamic remnants. But try to show some restraint, because there is much ahead worth saving room for.

The best of which is the burger. An eclectic mix of flavors from its pita bread bun and harissa topping to a queso fresco option (which I recommend), cayenne aioli and ketchup. It was crazy messy and just as crazy good. As were the crinkled potatoes they serve them with.

Another winner was the quinoa salad with avocado and lemon. It’s light and refreshing, but nothing you can’t find at a Le Pain Quotidien.

The only miss we had was the chicken cilantro soup. It was woefully bland both in terms of salt and spice. Even after adding copious amounts of both it was still only just okay.

And now for the closer… The churros are churrmendous! Both in size and execution. Crispy on the outside, soft and nummy, nummy on the inside. Served with a caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream, both of which need to be used in tandem in order to achieve the maximum effect. And by maximum effect I mean on your belt holes, because by the time you leave here you will be on the very last one.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Stuffed Grape Leaves

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 Sayat Nova – Chicago, IL

Grape leaves are sort of like pizza for me in that even the bad ones are still pretty good. But what sets these apart is their moistness. Too many others taste like they were made with rice from leftover Chinese delivery the night before. The other thing that makes them shine is that they are done Turkish style (I know the place is technically Armenian, but the style is one in the same) as opposed to Greek. Sorry Grecian folk, you may have given us philosophy, but the true question you should’ve been asking yourselves is this: If you don’t put currants in the grape leaves, is it even worth asking if they exist?