Bitez Dondurma

Ataturk Caddesi 48 A/3-4, 48400, Turkey • +90 536 480 47 24 • bitezdondurma.com

Unless it has freezer burn or fell off of your cone onto the ground, ice cream is seldom a disappointment.  But as mood-altering good as it is, the Turks take it to a whole other level. Sure, the Italians have them beat with gelato, but what they don’t have is Tutti Frutti, which sort of tastes like Panettone in ice cream form. Granted the Italians created Panettone, so checkmate on that one.

Several other flavors shine at Bitez Dondurma as well (which means Bitez Ice Cream- Bitez being a town in the south of Turkey where the company is originally from before turning into a big chain), from their rich, creamy chocolate to nutty pistachio and hazelnut. In fact, you really can’t go wrong. And truth be told, the best way to go is layers, like how your mama told you to dress in the winter, only at Bitez they do it with thin layers of killer ice cream (pictured). It has the total opposite effect your mother was intending, but it sure tastes a lot better than a wool sweater.

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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.

BOHO

Merkez, Plaj Cd. No:7, 48990 Yalıkavak/Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey • +90 252 385 25 45 • boho.com.tr/boho/food-drink
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The name sounds like an homage to a rodeo clown or something, but it is actually short for Bauhaus, and the way this new hotel is decorated it does that philosophy of design proud. The location doesn’t hurt either, situated on the water in Yalikavak along a charming pedestrian-only street that stretches for several blocks paralleling the shore.

Seated on the deck, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the cocktails somehow tasted exquisite, but to be fair, my judgment may have been askew due to the parched state I was in after waiting over 30 minutes for our drinks. So speed of service would not be listed in the plus column.

The food, however, is very much a plus, all small plates, packing big flavor (I’d show a better picture, but they are oddly cagey about such things). My favorites being the spicy octopus, which packs some serious kick and the pasta, which packs some serious Italian cred.

I also enjoyed the charcuterie and cheese as well as the olives, but those were a little more standard in the scheme of things.

If it weren’t for the service I’d probably consider 4 knives, but the only other thing I will say is that there wasn’t much of a crowd their either, unless you take into consideration the stray cats looming over you, waiting for you to finish.

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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.

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Pizzeria C’e

Türkbükü Mah. Gaffur Kaynar Cad.88 Sok. No: 11/A 48400 Bodrum, TK • +90 252 3776066pizzeriace.com

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Never more does one have to trek all the way from Turkbuku into Bodrum for a decent slice. And while I’m not exactly sure they are as good as Vespa, they are a hell of a lot more convenient. That’s assuming you can get a table, of course, because it’s cok kucuk (Turkish for “very small”). Granted that’s also part of its charm. And the good news is that if you can’t get a table, you can always do take out.

Part of what makes the pies as good as they are is that the husband and wife who own the place took a trip to Italy specifically to learn how to make kick ass pizza! And I can’t think of a better reason to go to Italy, so props on the mission accomplished.

Of the three pizzas we tried, the sausage with chili peppers was the clear winner, getting a hefty boost from the heat delivered by those home grown chili’s. Look out though, because it’s WAY hotter than the typical red pepper flakes you get at your other pie places.

In second I would score the margherita. You really taste the freshness of all the ingredients from the crust to the sauce to the cheese and even the garden basil leafs on top. It’s not anything that would ever rival New York, but it has some game.

In last for me would be the pear and gorganzola white pie. The miss really coming from the lack of sweetness in the pears, which is supposed to cut the stank savoriness of the cheese. But it faintly shows up and leaves you with a clump of blue cheese on a crust, more or less.

Other things worth mention are the arugula salad with dried cranberries and walnuts and manchego. It was good, but more so as an accompaniment. Would never suggest it as a main event.

Also the bottle of cabernet we shared was quite good and decently priced, granted at three lira to the dollar, virtually every restaurant in Turkey is a bargain these days. I guess while military coups aren’t great for tourism and the economy, they do bode well for foodies. #silverlining

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Mezzaluna

Palmarina Yalıkavak, TK, 48990 +90 252 385 4292 • mezzaluna.com.tr
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I know it seems absolutely dreadful that I went all the way to Turkey to eat at a place I could have also dined at back home in New York, but we were in the Marina craving Italian and we weren’t about to throw down our life savings to eat at Cipriani (which I could also have in NY- just sayin’) , nor was it an option to sit anywhere near those obnoxious squawking parrots and macaws. So, that left us with Mezzaluna, which isn’t exactly the coolest place in the Marina, but that didn’t seem to be hurting their business any, because the place was packed. I recommend going on the earlier side if you want to sit on the roof and have the better view.

But the fact that they were so packed only made it that much more surprising how good the service was. Our waiter was friendly, calm, attentive and accommodating. I know this sounds rather basic, but to draw more attention as to just how accommodating, he moved our table to an area were there were no tables, just to shield us from all of the kids at nearby tables, since it was just wifey and I. Then, when the mosquitoes started to attack, he fetched us bug spray. And when my wife got cold, he cuddled with her. KIDDING. I was just seeing if you were paying attention.

As for the food, the panzanela salad was a bit of a miss. Pretty basic and not all that flavorful. Whereas both the pizza and the rigatoni proved to be pretty damn skippy for Turktalian. Perhaps that’s the upside of having roots back in good ole NYC.

The rigatoni is Sicilian style with beef tenderloin and eggplant in a nice red sauce that is only made nicer by the addition of chili oil- so be sure to ask for some. And the pizza was the Salsiccia. Part veal sausage, part green peppers and caramelized onion, and 100% all right, all right (to be read like Matthew McConaughey).

So nothing epic, to be fair, but it held its own against the likes of Vespa, which is the only other pizza place I trust in the Bodrum area. And our server really did go above and beyond, pulling in one extra knife for Mezzaluna all by his big, bad self.

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The Ultimate Baklava

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I’m nuts about Baklava. So much so that it forces me to write involuntary puns. The thing I suppose I love most about it is that it’s like a textural amusement park in your mouth with the light, flaky phyllo dough and the crunchy pistachios or walnuts or hazelnuts (depending on who’s making it), all packed in so densely it’s almost like mortar. Then you’ve got the sticky, syrup or honey holding it all together like Elmer’s. There’s so much effort crammed into every square centimeter you’d almost have to be an asshole not to appreciate it. That said, my two Ultimates aren’t exactly what one would call traditional baklavas. But this is my blog and as far as I’m concerned they are close enough.

Gulluoglu – New York, NY

The true name of the first Ultimate is actually sutlu nuriye, which means “glory with milk” and I concur. Glorious it is. And milky. Giving it a creaminess that most other baklavas lack. I’m sure we’ve all had our share of dry baklava and I think we can all agree it’s unacceptable. But not to worry here, because Gulluoglu doubles down on moisture with ample doses of syrup and milk, turning these magical blocks of brilliance into both the dessert itself and the glass of milk to wash it down, at the same time. Top that Momofuku Milk Bar!

Yalçin – Gölkoy, Turkey

Considering the Ottoman Empire birthed the dish, it only makes sense that after hundreds of years of tinkering there would be droves of baklava variations. And while they are inherently similar in many ways, the slight nuances from one to another can make all the difference. Be it in proportions, textures or flavor. And then you have to factor in who’s making it. In this particular case, it’s a little bakery right on the main strip in Golkoy called Yalçin, and the baklava of which I speak is called sarigi burma (pictured), which means “sultan’s turban dessert.” I assume the name is derived from the twisted appearance of the dish, which vaguely resembles a turban, coupled with how amazing it is, thus a dessert worthy of a sultan. And if ever there were a baklava deserving of royal billing, it’s ironically the one served up by a surprisingly humble-looking bakery. Their secret lies in not overdoing the sweet honey, but also in the densely rolled shreds of green pastry that almost resemble round bails of hay more than a turban, but I’m guessing that didn’t sound as sexy to the marketing team.

Midyeci Sehmus Usta

Şehit Uğur Öztop Cad. Gündoğan, TK 48965 • +90 535 9492313sehmususta.com

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This is not just a restaurant, this is a movie in the making about a kid who comes from nothing and manages to build an empire… out of stuffing mussels with rice. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be a great movie, but it is truly inspiring to see what this man, Sehmus, has managed to achieve since 1981, when he first started selling midye dolma (stuffed mussels) out of a street cart. A head-scratching concept to say the least, because shellfish from a barrel on wheels sounds like the recipe for E.coli if ever I heard one. In fact, back when my wife and I first visited Bodrum together nearly 15 years ago, she tried to get me to try the mussels from one of the street carts and I looked at her like she had seven heads. Granted they were all very pretty heads, but seven nonetheless. That said, after trying a small sampling of three, I immediately ordered another dozen. And every year the number has grown exponentially to 24, 30, 40- even 50 pieces in a single order. Praise be Sehmus! I have seen the light!

And I’m not the only one. Somehow this mussel man (see what I did there?) managed to assemble a family owned and operated network of street carts stretching from Izmir all the way to Bodrum and everything in between. A veritable army of street vendors all carrying a product so consistently great they could give Penn Tennis Balls a run for their money. Too obtuse? Penn used to have a long running ad campaign about how “amazingly consistent” they were. But I digress.

Which brings me to today. Finally, the man, the myth, the legend, has decided to settle down, planting roots with his first brick and mortar restaurant, located in Gundogan, serving up mussels in every way shape and form. In fact, the menu almost reads like that scene in Forrest Gump where he goes on and on about all the ways you can cook shrimp.

But fret not, because the dolma are still the best on Earth. And if you’re not close to Gundogan, that’s okay too, because the army of street vendors is still on the march.

One caveat, however. The rest of the menu doesn’t quite hold up to the dolma. The midye casserole is just okay- be sure to ask for it aci (spicy) and without cheese (one of those rare dishes that’s better sans). Another zag from expectations is that I much preferred the fried calamari over the grilled variety, which is rare for me. And last but not least, the seafood with rice was also a big snoozer. But hot damn are those dolma good! So go for those, some raki or Efes, and eat so many you turn yourself into a dolma. Sage advice if ever it existed.

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Kabuk

Merkez Mh., Tilkicik Cd., 48990 Bodrum, Turkey • +90 252 385 5431 • kabukrestaurant.com

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Having read a glowing article about Kabuk, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to try something new, away from the scene (and the squawking parrots) that has become the Yalikavak Marina. And I have to say, box checked. The setting is tastefully done, set back from the waterfront, but still overlooking the sea with a beautiful trellis and strung lights overhead.

The attention to detail doesn’t stop there either with their starfish embroidered table linens, solid wine list and inventive cocktails such as their frozen, blended-to-order peach belini and an “interesting” wasabi martini made with Russian Standard and complete with a strip of seaweed floating on the surface.

Come the food, they start by offering up what appears to be an amuse bouche (more on this later) of grilled jumbo shrimp and a basket of bread with a wonderful herbed dipping oil. Not only does it make the bread sing, it makes the shrimp dance as well.

After that came the Kabuk salad made light and refreshing with the addition of fresh chunks of peach. Definitely recommend this as it is the only solace from shellfish on menu, between the bread and dessert.

As for the shellfish options, while extremely pricey, I also thought they were very good for being non-Turkish preparations. The tagliatelle with langoustines was nailed- granted the plural billing of this dish is a bit of an over-promise because there was only half of one langoustine. But at least it was perfectly cooked with a killer kickin’ red sauce.

So Italian done, but what about Spanish? Well, I’ve definitely had better paella’s but I’ve also had worse. And I hate to say it, but Kabuk topped the master himself, Thomas Keller, because the paella at Ad Hoc was pathetic. I also like the presentation, served in a paella pan (of course), but over an open flame with a giant wooden rice spoon.

For the grand finale, the pumpkin sorbet presentation is insane! Served as a flaming sorbet mountain, they carve each portion off of the summit for your amusement. And while all of this pomp and circumstance seems like it might’ve been with the agenda of distraction, the sorbet was actually pretty darn good.

Riding high now on the four knife express, suddenly things went off the rails. The check came. And while we knew the place was pricey (hell, the crab legs on the menu were 780 TL!!! That’s $275 US!!! ), the bill seemed a bit higher than our order, drawing attention back to the “amuse bouche,” which was ringing in at a whopping $9 per shrimp! Now, I’m not exactly one to wince at paying through the nose for food, after all, I’m used to dropping coin at Keller, Barber and Boulud restaurants, but when you present something as if it’s courtesy of the chef, you are misrepresenting things if you then intend to charge for it. Plus, to charge that kind of price for overcooked, under-seasoned shrimp that only tasted worthy with the help of the herbed oil (intended for the bread), then you’ve got some serious balls.

But not only did Kabuk go sleazy on this move, they doubled down on the sleaze when we brought it up to the manager, who made us feel like we were being cheapskates as opposed to taking any ownership in the miscommunication. So much for “the customer is always right.” And so much for four knives, because that definitely cost them one. It will also cost me ever going there again. Or recommending that you should ever go there either. However. to sandbag Kabuk with one or two knives is a bridge too far. I’d be pulling the amateur shit I hate so much about Yelp reviewers, so I refuse go there. I enjoyed the meal. Just not the ending. Sort of like the movie Heat, in restaurant form. So three knives it is… but with a ginormous asterisk.

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Vespa

Neyzen Tevfik Cad. • Marina Yacht Club, 48400 Bodrum, Turkey • +90 252 3161228

Vespa-Restaurant

Regardless of how good the food is in Turkey, if you are spending any length of time there, eventually you are bound to suffer from meze and fish fatigue. This is when I like to mix it up with something like Ox Burger or Vespa.

Vespa is a very capable pizza joint (and night club) located right on the marina, like so many other restaurants in the greater Bodrum area, however in Bodrum proper it’s pretty rare to be on the boat side of the road West of the castle, which they are. And which is nice.

Service is usually a tad rushed because the place seems to be packed every night. Guess we’re not the only ones who get meze fatigue?

The food, as I intimated already is solid. And I mean that only by Turkish standards. I mean c’mon, it’s not like you can compare it to Roberta’s or Grimadli’s, but for the Bodrum area in Turkey it does quite well. Not that pizza is the most foreign of cuisines to Turks, after all, the Romans did in fact consider Turkey part of home once upon a time. And with dishes like lahamacun and pide, who are we kidding, they are basically pizza-like objects already. But I don’t want to discount anything here either. If making pizza was easy, everyone would do it. Yet only Vespa seems to get the important alchemy of sauce and crust.

And having had many a pie here I can confidently say that they are pretty consistent, so feel free to let your cravings guide you. Salads are also good, but a little more on the simple side. Nothing too inventive. Just the classics. In fact, the only twist I recall seeing on the menu is a pie with sucuk on it (spicy Turkish sausage). Not exactly revolutionary, but a nice local spin on a tried and true. And that right there sums Vespa up in a nutshell. Tried and true and never disappoints.

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