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.

Cull & Pistol

75 Ninth Ave. New York, NY 10011(646) 568-1223 • cullandpistol.com

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Can I just say how much I love Chelsea Market? I mean as a foodie it’s like a dream in mall form. Fish markets, Italian markets, spice markets, meat markets, bakeries and restaurants lined up like culinary wishes come true. It’s a bit like Faneuil Hall in Boston, only cooler and less touristy. Not to mention less food courty. If you haven’t been you really need to take a stroll. And if you have been, but haven’t tried one of the restaurants yet, well, you need to do that too (Hale & Hearty Soups withstanding).

I did just that very recently at Cull & Pistol and I have to say, I was pleased & delighted. The vibe is fish shack chic and the service is surprisingly warm and friendly for NYC, from door to table and back again. Not many tables though, so I recommend making a rezzy or going at an off-hour.

Impressing the palate were some of the freshest oysters I think I’ve ever had. Granted I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising considering they are affiliated with the Lobster Place fish market next door. That said, I didn’t think they had as huge a selection as some other joints in town, but I think they are playing it for quality not quantity and quality they were. My favorite being from Osterville, MA funny enough, which is near and dear to my heart for other reasons as well, I spent many a summer there over the years.

If you don’t dig on the raw variety, however, I highly recommend their fried option, called Pistols on Horseback. Three fried oysters wrapped in prosciutto with crème fraíche and chives sitting atop a mini tortillas. I’m not sure why the name, but I’m pretty damn sure you’ll like ‘em.

The grilled octopus was one of the weaker dishes IMO, but most certainly not bad. Perhaps it’s more due to the fact that I’ve had some pretty astounding plates of pus lately and this was not amongst them.

For the main course I went right into the eye of the storm, ordering the highly acclaimed Connecticut Lobster Roll (pictured), well-knowing that head-to-head with Red Hook Lobster Pound this would most likely pale, and pale it did. Again, most definitely not bad by any distortion of logic, in fact, it was actually very good, but it’s also no Ultimate.

And for dessert, C&P ended strong with a very tasty slice of lemon meringue pie. Not too sweet, with that perfect punch of tartness, which is just how I like it. And like it I did, from the first bit to the last… and from Cull to Pistol… not that I have any idea what that even means.

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Maison Kayser

921 Broadway New York, NY 10010(212) 979-1600 maisonkayserusa.com

Maison-Kayser

I’m not sure what it is about this chain, but I really want to like it more than I do. And I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve eaten there for breakfast once, lunch twice, even from their prepared foods and bakery. But everything falls just short for me.

Worse still is that it’s sort of like a lesser version of it’s fellow Parisian transplant next door neighbor, Le Pain Quotidien, only with white tiles instead of wood, waiters dressed like mimes (without the face paint) and no communal tables, which I’ll file under the plus column. So how they’ve managed to expand as they have is beyond me.

Of all the things I’ve had there, there are only two worth ordering. The nicoise salad holds its own pretty nicely and the pre-prepared Iberico sandwich with manchego, Iberico ham, mission figs and mustard is pretty solid as far as pre-made sammies go. MUCH better than the tragically recommended saucisson (Le Rosette). Not sure what the peeps over at Thrillist were smoking when they wrote up that one, but I can assure it was potent and laced. It’s basically cured sausage and cornichon on a baguette with a little butter. Nothing more. And I mean nothing. It’s almost like something you would throw together in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter because these ingredients were all you had standing between you and starvation. And the pre-made Israeli couscous and wheat berry salads aren’t much better, lacking more flavor than melba toast. The plain kind. Without anything on it.

In the middle of the road, their truffled egg and asparagus tartine for breaky/brunch is neither here nor there nor anything I would ever order again… and neither is the fig, honey and goat cheese tartine on the lunch menu, because not only was it a big snore, it’s also no longer on the menu. Guess I wasn’t the only one. And that’s my issue with MK as a whole, serving up food you would never even think twice about again in your life, unless you had a cantankerous food blog where you reviewed restaurants and wanted to write a warning to people that the food sounds much better than it is. Wow, that was meta.

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