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. 

 

 

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.

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

 

Periyali

35 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 463-7890periyali.com

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Having just been to Greece last summer I was entering with a healthy dose of “food tude.” Hey, I kinda like that. Ferocious Foodie TM!

And while décor and service failed to impress, the food rose above expectation. Not that the menu is anything inventive. Truth be told it’s all of the usual suspects from octopus to mousaka and souvlaki to baklava.

Our meal started off with an amuse bouche of sorts, a Greek bruschetta is about the only way I can describe it. Crostini topped with feta tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. I’m not exactly sure why they offer it though. It’s not inventive, nor amazing. And if it’s simply to give you a little taste of something before your meal arrives, it would seem that the olives and bread would handily suffice. Instead, it only serves as a failed attempt to reach for a class of dining they simply aren’t.

After that we split a Greek salad that passed as ruffage and an octopus, which did everything it was supposed to, clean and simple and perfectly tender, yet somehow it just didn’t reach tentacle supremacy.

Oddly enough though, the whole branzino, while not too unlike the octopus, with its classic Mediterranean prep, proved to be spectacular! So flavorful and buttery. I haven’t loved a fish this much since Dory in Finding Nemo and I’ve had more than my fair share of whole fish, being that it’s practically the official meal of Turkey and I fancy myself to be an honorary Turk by association.

Bringing up the rear was the walnut cake and ice cream, which nosed out the baklava as our choice for dessert. In hindsight, I think I’d go baklava next time, because the walnut cake was a bit of a let down after experiencing the one at Gato. This one was a little on the dry side and desperately needed the ice cream to give it the moisture it was lacking.

On the boozy end of things, there are several tasty, affordable wine options and some on the pricier side well. We went with the Burnello, more on the pricier end, and it was excellent. Additionally, they complemented our dessert course with a complimentary dessert wine, which I also enjoyed.

All in all, I liked Periyali, but not enough to rush back. There are droves of better Mediterranean restaurants in the city and two right in the Flatiron alone, Almayass and Ilili, granted both of those are more middle eastern then Mediterranean, but the lines are so blurred between the two that it’s hard to tell where the tzatziki ends and the cacik begins.

3 teeth

Elia

Apellou 27 | Old town, Κos, GR 85300, Ελλάδα • +30-2242022133 • elia-kos.gr
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If you’re visiting Kos as quick, novel day trip or you’re simply stuck there on an unfortunate layover between ferries to a more desirable Greek island, fret not. There is a truly great restaurant to be found amidst the touristy madness. Elia is located in Old Town along the exact same strip of shit stores where you can buy everything from Kiss T-Shirts and Yankees baseball caps (who knows why?) all the way to Spartan replicas, ouzo bottles sporting boners and hordes of infused olive oils (which make more sense).

But once you set foot inside Elia, you feel as if you are finally in Greece and not some isle of commercialism and greed. While the front is charming with it’s wood cabinetry and shelves loaded with jars and containers, I recommend you sit in the back, further escaping into the dappled garden light where you can cool off and enjoy some of the best Greek you’ve ever had.

It started off with a bountiful basket of bread, olives and tapenade. The pitas are piping hot, fresh from the over, so we horked those down pretty fast.

Upon several waiter recommendations we also had some of the best tzatziki I’ve ever had served along side some of the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had, made with red peppers and olives in addition to the eggplant.

Then came an olive and feta pie he recommended, which came in almost empañada like pastries. Again, it was very good.

The consistency kept coming with the lamb kapamas which was a shank stewed in a wonderfully sweet cinnamon sauce. It was so friggin’ good I forced the entire thing down even though I was already full by the time it hit the table (the portions are so generous you can easily get 4 servings out of any of those three starters).

So after such an impressive performance I just had to press on. We asked for his reco on dessert as well, and while he said “of course the baklava,” he also said, if you want to try something much more unique, try the ice cream with sweet vegetables and fruit. Sweet vegetables? With ice cream? Okay, he had me. I’m always a sucker for something new.

Once again, Elia soared. Creamy, cold vanilla surrounded by eggplant, tomatoes, olives and cherries. All of them preserved in such a way as to retain their original flavor, while also managing to deliver enough sweetness to coexist with the ice cream. So different. So good.

And best of all, the price was extremely reasonable. And I’m not just saying that because the waiter treated us to two glasses of a delicious dessert wine, sort of like a Greek port. I am, however, giving Elia five knives because they didn’t miss a single note. And because they turned being stranded in Kos into lemonade.

5 teeth

Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

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While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

3 teeth

MP Taverna

One Bridge St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7854

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Out of the 4 different restaurants that have been in this space over the last 8 years, I would place MP in a tie for second place. ONE (RIP) takes first quite handily, and coincidentally, the decor is actually the most similar to ONE compared to Solera & Day Boat (the other half of the tie).

The service was great. Quick, but never pushy. With some good recommendations.

But as for the food, I found it a bit hit and miss and meh. For example, the fried calamari was quite bland. The octopus, while good, was nothing all that special. The sliders were also a solid good, but again, nothing off the charts. And the dip assortment was also just okay, with the exception of the humus-type dip, which was my first bite to reach OMG status.

As for entrees, I found the lamb shank to also be quite bland. As was the simple branzino. But I did enjoy the Greek Paella, made with orzo and lamb sausage. A nice inventive twist on a Spanish stronghold.

Then, came dessert and yet another miss. The baklava is definitely a pass, and a bit of a crime for a higher end Greek restaurant. But fortunately, we also ordered the chocolate halva. WOW was that good. The nuttiness with the chocolate and ice cream- whoever made this should be promoted to executive chef and take the reigns on everything else.

Oh, and last but not least, the sangria- also, you guessed it, good- not great.

Sorry MP, I had much higher hopes for you, considering how busy you’ve been. But I just couldn’t help wishing ONE was still around.

2 teeth

Pera

303 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017(212) 878-6301peranyc.com

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The stars are primarily for the food. The service is actually hit and miss. First time we went it was pretty slow. And by slow, I mean if we didn’t ask for things to be sped along, we’d still probably be there. But the second time we went it was as though they remembered us and redeemed themselves in spades. Hard to say until I go a third time for the tie-breaker.

As for the decor, it’s nice. Simple and elegant, but nothing too lavish either. And the crowd seems to be more business than pleasure. But VERY packed regardless. Not an open table in the place at 6:30pm on a Tuesday.

But forget about all of that, because the moment the bread hits the table, Pera shines. What I mean by that is the bread is like nothing you’ve ever had. Akin to a souffle, it is light and airy and served with crumbled feta that literally melts into the steam of the bread.

The dolma (stuffed grape leaves) are also solid. Made turkish style with currants, the way I like them.

And the dates wrapped in pastirma (Turkish sopressata) were also pretty awesome.

But then, the dark horse rode in. The fried calamari. A dish I’m seldom a fan of, so much so, that when my wife wanted to order it, I rolled my eyes. Well, I wound up eating a lot of crow on this one. And a ton of calamari along with it. It was easily the best I’ve ever had. By a wide margin. Served with hot peppers, chives and sucuk (spicy sausage).

Then for entrees, I had the Lamb Adana, which was solid. But nothing better than it is at other Turkish haunts in the city. That said if you’re craving lamb, I would skip it and go for the lamb “tacos.” HIGHLY recommend. Can’t decide which is more amazing, those or the fried calamari.

Also worthy of note, the salmon entree was excellent, especially considering it’s not a Turkish fish.

Now for the only two misses: I found the okra entree to be a touch bland. And for dessert, the chocolate volcano was just okay- shoulda gone with the Baklava. And I will… Next time.

4 teeth