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.

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

Contra

138 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002 • (212) 466-4633contranyc.com

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Well, Contra definitely lived up to its name, because it was the total opposite of what I was expecting. Unfortunately, I was expecting greatness the likes of Momofuku Ko. Or at least spots of brilliance the likes of The Musket Room. Well, no dice on either account.

The disappointments started early, first by making us wait over 30 minutes for our table, with a reservation. A duration I haven’t had to endure at restaurants far more popular and worthwhile. But while we waited, naturally I perused the menu to see what exciting dishes lied ahead, and that was the first sign of trouble. Not a single course sounded interesting. So much so that we were certain to pay the extra money for the bread, because at least that looked promising, by comparison to the plates passing us by. And it was. Definitely worth ordering. That said, don’t listen to your servers who will tell you that one order only serves two people. Sure, if that’s ALL they were eating for the night. For normal human beings one order will serve four people quite nicely.

Which brings me to my second gripe, the service. No one was technically rude in the normal sense, but the fact that I must’ve been bumped into by a dozen staff members throughout my dinner and didn’t receive a single apology or “excuse me” shows what kind of mettle they are made from. They did, however, show lots of concern as to why we weren’t finishing our courses- but perhaps those questions should’ve been redirected to the kitchen before serving such a pathetic string of losers.

It started with carrots and uni served over a bed of almond milk sauce and while it was interesting, it most certainly wasn’t amazing. And as tepid I may sound right now, this is actually one of the highlights of the meal.

Next up came the fluke. A relatively bland fish by all accounts, which usually allows chefs to wow you with their preparation of it. Well, no wows were to be found. The preparation was as bland as the fish, which wasn’t even cooked that well. For some of us it was overcooked, for others, undercooked, and no one had the Goldilocks version (just right).

Following the fluke came the biggest loser of the night, the chicken with “ham” and “chickpeas.” The reason the other two ingredients are in quotes is because they are nowhere to be found in this dish. Not by sight, nor taste. They say it is in the jus beneath the chicken, but if you buy that, I have a time machine toaster oven I’d like to sell you. On the plus side, I’d call this dish a win only for the fact that none of us wound up with salmonella poisoning, because the chicken was way pink.

After that came the two dessert courses, the first of which being strawberries and cream and to put it bluntly, you’d do better with a basket of strawberries and a tub of Cool Whip from Stop & Shop. Dead serious.

Fortunately, the last dish of the night showed some semblance of culinary skill but it was too little too late. And while I’d like to tell you about it, I don’t even recall what it was, because by that point I had lost so much interest I no longer cared. I just wanted to go home, call it a loss and lick my wounds, which by the way, were tastier than most of those courses. On the plus side, I hear Contra changes the menu often. Hopefully by tomorrow.

2 teeth

Finalmente Trattoria

31 Beekman Ave. Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591 • (914) 909-4787

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It certainly helps to come here with a healthy dose of skepticism, because 4/4.5 stars it ain’t. In fact, less than a handful of restaurants in all of Westchester are worthy of that kind of praise.

That said, Finalmente did give a solid showing. The dining room is cozy and tastefully done. And the menu is loaded with some very unique preparations.

For apps I had the suckling pig stuffed mushrooms with black truffles and chickpeas, which was a solid yum. The other app we had was a pseudo salad served with giant balls of breadcrumb-dusted cheese and a chianti jelly, which I also quite liked.

Next came the pastas. Both were perfectly al dente. I had the wild boar ragu and wifey had the straw pasta with peas, pancetta, and… I forget. Both were good, but I think mine was a tad more interesting.

And for dessert, we did the ole standby, gelato. The chocolate is AMAZING! Not sure if they make it or just buy it, but WOW! Actually, if they do buy it and you know from where, please do tell?

Unfortunately, the chocolate gelato was the only “wow” thing of the meal. But everything else was a very respectable “good,” and nothing was bad.

Service, however, was a tad off. Pleasant for sure, but pulled a few cardinal sins. The biggest one being that he came and took the bill while we were still seated at the table. A huge no, no if you are trying to play in the leagues of 4 and 5 stars.

The other nit would be no bread/olive oil. Pretty rare at an Italian joint to leave you without a single nosh until your apps arrive. Heck, even the Olive Garden gives you unlimited salad & bread sticks. What’s with the no hospitaliano.

So, as I said before, 4.5 stars (or in my case knives) is a bit of a stretch, but for 3.5 it’s pretty perfecto!

3 teeth