Simit Sarayi

435 5th AveNew York, NY 10016 • (929) 374-3237 • simitsarayi.com

For all intensive purpose the name basically translates to Bagel Palace. And a palace it is not. In Turkey it is essentially a Panera, a local chain of decent baked goods and other dishes. And if I was in Turkey I’d probably only give this place 3 knives, but that’s in Turkey. To have this in New York City on my walk to work, it is a godsend!

About once a month I go butt-wild and buy a double Noah’s Ark- four of everything. The spinach rose borek might just be my favorite thing of all. Warm it up with a dollop of plain yogurt and sliced tomatoes on the side and you’ve got yourself one of the easiest, bestest meals you could wish for.

I also loves me some su boregi, which is sort of like a savory kugel or sauceless, meatless lasagna. It sounds awful the way I’m describing it, but I promise it’s delish. Granted it’s even better at Gulluoglu on the East Side, but since Gulluoglu isn’t on my walk to work, this one is plenty good enough.

Their dill and feta buns are terrific too, which are pseudo pogaça-like. For those of you who don’t find the poaça analogy helpful, it’s a small, savory pastry filled with herbs and cheese.

Ironically the top billing, the simit, can be a bit of a wild card. Sometimes it’s true to the motherland, thin and dense and seeded galore. Other times it tries to masquerade as a wannabe sesame bagel. I prefer the former.

On the sweet side, they also kick some serious ay çöreği, a crescent-shaped, semi-sweet dessert filled with ground hazelnuts that are so dense they almost taste like chocolate. Then, they top it off with sliced almonds.

All of the little cookies are money too. Perfect for çay sati (tea time). They have chocolate chip, Nutella filled, hazelnut and fig. You really can’t go wrong. And that’s what I love about this place. You could throw a dart anywhere in the joint and still be happy with what you got to eat, unless you hit the cashier, of course.

The Original Pancake House

22 E Bellevue Pl. Chicago, IL 60611 • (312) 642-7917originalpancakehouse.com

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Amidst the like likes of Prada, Ted Baker, Jil Sander and Armani you will find an oddly located, old-school pancake house smack dab in the middle of the Viagra Triangle (it gets its name from the fact that there are a lot of wealthy, older gentlemen partaking in high class escort services in the hotels that triangulate this area).

Hookers aside, there really is some great shopping to be had and if you want to hit the stores early, there are few places that are better to power up than The Original Pancake House (which technically isn’t the original, which opened in Oregon). But “early” is the key word here people, because not only does the early bird get the worm, it also gets a table without having to wait an hour.

Yes, this place packs ‘em in all these years later because they have a good thing going and they keep it that way. Been almost twenty years between the last time I visited and just now and they haven’t lost a step.

My strong recommendations are the pancakes, obviously, and specifically the pumpkin pancakes when in season (they are pretty famous for their apple pancakes as well). But the other call that might seem less obvious are the baked eggs. I’m not sure how they do it, but they bake their omelets instead of frying them and while you might think that would make them less flavorful, it’s quite the contrary. They are chock full and fluffier than a Pomeranian after losing a battle with a blow dryer. So pick whichever one tickles your fancy from veggie to western to spinach and feta- it doesn’t matter. It’s all good and probably the best thing you can buy in the neighborhood for under $100. That was intended to be a shopping joke, not about the escorts. Although I suppose it covers both.

5 teeth

Mmm Enfes

70 W 39th St, New York, NY 10018 • (212) 827-0801 • mmmenfesnyc.com
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As I have stated before, I’m not typically a fan of build-your-own concepts, because I sort of feel like it’s the restaurants job to come up with interesting combinations. Otherwise I could just make it myself. But since it was their way or no gozleme ( hey that rhymes!), I shelved my principles and started pointing at everything like a kid in a candy store. Spinach, cheese, olives, hot peppers, corn, mushrooms, more spinach and more cheese… And ya know what I learned that day? I make a damn good gozleme foreman.

And to drink, they have ayran, which is a salty yogurt-based drink that goes perfect with spicy food and even perfecter on hot days. So the fact that it was both, made that ayran go down like an elixir.

3 teeth

The Picnic Basket

 65 W 37th St. New York, NY10018 • (212) 382-262 • thepicnicbasketnyc.com
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The name is about the only thing charming about this place, so don’t be fooled. It’s nothing more than a galley lined with a few tables on each side that funnel you towards a counter flanked by refrigerator cases and menu boards. So not the place you want to come to for a sit down lunch if you as me. Grab ‘n go is the way to go.

To drink I had the green pear tea and lemonade because as we all know by now I dig on the AP (Arnold Palmer).

As for the sandwiches, I think I preferred the houlumi over the French Goat Cheese, mostly due to the bread. The houlumi being served on a warm, toasty, crunchy ciabatta. Whereas the goat is on a fresh baguette, which has its charms, but in a knife fight against ciabatta, it loses that battle nine times out of ten.

The ingredients on both sammies, however, fails to impress, especially when you have over-achievers like Untamed and No. 7 just blocks away. So, not sure why this place boasts the crowd or reviews that does, but I’m also baffled that Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, so what the hell do I know?

2 teeth

Tick Tock Diner

481 8th Ave. New York, NY 10001(212) 268-8444ticktockdinerny.com

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Unofficially, I believe the name is derived from the fact that if you eat here, the clock is running on how much time you have left to live. Okay, so that’s probably not entirely true. It’s probably how much time before you become ill, which for me was only a matter of seconds, stepping in to the sauna-like dining room, which a term way too nice for whatever this was. “Eating area” I will call it.

So, the eating area is actually quite packed during the breakfast rush, for reasons which escape me entirely, because the food is god awful. Granted our career waitress who has been there since the day it opened 17 years ago was very nice. And apparently she squeezed the oranges herself to make the fresh squeezed orange juice I ordered. The issue, however, is that you need to start with good oranges in order to get good juice. After all, it’s not like the process of fresh squeezing miraculously transforms a pile of shit oranges into liquid gold. Thus, the fresh squeezed orange juice was plus rapidly turned minus.

And equally tragic was the Greek omelet, which was so disappointing it almost rivaled the economic issues in Greece as the lowest point in the nation’s modern day history. Filled with feta, spinach, olives and tomatoes it was so flavorless I could’ve closed my eyes and had someone told me it was a plain omelet, I wouldn’t have even questioned it. I guess this place is as terrified of salt as they are of buying fresh produce?

Suffice it to say, this place isn’t going to be raking in the knives, so if you are already sitting in the eating area and are reading this now, get out while you still can! Tick tock!!!!

1 tooth

Proper Brick Oven & Tap Room

139 7th St. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 281-5700properpittsburgh.com

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Proper indeed. I mean I knew they probably had game when I saw that a Brooklynite had given them five stars on Yelp, but I gotta give mad props to Proper for a slew of killer pies. Not to mention good salads and their candy bacon, which is to die both for and from. We only did take out though, so I can’t speak to the décor or service, but resounding praise is in order for the crust, sauce, toppings and sides.

Starting with the highs of the pies, I’d rank the prosciutto with Turkish figs and feta right at the tippy top, and that’s not just the honorary Turk in me talking. It really was harika (Turkish for “The Best”), so maybe it is the Turk in me talking.

A close second would be the Yelp revered Carnivore made with ample helpings of meat, obviously. But this pie is more about quality than quantity, which is why it was so good. Also, a pie with sausage and pepperoni is normally about as oily as the Exxon Valdez, but not this one. The Carnivore knows how to keep it under control. Respect.

In third I’d go with the Mediterranean pie, made with whole olives (not sliced), artichokes, arugula and feta. It’s like a Greek salad on top of a pizza and it’s, like very good.

And bringing up the rear for me would be the old staple, the Margherita. It’s good, but compared to the other pies, it’s a bit of a snooze. And I’m not just saying that because I’m incapable of appreciating the simple beauty of a Margherita. It’s just that when you distill a pizza down to just sauce, cheese and crust, all three have to be that much more impressive to impress.

But speaking of impressively simply things, Oh Lordy was the candy bacon that and then some. Two boxes of it disappeared no sooner than they hit the table, like dipping a cow in the piranha-infested Amazon River. Which will only make my next sentence laughable, because the salads were actually very good too, but after candy bacon, what are we talking about? Well, what we are talking about is an apple, walnut, dried cranberry and feta salad that far surpassed most pizza joint expectations. In fact, Proper did that handily across the board, and I’m not just saying that because it’s in Pittsburgh… Okay, that’s a flat out lie. I am TOTALLY saying that because it’s in Pittsburgh. Nicely done Proper. Consider me officially stupefied.

4 teeth

Karakoy Lokantasi

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Kemankeş Cd No:37/A, İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 292 4455 • karakoylokantasi.com
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Karakoy is the dark horse of Istanbul if you ask me, which suits it nicely since the direct translation of its name is “dark village.” Such an unlikely, industrial waterfront turned so hip it could easily give Brooklyn a run for its money, filled with one incredible restaurant after another, a stunning, refurbished Hamam turned spa, and unique boutiques speckled throughout.

Yet, amidst all of the funkier, cooler restaurants there lies a much lower key option, not trying too hard to live on the edge, delivering all your classic meze with excellent service and a simple, inviting, understated (comparatively) décor.

That said, the mezes themselves were a bit on the hit and miss side, not quite living up to the raves. My favorite being the smoked bonito fish with red onion (lakerda). Perhaps it’s the latent Jew in me, responding to the reminiscent flavors of sable and red onions atop a bagel and cream cheese… Cue Homer Simpson drooling noises.

After that, both the mustard pickled levrek (sea bass) and the grilled octopus proved to be a solid yum, while the yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves) and sigara boregi (phyllo dough stuffed with feta) proved to be nothing memorable.

The only flat out miss was the midye dolma (stuffed mussels), which is normally my favorite meze of all mezes. But I have to say these might’ve been the worst I’ve ever had. I mean they really shat the seabed on this one. So much so that they should foot the bill to fly in Sehmus, the Midye Whisperer of Bodrum, to teach them how it’s done.

But back on a positive note, the cacik (yogurt and herbs) was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. Granted I like the more soupy version well- okay, I like practically anything with yogurt, but this was definitely on the better end of the cacik spectrum. In fact the only other I can claim was as good was at Beyoglu in New York. Also, the fig dessert (pictured) with kaymak was pretty tasty as well.

So not exactly an out-of-the-way must. And I can’t say I’m even sure that it’s better than the scads of much cooler looking places all around it, but after a glass or two of Ala Yeni Raki who even cares?

3 teeth

 

Delicatessen

Kısıklı, Mim Kemal Öke Cad. No:19 Istanbul, TK(0212) 225 0604 • http://www.delicatessenistanbul.com/
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Set amidst the Fifth Avenue shopping scene of Istanbul you will find a number of interesting looking places to spend you money on something other than high fashion. One such place being Delicatessen. A contemporary take on the name with its glass cases filled with goodies both savory and sweet, made hipster by its industrial steel and brick décor.

Within those cases, unfortunately lie offerings that are a bit hit and miss, at least by human standards. The army of street cats that will descend upon your table at the first sight of food will beg to differ. But assuming you’re human, because as I understand it most cats don’t read, here is the breakdown of do’s and don’ts:

For starters I highly recommend the inventive twist on the Turkish classic, sigara boregi (warm cigar-shaped, feta-stuffed pastries), only Delicatessen jazzes them up with the addition of marinated porcini mushrooms, making them more interesting and better than most I’ve had. On the flip side, their attempt at an Italian staple, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola and balsamic was less successful. The pear wasn’t ripe enough and cut too thick, so it overpowered everything else in the dish.

But far worse than the prosciutto was the filet and mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly thin and yet they STILL managed to under cook it. Which might not have been so bad had the quality of the meat been up to snuff, but it was sinewy and not worthy of human consumption. So, I fed the uncooked portion to one of the street cats.

Now after the steak one might assume that I cut my losses and avoided any further transgressions on the dessert course, but making an ass of you and especially me, I went for the blackberry cobbler in the dessert case because admittedly it did look pretty good. And pretty good it was, served warm and a la mode. Just not good enough to save this place from the meek knife count.

2 teeth

Catch

 Hotel Casa Del Mar • 1910 Ocean Way Santa Monica, CA 90405 • (310) 581-7714http://www.bytheblueseasantamonica.com/restaurants-catch.html

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Catch is quite the…well, catch. Easily the best restaurant of the Pico-Ocean Hotel Trifecta (Casa Del Mar, Shutters & The Viceroy). One, Coast and Whist simply don’t hold a candle.

For lunch I strongly suggest the lobster BLT. Now obviously it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster and bacon on a bun, but there are nuances that differentiate goodness from greatness. The lobster is moist and tender. The bacon crisp. And the avocado creamy. All met with the sweet airiness of the brioche and you’ve got the makings for a super sammy. Creamy and crunchy. Savory and sweet.

For dinner you will be surprised to hear that the sushi is pretty on point. Granted in LA you can almost get great sushi at a gas station, so perhaps it’s not that surprising. The rest of the menu isn’t half bad either, offering up things from land and sea like a delicious grilled octopus and a watermelon, feta salad that’s more refreshing than meeting a waiter in LA who isn’t also an actor.

3 teeth

Jean-Georges

1 Central Park W. New York, NY 10023(212) 299-3900jean-georges.com

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I know a lot of people say this restaurant is hit or miss, but for us, it was a HUGE hit. I mean every course was excellent on two different tasting menus. A feat for any restaurant with just one tasting menu, much less two. In fact, I have yet to experience the same success rate anywhere else in the world with the exception of Bouley, but even that was only one menu, not two.

But it wasn’t just the food, the service was impeccable. The decor, nice. And the wine list extensive. Sure it’s pricey, but it’s a meal I will remember for the rest of my life. Partly because it was such a simple tasting menu for a French restaurant. Nothing complicated or elaborate, nothing drowning in sauces. Just really fresh ingredients that shined on their own- complemented only by other ingredients that raised the dish to a sum greater than its parts. I would share the details more thoroughly, but the menu constantly changes, and what we had is long gone, sad to say. But trust me when I do say this, it is twice as good as its competitor across the street, Per Se. I’ve been there too, and it pales by comparison.

Okay, okay… So I’ll give you one dish as an example. The Caprese Salad. Nothing more than a gigantic beefsteak tomato with the circumference of a softball, topped with crumbed feta and garden fresh raspberries. This is all then drizzled with one of the best olive oils and an aged balsamic that turn what is seemingly banal into simply bang on.

And to cap the night, they offered dessert flights. A series of five mini berry desserts all on one plate . Or chocolate, etc… We were so torn, they brought out all three for us to enjoy at no extra charge for my wife’s birthday. And a happy one it was. Primarily because we were still able to fit out the door.

5 teeth