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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Upland

345 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010 • (212) 686-1006uplandnyc.com

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Once upon a time this place used to be called Manzanilla, a terrific restaurant that for some reason caught the venom of the New York Times food critic, and had to close its doors less than a year after a brutal and undeserving one star review. Which brings me to my next point- Manza-who? Just one bite of Upland’s porchetta and egg sandwich and I completely forgot all about what’s its face. Served up with a nice helping of hot peppers and placed on a wonderful mini ciabatta- it’s yabba dabba delicious!

But if the sandwich was hog heaven, the Eggs in Hell (pictured) can only be described as hedonistic. Fried and floating in a spicy marinara sauce that is bread-sopping bodacious. Such an inventive twist on huevos rancheros I almost find it hard to categorize it as such.

On the less inventive front, the pancakes are also quite good, but not quite as interesting as the other dishes. And lastly, the citrus salad with olive oil and bitter chocolate shavings was a little too simple for my tastes. Not that it wasn’t good, but it was a little too simple for even me, and I like simple. Just not so simple that I could make it at home, just as well, in less than five minutes. It is nice and refreshing though, especially next to the heavier plates.

Such a great meal I can’t wait to come back for lunch and dinner, because everything else on the menu looked pretty ridic as well. So glad this new tenet is as good as the old. Guess this space just has good restaurant juju?

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Glasserie

95 Commercial St. New York, NY 11222(718) 389-0640glasserienyc.com

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Being that it is currently a James Beard nominee, this was way up on my list of Brooklyn bites, so when the chance arose to dine here on an expense account, I was in Ferocious heaven.

Regrettably, heavenly is not exactly how I would describe the aroma upon entering. Rather the word dishwater comes to mind. Such a turn off right out of the gate to be hit by a wall of wafting stank from the kitchen opposite the foyer. Not great planning on that one. Nor on the chairs, which make you feel like you’re auditioning for the shrinking role in Alice in Wonderland. Fortunately the rest of the setting is nice, with its exposed brick, charming divided-light windows and mid-century touches, mixed with a little rustic industrialism.

In terms of food, I really appreciated the inventive fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Not that there isn’t already an inherent overlap between the two, but the way the chef blended those elements was truly original.

Not wasting any time, our painfully hip waitress delivered a series of wows, the biggest and Ultimatest being the flatbread with labneh. Served piping hot, so much so that no one could even tear it apart for the first several minutes. And the labneh (yogurt) is unbelievably thick and creamy, filled with a lagoon of wonderful olive oil and harissa. The grilled bread was also good, but next to the flat, it was Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

I also loved the mixed nuts with leblebi. The latter are dried, crunchy chickpeas that are popular during cocktail hour in Turkey. The olives were also nice. Home marinated I’m guessing, because the stems were still on many of them.

After that the courses started hitting the table fast and furious, with a lot of hits, but unfortunately a few misses as well. The hits for me would be the lamb sweetbreads, done grilled as opposed to fried, which I really liked. Feels like a more faithful preparation. The rabbit tacos were also quite nice, served in what I believe was a jicama taco shell. The stuffed cabbage was such a blast from my past that I almost had to love it. And it did Bubby proud, granted a much more inventive spin, made with hanger steak inside, as well as couscous.

In the middle of the field I would put the chicken entree, the leaves and leaves salad, the Syrian cheese plate (pictured) and the Brussels sprouts. All are good, but the fact that sprouts are on every friggin’ menu these days is growing a bit played. And while I appreciate the brown bag serving vessel, I can’t get past the “me too” factor. It’s like kale and Brussels sprouts are being mandated by some sort of foodie mafia overlord.

Bringing up the rear would be the cauliflower and the hanger steak. The former for being way too basic to the point where you could make as good or better at home, and the latter because it was undercooked and chewy, without enough flavor to make the jaw work worthwhile.

In terms of cocktails, they all sounded better than they tasted and the Arak, while served up on a silver platter, literally, is as basic as it gets at its core. The only inventive twist being an actual twist- and a shot grapefruit juice to mix in with your ice, water and anise booze. For a better Arak cocktail try the Hana at Balaboosta.

During dessert things went a little off the rails. The cookie assortment was easily the best. The ice creams went 1 for 3, pistachio being the only one anybody touched. The cardamom and tahini both melted in the bowl like a lonely Wicked Witch of the North. And the chocolate mousse was so bad it shat the bed, or should I say the diaper, which is what it looked like once you opened the bag, like a diaper with shit in it. Not sure what they were thinking on this one, or more than likely it was a lack thinking that lead to this abomination of presentation, but unless you want to test the fortitude of your constitution, I’d take a pass.

So while the performance most certainly ended on a foul note, the earlier winners were enough to carry it over the mid-line.

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The Ultimate Artichoke

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Osteria Enoteca San Marco – Venice, IT

Artichokes were a slow burn for me, I gotta be honest. For much of my life I didn’t even give them the time of day. But over the years they have grown on me. Not literally, because that would be freakishly gross.

But perhaps the single biggest reason why I changed my mind about the choke was this appetizer I had in Venice. Well, my wife ordered it, obviously. I just mooched. Heavily. Presented in a hockey-puck-shaped tower on the plate- these artfully marinated and grilled layers swirled into a force to be reckoned with. It’s hard to elaborate too much beyond that as they were only adorned with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. And therein lies the power of execution my friends. Great ingredients in perfect harmony along with a little crostini and belissimo!

Aromi

Mánesova 1442/78, 120 00 Praha 2-Vinohrady, Czech Republic
+420 222 713 222 • http://www.aromi.cz

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When in Prague, the temptation is to take in one of the amazing Czech bier gardens and in all honesty, should definitely do that too. However, if you find yourself growing tired of Eastern European fare, than I strongly urge you to take in one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in Europe. And strangely enough I’ve been to Italy twice and Aromi is better than 95% of the meals I had in Milan, Rome, Venice, Florence and Tuscany.

From a killer wine list to an amazing olive oil served with the bread, things started off with all systems go and not a hitch followed. Everything was delicious from the antipasti to the pastas, entrees and dessert. And for a land-locked country, even the seafood was excellent.

Service was friendly and attentive, offering great recommendations and the décor is warm and elegant, yet inviting enough to welcome even the most casual of diners.

It was easily my favorite meal in Prague- well, tied for my favorite, after all, bier gardens do have their merits.

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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.

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Manzo

200 5th Ave. New York, NY 10010 • (212) 229-2180 • eatalyny.com

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Having eaten at literally every other restaurant in Eataly, it was time to bite the bullet. And by bullet I mean absurd amounts of meat.

To start, just a quick nod to the excellent service. As for decor, it’s Eataly. So, unless you are prepared to sit amongst the chaos, you will not find this particularly nice or romantic. That said, it is offset in its own little corner, so it’s not quite as chaotic as the rest of the restaurants there.

Okay, now for the food… First, the the wine by the glass, the Montepulciano was excellent and went perfect with our meal. Gotta give a huge thumbs up to Eataly as a whole for offering solid “by the glass” options. So few places do. Also, the bread and olive oil were excellent. And the best part, you can go buy both in the market right after your meal.

Now for the main event: The Carne Crudo is a very solid good. So buttery and creamy. But I actually found that the crostinis competed with its flavor and that it went much better with the house bread, which allowed the quality of the dish to shine even brighter.

Next we had the Agnolotti and I practically melted in my seat along with the pasta as it exploded with beefy goodness in my mouth.

And for entrees, we split the pork belly and the NY strip. And while the strip was perfectly cooked with wonderful compliments, the pork belly was sheer artistry.

And last but not least, for dessert we had the bambolinos (beignets) and the chocolato. Both are great, but I’m a sucker for beignets, so they won as far as I’m concerned.

The only downside was that I was so full after lunch I didn’t eat again for the rest of the day. Or maybe that’s a good thing, because I’m not sure my arteries could’ve handle much more.

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Eataly

200 5th Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 229-2560 • eataly.com

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I see a lot of people struggling with their expectations for this place, hence the lower than normal reviews on Yelp for a Batali restaurant. That said, this isn’t a restaurant. It is more of a “market,” or as I like to call it, an Italian gourmet food bazaar. And personally, I think it’s the best thing Batali has ever done. By a wide margin. And I’ve eaten at 6 of his restaurants prior to this (Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Tarry Lodge, Mozza & Mozza Pizzeria).

Sure, the place is chaotic and noisy. But if you leave your preconceived notions back at your apartment and go with an open mind, you will see that chefs can be creative in other ways besides what’s on your plate.

That said, the food is excellent, and I have fully completed the rounds, eating at all seven (La Pizza, La Pasta, Verdure, Pesce, Manzo, La Piazza & Birreria) of the restaurants within Eataly, plus the sandwich counters, the fresh pasta counter, cheese case, patisserie, gelato shop and bakery. And this place never ceases to amaze. I mean just think about how difficult it must be to serve this kind of quality at that kind of scale- it’s a feat unlike any other and they pull it off day in and day out. I literally defy anyone to name a place that compares on both scale and quality. It just doesn’t happen. Because normally big means bad. So hats off to Eataly for being a delicious anomaly.

But most of all, I applaud Eataly for not making this place feel like a gimmick or theme restaurant. Granted, the name is quite tragic, but nobody’s perfect.

P.S. A few tips: 1) If you don’t know which olive oil to pick in the section toward the left rear corner, just lean over the aisle and ask someone coming out of  Manzo’s kitchen (their top of the line meat restaurant) which oil they are currently using. They are always kind to point it out, and it’s WAY better than what you’d get at O & CO, but for half the price. 2) Pawlet in the cheese case is incredible. As are many of their cheeses, including the taleggio, fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella and grana. If you get the ricotta, I highly recommend the almond honey (antipasta case right side of main hall) and a loaf of rustica from the bakery. 3) At the stand up restaurant in the center, do NOT get the fish sandwich written up in New York Magazine. I have no idea what that critic was thinking, but it is literally the ONLY thing I have ever hated at Eataly and Ive easily eaten here over 50 times.

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Kouzzina

The Boardwalk • 2101 Epcot Resort Blvd. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830(407) 939-5100 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations

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Oddly enough, the second best restaurant at Disney just happens to be right next door to the first (Flying Fish Café). Yes, Kouzzina actually lives up to the hype. And I have to give it extra props, because as far as celeb chef restaurants go, most of them fall horrendously short of expectations. For example Bobby Flay’s Americain and Mario Batali’s Babbo. But Cat Cora finally manages to convert her celebrity into something worthy.

Right out of the gate you can tell you are in for a treat with the stuffed grape leaves and grilled shrimp to the creamy hummus and fresh pita. Even the Greek olive oil, with it’s peppery finish. All of the above are all great. But the true stars came next…

All three entrees were phenomenal. The shortribs with a glass of Russian River Pinot Noir. The Branzino with the chili oil- such a great blend of Mediterranean and Thai influences. And the pork- which I didn’t actually try, but my mother wolfed it down amidst a symphony of “oohs” and “mmms.”

But could Cat stick the landing? Would dessert live up to its predecessors? Indeed. The chocolate “lava” cake was incredible. Skip the raspberry ice cream is comes with though. It cheapens the dish, which is plenty good all by itself. The other dessert, the baklava, was also good, but very non-traditional. Done more like a spring roll (again, mixing Asian influences). This one, however, is just okay by itself, so I do recommend having it with the cinnamon ice cream to get it over the hump of just “eh.”

So, after such a glowing review I’m sure you are wondering why only 4 stars and not 5- and that is because the rest of the experience was lack luster. The service was absolutely atrocious. She was nice and well-meaning, but a terrible fit for such a good restaurant. She should be a server at Chili’s or Applebee’s. Not here.

And the other big miss is décor. Fortunately we forced our way to a table outside, so if you make a rezzy, be sure to request outside, because inside feels like a dining hall, woefully lacking anything that resembles what some might call “décor.”

So, the good news is, if you eat outside and you get a better server than we did, you are quite likely to have yourself a five star meal. At Disney, no less!

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