Midyeci Sehmus Usta

Şehit Uğur Öztop Cad. Gündoğan, TK 48965 • +90 535 9492313sehmususta.com

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This is not just a restaurant, this is a movie in the making about a kid who comes from nothing and manages to build an empire… out of stuffing mussels with rice. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be a great movie, but it is truly inspiring to see what this man, Sehmus, has managed to achieve since 1981, when he first started selling midye dolma (stuffed mussels) out of a street cart. A head-scratching concept to say the least, because shellfish from a barrel on wheels sounds like the recipe for E.coli if ever I heard one. In fact, back when my wife and I first visited Bodrum together nearly 15 years ago, she tried to get me to try the mussels from one of the street carts and I looked at her like she had seven heads. Granted they were all very pretty heads, but seven nonetheless. That said, after trying a small sampling of three, I immediately ordered another dozen. And every year the number has grown exponentially to 24, 30, 40- even 50 pieces in a single order. Praise be Sehmus! I have seen the light!

And I’m not the only one. Somehow this mussel man (see what I did there?) managed to assemble a family owned and operated network of street carts stretching from Izmir all the way to Bodrum and everything in between. A veritable army of street vendors all carrying a product so consistently great they could give Penn Tennis Balls a run for their money. Too obtuse? Penn used to have a long running ad campaign about how “amazingly consistent” they were. But I digress.

Which brings me to today. Finally, the man, the myth, the legend, has decided to settle down, planting roots with his first brick and mortar restaurant, located in Gundogan, serving up mussels in every way shape and form. In fact, the menu almost reads like that scene in Forrest Gump where he goes on and on about all the ways you can cook shrimp.

But fret not, because the dolma are still the best on Earth. And if you’re not close to Gundogan, that’s okay too, because the army of street vendors is still on the march.

One caveat, however. The rest of the menu doesn’t quite hold up to the dolma. The midye casserole is just okay- be sure to ask for it aci (spicy) and without cheese (one of those rare dishes that’s better sans). Another zag from expectations is that I much preferred the fried calamari over the grilled variety, which is rare for me. And last but not least, the seafood with rice was also a big snoozer. But hot damn are those dolma good! So go for those, some raki or Efes, and eat so many you turn yourself into a dolma. Sage advice if ever it existed.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Mussels

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Midye Dolma Carts & Sehmus– Bodrum, TK

During the Summer, throughout the Bodrum area, there are these guys walking around with street carts, loaded with mussels. Now, if you are half sane, mollusks are probably the LAST street meat you’d ever want to risk your life with, but please hear me out.

These mussels are called midye dolma (stuffed mussels) and they cooked, stuffed with rice and spices, closed back up and then chilled. All of this happening back in Izmir where the family catches the mussels and prepares them. Then, they load up their sons (it would seem they have outdone the old lady who lived in a shoe) with these mussels and send them off throughout the Turkish Riviera.

So, should you happen to see one of these guys, don’t think it’s some rinky dink operation. And especially don’t pass them by. Get yourself a dozen, squeeze some lemon over the top and order yourself a glass of white wine or raki. I will bet my foodiness that about halfway through you will be ready for another dozen.

Yamashiro – Los Angeles, CA

Most people come to Yamashiro for the view. I go for the mussels. I mean sure, the view is spectacular and the grounds are impeccable, but the Seven Spice Mussels are seventh heaven. Forget the sushi. Forget the fact that Jason Priestley once took Jennie Garth here for a date on 90210. Just remember to get the mussels if you should ever go here.

L’Ondine – Cannes, FR

The place is very unassuming from a culinary aspect as you would likely discount it as just a beach that happens to serve food, but assumptions are like really annoying phrases that you’ve heard all your life so I’ll spare you. That said, park your assumptions on the Croisette because the Moules Frites here is phenomenal.

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

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

Balaboosta

214 Mulberry St. New York, NY 10012(212) 966-7366balaboostanyc.com

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Having been a HUGE fan of the Taiim Falafel truck for years, I finally made my way to Balaboosta and it did not disappoint.

First, I love the décor. Nothing fancy or lavish, but done in a way so as to hint to its name. Balaboosta means “homemaker” and there are accents in the dining room to suggest just that- that you are in someone’s home. The shelves speckled with knickknacks and books and wine. Or over the kitchen pass through, jars of pasta and beans as though you were in someone’s kitchen. All done tastefully, not gimmicky.

Then there’s the service, which we also loved. Our waiter was great with the recommendations, friendly and attentive.

And most importantly, the food. By far the best thing we had was the ceviche served with mint, hot peppers and pistachios. Such a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. In second place, a three-way tie. The Hana cocktail made with arack is VERY nice, especially for those who like Turkish Raki (which we do). Another hit was the short rib empañada which is moist and marinated with a yogurt sauce inside. And the last member of the tie, the banana bread pudding with frozen yogurt for dessert. I am a sucker for bread pudding and bananas so admittedly I was an easy target on this one.

Bringing up the rear would be the salad with artichokes, which was good, but it is just a salad. The crispy cauliflower which is also good, but it’s quite large and not as good as the reviews crack it up to be. If you truly want a dish like this to rock your world ask for the off menu version at Tamarind. Or the cauliflower version that Illili makes when B-sprouts are out of season.

Oh, and the rib eye skewers, which were cooked perfectly, I will concede, but a touch boring by comparison to everything else.

But putting all the small nits aside, Balaboosta deserves mad mazels- especially on that ceviche.

4 teeth