The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

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Kazu Nori

15 W 28th St. New York, NY 10001 • (347) 594-5940 • kazunorisushi.com

The concept of this place is Japanese minimalism at its finest. No host. One bar. One offering. Hand rolls. Okay, so they have other things, but not many. It’s really intended to be all about the hand rolls and let me just say, mission accomplished. And not the George W. Bush bullshit kind of accomplished that leads to a twenty-year war and occupancy. I mean done and done. Fresh fish. Crispy kelp. Booyah!

So here’s how it works; when you enter, walk to the outer corral and wait in the queue for a spot at the bar (maybe peruse a menu on the wall while you’re there). Once the number of seats at the bar opens for your party, you sit down and order either a set meal (e.g. 3pc, 5pc, etc.) or you can go a la carte. I went with the six piecer and there wasn’t a single miss. Toro, salmon, yellowtail, crab, bay scallop and lobster. All on point and priced pretty darn reasonably for Manhattan.

I think I’m in love.

Hai Street Kitchen

230 Park Ave. New York, NY 10169 haistreetkitchen.com

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Have you ever found yourself eating a maki and thought, “hmm, if only this could be 20 times bigger? If the answer is yes, then you are about to go cuckoo for cocoa puffs, because that’s essentially the concept of Hai Street.

For example, the Slammin’ Salmon is not only fun to say, it’s also made with raw salmon tataki, rice, shredded carrots and cucumbers, gouchujong sauce and for two bucks extra wasabi guacamole, all wrapped in seaweed and cut in half so it looks like a pair of maki pieces gone preggers.

But is it any good you ask? Very. As is the lemonade and iced green tea, which I mixed to create, you guessed it, an Arnold Palmer. I’m so damn predictable.

3 teeth

Le Baoli

Port Pierre Canto Bd de la Croisette 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 43 03 43lebaoli.com

Le Bâoli - Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, France. Sushi and sashimi

As one might expect, the seafood in Cannes is pretty damn good as a norm, so it would only seem logical that perhaps the sushi in Cannes might also be quite exceptional, despite its unfavorable proximity to Japan. Well, it’s not. In fact, it’s god-awful. No, I think that’s sugar-coating it. I think it just might be the worst sushi can possibly be without getting you sick. I’m not kidding. I’ve had better sushi in the desert for Christ sake!

Everything was so flavorless I could’ve easily bitten off the tips of my chopsticks by accident and I would’ve never noticed the difference. From the rice to the seaweed to the fish (no matter whether it was salmon or tuna or anything else for that matter), it all tasted the same. Even the friggin’ wasabi didn’t help because it was just as bland as everything else!

Then, adding salt to the wound, which I suppose we should’ve put on the sushi, the service was shit and the music was so brutally loud that it took away from the fact that we were sitting on the beach overlooking the Mediterranean. But instead, we felt like we were a captive in the movie Saw.

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Nare Sushi

115 E 57th St. New York, NY 10022(646) 666-0061naresushi.com

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I only ordered take out from here based on the recommendations on Yelp, my craving for sushi and my desire to try someplace other than Hatsuhana, which I already know and love. Plus, I was intrigued by the Mozukusu, described as fresh caught seaweed with sweet soy and Japanese mountain yam. The “fresh caught” seeming to imply that the seaweed must try to escape in some fashion. I’m not exactly sure how, but I had to see for myself.

Sadly, the seaweed wasn’t flopping around like marlin on the line, but I do have to admit that it was the most interesting seaweed salad I think I have ever had. Granted it was also the goopiest, looking like something out of Ghostbusters. But if you just close your eyes and can work past the consistency, the flavors are really nice.

I wish I could say the same for the fluke sashimi (Usuzukuri), but I found it rather bland despite the ponzu sauce and spicy daikon radish.

And as for the edamame, yellowtail and tuna sushi, as well as the dragon roll, they were all reasonably good, but nothing beyond the expectations of your run of the mill NYC delivery sushi, making the four stars on Yelp seem a bit much by my ferocious standards.

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The Clocktower

5 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10010(212) 413-4300 • theclocktowernyc.com

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The Clocktower is so damn good, time stands still. From the moment you walk through the door, you are hit by a bar so insanely hip that you almost don’t want to head up the equally stylish spiral staircase. But please do, because b-b-b-b-b-baby you just ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Upstairs, the décor is simply magnificent. Like a grand, ritzy social club with high ceilings, huge rooms and stunning walls covered in a smattering of incredible black and white photography. And while the setting alone goes a long way in making you feel richer than you actually are, so does the staff, from waiters to hosts, you feel catered to like a Russian oligarch.

And that’s not just the booze talking, because I hadn’t even had a drink yet. But once I did, Whoa Nilly! I only tried two of the cocktails but both were excellent. The first going by the name The Cereal Killer, served in an old-fashioned mini milk bottle, complete with a red striped straw. It’s made with bourbon and Cheerios milk. Need I say more?

On the flip side from rich, the other end of the cocktail spectrum is nailed with comparable skill in the refreshingly light, Dill or no Dill. It’s comprised of gin, cucumber, lemon and dill, of course. Speaking of which, I love the touch they add to the glass with a teeny, tiny clothespin on the rim holding a sprig of fresh dill to the brim.

While we’re on the topic of hooch, the wine list is quite impressive as well, although the majority of the options are a bit steep ($200+), but luckily there are some solid affordable options on the list, even if they’re the minority. Like the Prisoner Cabernet blend (Syrah and Zin both play supporting roles) which I only just discovered days earlier. Great wine and an even better deal.

Firing on all cylinders, the food proves to be every bit as exquisite as its surroundings, plated with an architect’s eye, the presentations keep wowing one after the other, as do the bites. The first being the bread and butter, which might very well be an Ultimate, served warm, right out of the oven with a soft churned, salted butter that melts into every nook and cranny, making it a moral imperative to “get it while it’s hot.”

Going four for four on starters is also great way to get into my good graces, as all of them were shades of fabulous. In fact it was like Sophie’s Choice trying to decide which one was the best. The risotto with chanterelles, crispy veal sweetbreads and lemon confit was an Ultimate, so I tend to lean there, but that should take nothing away from the steak tartar au poirve with horseradish cream and charred onions which was superb. As were the pan seared scallops done up with cauliflower, pickled raisins and burnt butter. The native lobster might’ve been the least amazing of the bunch the more I think about it, but only in terms of flavor, because the presentation stole the show, served over ice, still in the tail, then mixed into an apple, mussel and fennel salad.

In terms of entrees, however, the winner was much more cut and dry. The lamb was the runaway champion, slow cooked and served with spiced eggplant and roasted salsify. Such a mastery of flavors on the fork, you have to stand in awe at the artistry. Following the lamb as a distant second would be the halibut with pink peppercorn sauce, seaweed and a carrot puree. And bringing up the rear was the filet mignon, which is a complete missed opportunity in my opinion (although the fries were good). Skip the steaks. There are so many inventive preparations on the menu that truly showcase the chef’s skill, so why would you ever go for something you could just as easily get at a Smith & Wollensky or Morton’s?

Closing strong, the dessert course also delivered yet another Ultimate, the best tart tatin I’ve had since La Goulue closed down (RIP). It’s made with pink lady apples and topped with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and if I could have children with a dessert it would most likely be this one. The other two desserts didn’t fare as well for me, however. I thought the pistachio soufflé with chocolate ice cream sounded amazing, but somehow fell short in execution, tasting less nutty and more chalky than one would hope. And the grapefruit sorbet with hazelnut streusel and fennel marmalade also proved to be better in theory than in practice.

But no place is without its misses and The Clocktower had very few. Surmounting its hype and outshining its next door neighbor Eleven Madison Park. Sure, them’s fightin’ words, but bring it on. I’d be happy to go toe to toe with any dissenting foodies out there who say otherwise. And I’m not just saying that because Clocktower is my new restaurant crush… Okay, that’s exactly why I’m saying it. But so what?

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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.

3 teeth

15 East

15 E 15th St. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 647-0015 • 15eastrestaurant.com

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This is a hard one for me because I definitely enjoyed my meal, but there were also way too many missteps to overlook.

My first nit is the poached octopus. This was a touch slimy and much more than a touch flavorless. I have had better octopus at over two dozen places in the city. It doesn’t even deserve mention it’s so blah. But because it’s a review I’m mentioning it anyway. As Alanis would say “Isn’t it ironic?”

Another underwhelming app was the array of seaweed. It literally did nothing for me- wait, that’s a lie. It was pretty to look at.

But then came the omakase and oh my gosse was it good! The highlights being the wild yellowtail (epic)  and the scallop (sweet Jesus). The other pieces were good too, but not at the same level. That said, as wonderfully fresh as this fish was, I actually think Azuma in Harstdale, Westchester has fresher, better omakase for half the price. And yes, you can quote me on that.

And the flourless chocolate cake for dessert was a very solid good.

Service was a tad slow and sloppy- literally. Our waiter dropped the cap to our sake on the floor. And I watched as another server cleared a table, dripping yuzu sauce from one end of the dining room all the way to the other.

Décor is nice. But I had already been here in its former life as Tocqueville, so I was familiar with the sliver shaped room.

All in all, a good lunch, but I wouldn’t rush back.

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