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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BBQ Chicken

25 W 32nd StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 967-8093 • bbqktownnyc.com

Welcome to the Korean Pret of fried chicken. A confusing, and yet surprisingly accurate description made only more confusing by the name, because there’s very little barbecue to speak of. That said, there is chicken in virtually every imaginable sauce you could want, fried, jerk, barbecue (naturally), grilled, thai, coconut, general tso, sesame, honey, spicy. It’s like Forrest Gump talking about shrimp. All pre-made for a quick grab-n-go mission (hence my Pret comparison) or there is a pretty extensive amount of seating if you want to sit and take in the rather nonexistent decor. It’s also very reasonably priced by Manhattan standards, making it one of the only options for lunch in the area under $20.

But here’s the thing, the bowls are all pretty damn yummy. Some served up with rice and potatoes. Others with rice and veggies like their bibimbap. And some are just piled high with poultry. But all of them are surprisingly good. They have other things as well, but chicken is clearly their bailiwick. Oh, and best of all, they have beer! Take that Pret!

Bagel Maven

538 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 293-4168

 

Let’s face it, outside of New York City bagels are always just varying degrees of a let down, but in many cases it can at least be a pleasant surprise as to how little that let down actually is. This is the case with Bagel Maven, a mighty fine bagel for those with lowered expectations. It’s a little on the doughy side, but the outer crust has good texture to it. Unfortunately they are a touch stingy on the seed count when it comes to bagels of such standing, but that’s a mild ding comparatively. There are also very few options when it comes to “toppings.” So if you’re looking for sable, lox, nova, whitefish salad and an array of schmears, it’s gonna take you two stops, because you’ll also need to head on over to Gold’s Delicatessen. But at least the bagels are better here.

The only other thing I would note before I leave you to fend for yourself,  is that this place is not, I repeat NOT the kind of place you want to sit and dine. It’s strictly a grab n’ go.

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.

Ess-a-Bagel

831 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10022(212) 980-1010 ess-a-bagel.com

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There is raging debate as to who has the best bagel in the city and I think I have to give the edge to H&H or maybe even Russ & Daughters. But right on the heels for me would be Ess-a, especially if you are talking about the establishment as a whole, as I believe Ess-a-Bagel would then move up the second slot, because they simply crush H & H when it comes to things like whitefish salad, cream cheese, lox and sable.

Sure, you have to put up with the vaudeville-type lifers behind the counter who can turn your outing into a 20 minute soliloquy when all you want is a fucking bagel, but at least it’s worth it. In particular, the worthiest of the lot for me is their sesame bagel, scooped out, with whitefish salad, lettuce and tomato (or cucumber). The whitefish is salted to perfection and I’ve never had better. But just be sure get the bagel scooped as I mentioned, otherwise you’ll be lapping the whitefish off of your tray.

Equally worthy is their Nova on an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese and tomato.  The Nova is so damn buttery you will want to roll around in it like Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal. Be sure to get this, or the whitefish salad, with a half sour pickle and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and you will be lost in Bagel bliss.

In terms of baked goods, Ess-a also has a few winners like their lemon pound cake in particular, but where they fall short for me is on the rugelach, and babkas. You can find far superior versions at Breads and Second Avenue Deli. But on the whole, Ess-a gets an A for breakfast, lunch or catering.

4 teeth

Bagel Emporium

95 King St. Chappaqua, NY1051 • (914) 238-9777bagelemporium.com

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I have no gripes with the service here, unlike the other reviews you might see. And no gripes with decor, although it is extremely basic and not a place you would ever want to spend more than 5 minutes on a grab ‘n go.

But most important to me for a bagel joint, shockingly, are the bagels. They are big and way too doughy, including the outer crust, which has absolutely no crunch to it. The seeded bagels are anemic, so much so that you’re likely to find more seeds left in your teeth after eating a sesame bagel from virtually anywhere else than you are to find on an entire sesame bagel at the Emporium,  BEFORE actually eating it.

And don’t get me started on the veggie cream cheese, which is more like a paste than actual “cream.”

I can beat a dead horse with the best of them, but I’m assuming by now you get the picture. So if you’re still looking for a go-to bagel place in the area, head to Mount Kisco Bagel Company. It’s not perfect either, but by comparison, it’s Ess a Bagel.

1 tooth