IMARA

Eppendorfer Weg 186 – 20253 HamburgGermany • +49 40 42918080 • restaurant-imara.de
 

I found Imara to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night, because the Aladdin-esque vibe is actually kinda cool and the food, for the most part, is very good. It’s also a great place for large parties, particularly on short notice, primarily because few people know about it, I suppose?

On the flipside, I’m guessing the reason it’s so empty is the service- painfully slow on the drinks, yet painfully fast when it comes to the tapas- like eat or die fast! So, don’t be fooled by the size of the ginormous tables, because they disappear beneath an army of plates faster than you can say dankeshen.

The best things IMNSHO are the spicy shrimp (so good we ordered seconds… and thirds… and fourths… and I’m not exaggerating). Other crowd pleasers were the bacon wrapped dates and plum, the spinach rolls and the lamb rolls with yogurt sauce. I also dug the mini lamb tagines, forgiving the fact they weren’t served covered.

Misses for me were the horribly dry lamb kebabs and the lame bread with tapenade.

Lastly, I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention the bizarre urinal situation. And trust me, it’s not lost on me that this is the second time I’ve brought up urinals in my reviews of Hamburg restaurants alone, but bare with, because it’s worth it. You see, regardless of the fact that there are three urinals, you basically have to go one at a time unless you like touching strangers while you pee, because they are tightly nestled into a corner, so closely together that you’d have to be thinner than Trump’s alibi with Stormy Daniels to not be rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the dude next to you. Now THIS must be the real reason why the place is so empty!

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.

Matzahbrei

(917) 215-1616 • http://www.matzahbrei.com

Yes, an entire restaurant devoted to Matzah brei. It’s almost hard to wrap your head around, because the concept alone sounds about as flawed as the screenplay for Sharknado, but I stand before you in awe as I write this. A dish normally reserved for Passover time is making a strong case for year-long presence, because I gotta say, it’s pretty friggin’ good. Well, depending on which one you get.

For example, the Monica, is awesome. And no, I’m not talking about Monica Geller from Friends. I was always a Rachel kinda guy anyway. No, the Monica of which I speak is made with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, fresh sliced mozzarella and honey Dijon.

Or there’s the Jasmine with eggplant, herbs and tahini, which I also liked. Whereas the Xavier (pictured) with avocado, mango salsa and cheddar jack is actually just eh, even though it looks and sounds like it’d be the best of the three.

But no matter which sammy is your pleasure, definitely do yourself a solid and pair it up with a side of their Sunshine Salad, made with sweet potato, chickpea and tomato, tossed in a date dressing. It’s enough to make the Trix rabbit swear off of cereal in favor of salad, because it really is magically delicious.

P.S. One caveat. If you go to their site you will notice that they don’t open a brick and mortar location until the fall. But until then, if you keep your eye out at food stands like Broadway Bites and Madison Eats, maybe you’ll get lucky.

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

Blue Dahlia Bistro

1115 E 11th St. Austin, TX 78702(512) 542-9542 • bluedahliabistro.com

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Just down the street from the painfully long line at Franklin’s Barbecue you’ll find a place that looks like it belongs in Berkley, CA with its granola vibe and granola-hipster patrons. Cozy, earthy, wood elements cover just about every surface with a large communal table in the middle, a la an LPQ (Le Pain Quotidien).

Unfortunately the food isn’t as good as an LPQ, which is disheartening that it can’t even best a global chain (granted a very good global chain), but Blue Dahlia isn’t a all-out miss per se, it just barely passes mustard. Speaking of which, the special frittata could’ve used some. Or habanero sauce, which is what I used to bring the gorgonzola, spinach, onion and peppers back from the dead. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the bad toast and lame salad they tried to pawn off with it.

The smoked salmon platter was also just okay, but I find it hard to fault a place in Texas for its lox when I’m coming from New York- #lowexpectations.

And the pomegranate lemonade, while also “just okay,” was not so okay because it was the compromise I was forced to make because they don’t have fresh squeezed juice. Not even the pseudo-fresh kind! We’re talking Tropicana! What kind of self-respecting, granola, Berkley-wannabe doesn’t have fresh juice?! I’ll tell you… The kind that’s “just okay.”

2 teeth

The Writing Room

1703 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10128(212) 335-0075 • thewritingroomnyc.com

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If you happen to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, let me apologize in advance, but what the fuck is wrong with you guys?! You’re bringing the rest of the city down. I mean hell, Brooklyn is killing you! The Lower East Side too! Even your Upper West Sibling across the park has their act together (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say it. From the 70’s on up, you are the shopping mall food court of New York City cuisine.

Let’s take The Writing Room as a recent an example. From the décor, it’s seemingly not so bad, right? Especially that warm and cozy back room with the fireplace and the old school typewriters (pictured). Makes you feel all Hemingway inside. But the whole right hemisphere of the restaurant is a boisterous, yuppie cesspool, filled with the right-out-of-college crowd, making you cringe at every “OMG!” and “DUDE!” that wafts over your table.

And then there’s the food. Starting with an attempt at parker house rolls that didn’t even best some of the school cafeterias I’ve eaten in, fear was on the march, goose-stepping across my tongue with a reign of tyranny in the form of a blasé cod brandade. I’m shocked that the waiter even recommended it, because the dish is so lacking that I honestly found the air I was breathing had more flavor in it.

Equally unimpressive was the kale salad, with roasted sweet potatoes and granny smith apples served with a cream-based bleu dressing that not only defeated the purpose of a kale salad, but was so bland that it also defeated the purpose of being a cream-based dressing!

The charcuterie board might’ve been only slightly better than the previous zeros, but it was the smoked chicken over a barley risotto with spinach and bacon that finally registered a pulse on the taste-o-meter. Sadly, however, it was too little to late, because by that point, we had already written off The Writing Room, a story that ideally should’ve never been published.

1 tooth

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

Khyber

145 Mahatma Gandhi Road, Mumbai 400001, India • (+91) 22 22673227 • http://www.khyberrestaurant.com
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From the outside, the size of this place is very deceiving, because before entering you would never guess that this modest corner facade practically extends for five city blocks in every direction. But as you follow the host upstairs through one dining room after another after another, each carved away on its own little plateau almost like the caves of Cappadocia in Turkey, you start to wonder if you’ve crossed into some sort of parallel dimension where the rules of geography no longer apply.

And while I liked the décor, the crazy plethora of tables had me a touch worried about quality control, because it’s very rare that restaurants with such massive dinning rooms are also amazing. But impressed I was, right from the get go, with the nan, raita and spicy pickled veggies that come to you gratis in a hammered copper dish.

The curry was also wonderful and full of flavor, the chicken acting like a tender sponge, soaking up every last drop of cumin. And the saag paneer was so much better than I had ever had it before, with the spinach and cheese each stepping forward for its moment in the spotlight, as opposed to blending into a sea of mush, which is so often the case.

Easily the best meal I had while in Mumbai. Granted we were looking for Trishna, which is apparently even better, but impossible to find. So after 30 minutes of chasing false directions given to us by everyone from cabbies to passersby to Google Maps, we finally settled for here, but if this is what settling tastes like, well, I can live with that.

4 teeth