Bella Sombra

Bagarasi Cad. No:24, Golturkbuku 48400, Turkey • T +9 0252 377 6100 • bellasombrahotel.com

Secrets, contrary to conventional wisdom, are better shared than kept. Obviously not all secrets, however. Like “I have another family” or “I’m actually a man” or “It’s not your baby.” But when it comes to restaurant finds, I lean towards letting the word get out. Sure it will make the place more popular and harder to get into, but it beats the alternative of no one ever hearing about it and the place disappears. This is a fate I would like to save Bella Sombra from.

As the name implies it is VERY “bella.” The setting when you walk down those steps toward the pool courtyard is breathtaking. Stone villas flanking it on all sides. The glow from the water, the moon and the lanterns on the steps luring you deeper into the seduction. And as you make your way around the pool, you will come upon the dining area, which is set apart by greenery and charmed with strung lights (pictured). The bar next door enjoys some of the same, but with a very spacious, more casual vibe. Almost done like an amphitheater of chaise-like sofas all facing the wooden bar meets hut in the center of the arena.

Sadly though, it is all wasted, because the crowd is not just virtually non-existent. It’s actually non-existent. We were the only table of the night. There were more stray cats than people, that’s how dead it was. On the upside, service was great. How could it not be?

So maybe it’s the food that’s killing them? Not really. I actually found most of the dishes to be quite worthy (not to mention large). The best dish being an inventive eggplant starter that tasted similar to baba ghanouj only better. The other winner was the paella for two, made with sucuk for a Turkish spin (resisting the temptation to make a dervish joke here).

In the middle for me would be the vegetarian sushi that tasted a bit like red lentil kofte. And the only miss was the manti. I get what they were trying to do, similar in some ways to how it is done at Limon. But in execution, it comes off like chickpeas and yogurt with Cheez-its stuck in it. So a pretty mighty miss in retrospect, but not enough for me to lose confidence as a recommendation. In other words, please go. It would be a shame to see this place disappear.

Vespa

Neyzen Tevfik Cad. • Marina Yacht Club, 48400 Bodrum, Turkey • +90 252 3161228

Vespa-Restaurant

Regardless of how good the food is in Turkey, if you are spending any length of time there, eventually you are bound to suffer from meze and fish fatigue. This is when I like to mix it up with something like Ox Burger or Vespa.

Vespa is a very capable pizza joint (and night club) located right on the marina, like so many other restaurants in the greater Bodrum area, however in Bodrum proper it’s pretty rare to be on the boat side of the road West of the castle, which they are. And which is nice.

Service is usually a tad rushed because the place seems to be packed every night. Guess we’re not the only ones who get meze fatigue?

The food, as I intimated already is solid. And I mean that only by Turkish standards. I mean c’mon, it’s not like you can compare it to Roberta’s or Grimadli’s, but for the Bodrum area in Turkey it does quite well. Not that pizza is the most foreign of cuisines to Turks, after all, the Romans did in fact consider Turkey part of home once upon a time. And with dishes like lahamacun and pide, who are we kidding, they are basically pizza-like objects already. But I don’t want to discount anything here either. If making pizza was easy, everyone would do it. Yet only Vespa seems to get the important alchemy of sauce and crust.

And having had many a pie here I can confidently say that they are pretty consistent, so feel free to let your cravings guide you. Salads are also good, but a little more on the simple side. Nothing too inventive. Just the classics. In fact, the only twist I recall seeing on the menu is a pie with sucuk on it (spicy Turkish sausage). Not exactly revolutionary, but a nice local spin on a tried and true. And that right there sums Vespa up in a nutshell. Tried and true and never disappoints.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Fried Calamari

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Normally I’m not a huge fan of this dish as it often resembles a bunch of deep fried, battered rubber bands in most restaurants. I mean let’s be honest, it’s the bottom of the bar food barrel. Down there with mozzarella sticks and potato skins and jalapeno poppers. Well, with the exception of these two, of course.

 Pera – New York, NY

Naturally I didn’t even want to order them, but my wife insisted. And as usual, she was right. Yes, it still hurts to say it. But what made this calamari shine wasn’t the squid or the batter. It was everything else, you see, these tentacles come fully loaded. Mixed with sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) red peppers, hot peppers and scallions. And the sum of the parts is Octonuts!

Encounter – Los Angeles, CA

Most people never even think twice about this place, mainly because it’s in the top of the old traffic control tower located in the middle of LAX, but it’s actually pretty good. And among the goodness just happens to be the only other calamari ever to tickle my fancy. So what makes these so special. Well, here it actually is the batter. And the sauce. First, the batter is richer than most. Spiced and herbed, with a presence unto itself, even without the sauce. That said, with the sauce it’s even better, because it too has kick, and as I always say, two kicks are always better than one.

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