Almayass

24 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 473-3100almayassnyc.com

almayass-nyc

Attention all Ilili lovers, there’s another game in town. And what’s especially nice about this game is that it’s easier to play. In case my obtuse analogy isn’t tracking, what I mean to say is that it’s way easier to get a table, especially at lunch.

But settle you will not. Almayass is not just an alternative. It’s very much a destination in its own right. From the moment you enter, you are immediately taken by the elegant décor which is much warmer than Ilili,, blending more classic elements with contemporary, and accented with wonderful works of art.

Another plus is that the staff is much more pleasant and much less snooty than at Ilili, which is nice if you don’t want a side of attitude with your fattoush, speaking of which, it was very good.

In fact, most everything was good. A few misses. A few homeruns. And lots in between. Among the homers would be the Soujuk Almayass. Best thing I’ve ever had with this Middle Eastern sausage. It’s painfully simple really, just a slice of sausage sitting on a crostini with a sunny side quail egg on top. But holy Lebanon was it good! Chased with a little arak (Lebanese anise liquor) and I was all like “Ilili who?”

Another dish that was surprisingly better than any I’d ever had before was the mantee. It’s the same thing as the Turkish dish “manti, which are tiny ravioli filled with meat, covered in yogurt. What made it so special, however, was how crisp it was on the outside, and so most and creamy on the inside. And we all know what a softy I am for contrasting textures.

Three other dishes that were also very strong were the kebab made with filet mignon, the baba ganoush served with pomegranate seeds and the lentil soup. Granted my review of the soup is only hearsay, and by that I mean “MMMMMMMMM!!!” from across the table.

In the middle of the road was the pita bread, tzatziki and hummus. And bringing up the rear, the three biggest misses for me were the olives, the tabouleh salad and the sarma.

The olives because they were served pitted, which I can only assume was due to the fact that they’re afraid of getting sued by someone for cracking a tooth on a pit, because no self-respecting restaurant from the region would ever serve olives pitted otherwise.

The tabouleh because it was very leafy and dry. I like mine more moist and hearty.

And last but- well actually least, the sarma. Among the worst stuffed grape leaves I’ve ever had. Such a shame too, because this place was so close to five knives, but I’m afraid they fell shy by one.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Stuffed Grape Leaves

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 Sayat Nova – Chicago, IL

Grape leaves are sort of like pizza for me in that even the bad ones are still pretty good. But what sets these apart is their moistness. Too many others taste like they were made with rice from leftover Chinese delivery the night before. The other thing that makes them shine is that they are done Turkish style (I know the place is technically Armenian, but the style is one in the same) as opposed to Greek. Sorry Grecian folk, you may have given us philosophy, but the true question you should’ve been asking yourselves is this: If you don’t put currants in the grape leaves, is it even worth asking if they exist?

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.

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

Memedof Fish Restaurant

Gerisalti Mevkii Çökertme Cad. 42, Bodrum (Yalikavak), Turkey ‎• +90 252 385 4646 ‎ • memedof.com

sunset-at-memedof

There are two in the Bodrum area. We ate at the one in Yalikavak, which has a MUCH nicer setting.

The food, however, is quite overrated. Sure, some of their mezes are great. The fava bean puree, the grilled octopus and the seafood dolma with cheese were definitely highlights.

But there were also a TON of misses. The mediye doma was bland by comparison to the ones you get from the guys walking around with the carts in Turkbuku. The seaweed salad was extremely blah. So much so that we had to add our own seasonings to it just to make it worth eating. The feta stuffed pappadew peppers were also nothing special. We make better ones at home. The smoked smelt and pickles were too dry. And the yogurt dishes and salad were a solid good. But it’s kind of hard to screw those up.

That said, the service was good and very friendly. And the sunset view was pretty stunning. Almost worthy of a star on its own if I was in a better mood, or if I were drunk enough on raki.

3 teeth