Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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Rose Hill

34 E 32nd St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 448-1302 • rosehillrestaurant.com

I know this place is still green, so I will try to muster up a modicum of understanding while they get their footing. And boy do they need it. Starting with the layout of the dining room, which is a bit odd to say the least, situated to the side of a hotel lobby through a current. The room itself is long and narrow and I can only assume it was the coat check or storage once upon a time. Making matters worse, the tables are so tightly squeezed together along a booth that runs the entire length of the subway car dining room (pictured), that if you were sitting to the inside, you simply can not get out without displacing every table within a twenty foot radius, so be sure to empty the bladder before getting locked in. Fortunately for us no one was sitting next to us, but if the place had been packed, you’d probably have to go under the table, suffer the sneers of those around you or become very intimate with your new friends at your neighboring table as your genitals rake across the port side of their mesa.

The thing you will be sure to notice is that the staff comes off like a family of beaten children. All of them are so incredibly timid that the plates are shaking in their hands as they walk one overly cautious step at a time to and from your table. In fact, they were shaking so much one of our servers accidentally got some wine in my friend’s water glass while trying to pour in the wine glass! Fortunately she apologized and replaced it immediately, and truth be told I honestly felt worse for her than us because I can assume this only meant more beatings.

The wine itself though, was excellent. The 2015 Hosmer Dry Reisling from the Finger Lakes. Highly recommend.

But back to the beaten staff. Did I mention that even their voices are a bit shaky and they talk so softly you might think you were in a library?

So now the question becomes, is it worth it? Beyond the comedic novelty (and rarity) of seeing servers in New York act like this, as opposed to self-important, rude assholes. Well, it kinda is. I mean both starters were truly incredible. The first being the wonderful seared foie gras with cherry mostrada and black pepper. Simple and flawless. And second, the octopus was almost every bit as good, jazzed up with merguez, fingerling potatoes and smoked tomato. Again, nothing too crazy, yet crazy good.

Which only made the next course that much more disappointing, because the fall was from such a high. But both the lamb sandwich and the chickpea burger were as timid on the tongue as the servers were with everything else. No goat cheese or fire-roasted red pepper and rosemary aioli could save the lamb, tasting more like goat cheese on bread with some indiscernible meat. And the veggie burger was even blander still, the tzatziki and cucumber fading into the white noise of whole wheat and bland bean.

And so now I was really torn. The starters were a five. The entrees were a two. And the service and décor are teetering between a one and a two. Thus, dessert had to be the tie-breaker!

Well, it broke. The chef’s restraint on the appetizers fully escaped him on the deconstructed Key lime pie. It was so tricked-out that it tasted more like an experiment than it did Key lime. Rendering the final blow to Rose Hill and landing it a mere two knives. That said, I am feeling a rare streak of compassion for some reason. Maybe it’s the poor, beaten souls I feel sorry for. Or that the starters were just that damn good. Nonetheless, give them a chance. I think they will get there.

Vine

851 Avenue Of The Americas New York, NY 10001(212) 201-4065 eventihotel.com

The Vine - Eventi Hotel in NYC 2015

One of the lesser-known gems in the area can be found in the back of the Eventi Hotel, which to be fair is one of the lesser-known hotels in the city. Yet deep within this vortex of obscurity lies an admirably appointed décor with cozy nooks for seating, warm, natural elements and huge windows that open up to a courtyard as opposed to the street (pictured), making for a relatively Zen dining experience.

The menu also got off on the right foot with a salmon entrée cooked perfectly, served over a bed of supped up cous cous and tzatziki sauce. It’s clean livin’ and tasty too. Wash that down with a slightly sweet Arnold Palmer and you could do a lot worse. Sure, it’s no Ilili if we’re comparing Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in the area, but it’s way easier to get a table and I find the décor much more inviting as opposed to the ironically more hotel-like vibe at Ilili.

On the guiltier side of things, the gelato is actually quite atrocious. So much so that I feel the need to outwardly shame our server for even recommending it, much less swooning about it as if it were the reincarnation of the Cup of Life.

But, on the alcoholier side, I have to give it up again to the Vine for going big on the spice and not going home in terms of their Bloody Mary. I love when places say fuck all and do what a Bloody Mary was meant to do, regardless of mass appeal. Because as the saying goes, the masses are asses, and greatness seldom lies at the feet of consensus. Okay, things are getting a bit preachy up in here for a food blog. Gonna dial it back and go out on a solid three.

3 teeth

Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

3 teeth

Lefteris Gyro

190 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 242-8965 • lefterisgyro.com

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I have eaten at all three locations, Tarrytown, Mount Kisco and Yonkers (Ridge Hill), not so much because I am a Lefteris groupie, but more because I like a good gyro and no matter where you are in Westchester, Lefteris is never too far away. And while I wish I could regale you with stories of magnificently thin lamb shavings, sprinkled with pixie dust, the greatness of Lefteris is born more from the rules of supply and demand than any culinary hocus-pocus. Put plainly, they are the only game in town.

And currently Lefteris is winning that game 3-0, because all three locations appear to be doing a good business. Partly due to the kid friendly/family friendly vibe. And partly due to the insanely generous portions for bargain basement prices. When I have it delivered, one order of the gyro platter is enough to feed me for two nights, making it less than eight bucks a meal. Note to the penny pincher.

Please take the knife count below with a grain of salt though. The stuffed grape leaves are crap and you can find better spinach pie at Stew Leonard’s, but the pitas always come warm and the gyro meat and souvlaki seldom miss the mark- that mark being a very casual Greek fix. They’re definitely not trying to be MP Taverna (not that MP impressed me either). So recalibrate your expectations and go for some good, quick, cheap, Greek eatin’ and you’ll be happier than Socrates… before he drank the hemlock.

3 teeth

Periyali

35 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 463-7890periyali.com

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Having just been to Greece last summer I was entering with a healthy dose of “food tude.” Hey, I kinda like that. Ferocious Foodie TM!

And while décor and service failed to impress, the food rose above expectation. Not that the menu is anything inventive. Truth be told it’s all of the usual suspects from octopus to mousaka and souvlaki to baklava.

Our meal started off with an amuse bouche of sorts, a Greek bruschetta is about the only way I can describe it. Crostini topped with feta tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. I’m not exactly sure why they offer it though. It’s not inventive, nor amazing. And if it’s simply to give you a little taste of something before your meal arrives, it would seem that the olives and bread would handily suffice. Instead, it only serves as a failed attempt to reach for a class of dining they simply aren’t.

After that we split a Greek salad that passed as ruffage and an octopus, which did everything it was supposed to, clean and simple and perfectly tender, yet somehow it just didn’t reach tentacle supremacy.

Oddly enough though, the whole branzino, while not too unlike the octopus, with its classic Mediterranean prep, proved to be spectacular! So flavorful and buttery. I haven’t loved a fish this much since Dory in Finding Nemo and I’ve had more than my fair share of whole fish, being that it’s practically the official meal of Turkey and I fancy myself to be an honorary Turk by association.

Bringing up the rear was the walnut cake and ice cream, which nosed out the baklava as our choice for dessert. In hindsight, I think I’d go baklava next time, because the walnut cake was a bit of a let down after experiencing the one at Gato. This one was a little on the dry side and desperately needed the ice cream to give it the moisture it was lacking.

On the boozy end of things, there are several tasty, affordable wine options and some on the pricier side well. We went with the Burnello, more on the pricier end, and it was excellent. Additionally, they complemented our dessert course with a complimentary dessert wine, which I also enjoyed.

All in all, I liked Periyali, but not enough to rush back. There are droves of better Mediterranean restaurants in the city and two right in the Flatiron alone, Almayass and Ilili, granted both of those are more middle eastern then Mediterranean, but the lines are so blurred between the two that it’s hard to tell where the tzatziki ends and the cacik begins.

3 teeth

Almayass

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

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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

Tholos

Gialos | Port de Symi, dodécanèse, +30 2246072003 , Greece
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People seem to rave about the view here and while it is most certainly nice, it’s also not unlike virtually every other harbor-facing restaurant in the region, of which there are scads.

And as for the food, it’s just okay. Your typical Greek fare with no extreme twists or highs. Of the semi-highs, or should I say semi-high in the singular, was the rocket salad with Cretan cheese- soft and porous like Swiss, but earthy and grassy like grana. On the so-so side, the warm gigante bean salad with tomatoes, the fava bean puree and the tzatziki, which was a tad too garlicky.

Service was friendly and attentive as it seemed to be everywhere on the island, but the place really is nothing as special as the TripAdvisor crowd cracks it up to be.

2 teeth

Mythos

Symi Harbor 85600, Symi, Greece • +30 22460 71488
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We went here on a recommendation from our hotel, which claimed that the chef at Mythos was the “most consistent” in Symi. Well, we assumed he meant consistently good, but from what I could see, consistently chatty is more like it. He is perpetually fluttering from table to table like a social butterfly, meanwhile, his kitchen is churning out turd after turd.

Eleven courses we endured through the chef’s meze tasting, explained on the menu as the best of his best, and out of all eleven we only bothered to finish two. That’s not to say that all nine of the remainders sucked, but most of them did, with a few mediocre stragglers.

Of them, the spinach pie was by far the worst I have ever had. Like something you’d expect to find in a high school cafeteria. So soggy and lifeless his citizenship should almost be revoked for such a blight on Greek cuisine.

Next, a half notch up from shitsville was the shell stuffed with slop, or as they called it, shrimp and cheese. But it was so bland and over-cheesed that you could barely find the miniscule frozen shrimps hidden within in its mediocrity. Needless to say this was another one bite and done dish.

Working our way further through the chef’s tour de farce, we had a underwhelming mousaka and an equally prosaic lamb with rosemary.

Even the bookends of the meal were tragic. The bread was a touch stale, the salad was limp and over-dressed and both desserts tasted like bricks of cream. One marginally flavored with lemon. The other with banana.

But to be fair, the eggplant dish with sweet potato and berry jam, as well as the seafood risotto, were both relatively good. Then again, McDonald’s is relatively gourmet when you are relatively starving in the desert.

The only things that rose to a level of great were the rooftop setting, which has a pleasant view overlooking the harbor, the wait staff who was friendly and attentive, the kalamata olives, which the chef obviously doesn’t make, but rather purchases and then pulls out of a jar to serve and finally the lamb kebab with a spicy sweet sauce and tzatziki. Congratulations. I guess in Stockholm he learned that if you throw enough darts at the board eventually one of them is bound to hit. That said, even the kebab was dry and overcooked, but fortunately the sauce covered it up.

1 tooth

Elia

Apellou 27 | Old town, Κos, GR 85300, Ελλάδα • +30-2242022133 • elia-kos.gr
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If you’re visiting Kos as quick, novel day trip or you’re simply stuck there on an unfortunate layover between ferries to a more desirable Greek island, fret not. There is a truly great restaurant to be found amidst the touristy madness. Elia is located in Old Town along the exact same strip of shit stores where you can buy everything from Kiss T-Shirts and Yankees baseball caps (who knows why?) all the way to Spartan replicas, ouzo bottles sporting boners and hordes of infused olive oils (which make more sense).

But once you set foot inside Elia, you feel as if you are finally in Greece and not some isle of commercialism and greed. While the front is charming with it’s wood cabinetry and shelves loaded with jars and containers, I recommend you sit in the back, further escaping into the dappled garden light where you can cool off and enjoy some of the best Greek you’ve ever had.

It started off with a bountiful basket of bread, olives and tapenade. The pitas are piping hot, fresh from the over, so we horked those down pretty fast.

Upon several waiter recommendations we also had some of the best tzatziki I’ve ever had served along side some of the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had, made with red peppers and olives in addition to the eggplant.

Then came an olive and feta pie he recommended, which came in almost empañada like pastries. Again, it was very good.

The consistency kept coming with the lamb kapamas which was a shank stewed in a wonderfully sweet cinnamon sauce. It was so friggin’ good I forced the entire thing down even though I was already full by the time it hit the table (the portions are so generous you can easily get 4 servings out of any of those three starters).

So after such an impressive performance I just had to press on. We asked for his reco on dessert as well, and while he said “of course the baklava,” he also said, if you want to try something much more unique, try the ice cream with sweet vegetables and fruit. Sweet vegetables? With ice cream? Okay, he had me. I’m always a sucker for something new.

Once again, Elia soared. Creamy, cold vanilla surrounded by eggplant, tomatoes, olives and cherries. All of them preserved in such a way as to retain their original flavor, while also managing to deliver enough sweetness to coexist with the ice cream. So different. So good.

And best of all, the price was extremely reasonable. And I’m not just saying that because the waiter treated us to two glasses of a delicious dessert wine, sort of like a Greek port. I am, however, giving Elia five knives because they didn’t miss a single note. And because they turned being stranded in Kos into lemonade.

5 teeth