The Early Word: Savarona
By the time you get to Savarona, a new Turkish restaurant, you're practically in Queens. The restaurant is right next to a health club, in a large building that faces the Queensboro bridge. By the time I trekked over there (just east of 1st Avenue) and walked in, I was starting to feel dubious. The restaurant looks generically fancy, like a hotel restaurant. If not for the bridge out the window, you could be anywhere—It's all white tablecloths, awkwardly formal service and an older, quiet crowd.
Lately, I've been to several sleek and flashy downtown restaurants that turn out to be all glitz and no flavor. Savarona is exactly the opposite. The food is really good—the product of a coherent vision and careful, caring execution. It's even worth a trip to the banks of the East River (especially if your parents are in town).
Chef Tevfik Alparslan is taking traditional dishes and flavors and jolting them into the 21st century, doing things like topping an old-school Ottoman wedding soup with beet foam. Ideas like that sound like a stretch, but actually taste great.
Presentation here is hilariously flamboyant. Some dishes come out with gigantic engraved silver domes on top, which are dramatically removed by the servers. Beef kabobs came skewered on an elaborate, Moorish looking sword. The server set down the plate and then de-skewered the kabobs with a flourish of the sword. It's ballsy to feature that kind of earnest spectacle these days.
Beef kabobs with sour apple and dried apricot in a tart pomegranate sauce, with stewed eggplant on the side
Modern Mezze Platter: various savory eggplant dips, salty, bubbly, baked "Turkish cream cheese," and other mezze
Cabbage stuffed with bulger wheat, flavored with currents and cinnamon, in a tart yogurt sauce
Grilled Mediterranean sea bass wrapped in grape leaves with cauliflower purée and fried chanterelles