Restaurant Review: Savarona

Filed under it's fun to be fat, living in new york is neat, restaurant ramblings

The one review of the new Turkish restaurant Savarona that my boyfriend and I read before making our reservation complained that it’s “farther east than anyone should have to go in Midtown”, but we’re well-versed on 1st Ave. and rolled our eyes at that person’s lacking sense of adventure. And then we found ourselves lost on eerily industrial 59th Street, practically walking into the East River under the Queensboro Bridge.

We spotted Savarona’s empty private room first and thought uh-oh, but then the rest of the place came into view, and it was lovely: entirely glass front with two sets of wide open doors, gold lattices on the walls, and a polished black bar. The beautiful hostesses greeted us genuinely and enthusiastically, which is one of those small but important details for me, and the one who led us to our table asked if we had any problems finding the place, which I naturally lied about. I hated that we were seated in the back away from the windows despite the place being only half-full, but I suppose they were trying to spread everyone out. Our waiter met with us immediately and was very friendly, and aside from feeling like he was forcing drinks on us in the beginning–”I don’t really like wine”, I finally had to say–he continued to be attentive and informative throughout the meal.

This is entirely faux-serious.

We went with the $70 chef’s tasting menu against my wishes, because there were two courses where the only choices were seafood-based, and I’m a total fish-phobe. My boyfriend, Kamran, guilted me into it, though, saying that he didn’t feel comfortable ordering it without me. Since each of the six courses had two offerings, we decided to share one of everything and got a few surprises along the way. The first was a plate of what looked like falafel and hummus but turned out to be a meat croquette and babaghanoush.

The croquette (a word that I’ve never in my life used before this moment, by the way) had a super-crunchy skin and this chili sauce that I want to eat on every meal from now on. I didn’t see it elsewhere on the menu, so if you don’t go for the tasting menu, find a way to finagle it from your waiter.

Our first course included a plate of jumbo langoustine with a little pile of mushrooms on one side and more babaghanoush on the other. I was wholly frightened by the word langoustine, let alone the actual sight of the big pinkorange shell, but after wrestling a hunk of it out with my fork and knife, I learned that it was actually very mild. And the ball of crab resting on top of it, covered in a tenticle-like crust that gave it the appearance of a tiny sea urchin, was even better.

The other plate, a modern mezze platter consisting of five small dishes, was much more up my alley: a cube of chicken salad with pine nuts, a very savory yogurt with mint garnish, grilled vegetables, a chilled red pepper salad with walnuts, and grilled cold eggplant. It was all delicious, but the chicken salad and the yogurt were real stand-outs. Kamran and I were using our bread to scoop out as much of the yogurt as we could, and I’m surprised we didn’t use our tongues to lap it off the sides of the bowl.

Our second course was a smoked salmon roll filled with sliced avocado and topped with feta, chives, and red caviar. Although I’ve found recently that I actually sort of enjoy raw salmon, smoked salmon was a little too fishy for me to eat without masking the flavor with a lot of avocado, and you know I plopped that caviar on the side of the plate and made Kamran eat it.

The second plate was a stuffed mackerel roll with a bready skin, a topping that Kamran referred to as “micro salad”, and fried pine nuts. The mackerel was much less fishy than the salmon–although my anti-fish brain made me scrape off the bits of silver that clung to its edges–and was flavoured with something slightly sweet that Kamran first thought was cinnamon but may have been from the currants mixed in. The red pepper emulsion was what really made the dish, though, just as the spicy mustard made the salmon plate. Even as a fish-hater, I was impressed with how well the sauces complimented the seafood flavor.

Our third course was the one I really dreaded, because one plate was a fish called umbrina that I’d never heard of before, and the other plate was a KING PRAWN. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to put the word king in front of anything having to do with the ocean? The waiter put the umbrina down in front of Kamran, and I thought I was going to have to throw a fit, but then I saw that prawn on my plate was really just a big shrimp and not at all the bug-eyed crayfish-like creature that I’d expected. I played it cool while Kamran dug around in the parchment paper bowl that the umbrina was cooked in

and took a tiny bite of the sole on my plate, which was covered in some sort of yellow sauce so bland that I can’t muster a guess as to what was in it. The sole was flaky and incredibly moist, just as Kamran said his umbrina was. But not really caring for the texture of it, I kind of pushed it aside and took a bite of the risotto under the prawn, which turned out to be wonderful. Al dente, mixed with chopped basil, with fresh basil leaves on the side. To really go for the gold, I chopped off the very tip of the prawn just to say that I tried it, and to my surprise, it was . . . delicious. It had a meatier, less chewy texture than a small shrimp, with a grilled flavor that I didn’t expect at all.

I kept saying to Kamran, “You can’t even imagine how good this is!”, and he kept saying, “The rest of the world has had good shrimp before, Katie.” It was so good, though, that it actually caused me to use the word tasty, a word that I despise almost as much as the word panties. I eventually had to cut off the tail and make Kamran hide it behind his bowl, though, because the moment I thought about it as seafood, I wanted to spit it back out.

The fourth course, which was clearly designed especially for my palate as a reward for making it through the previous two courses, was a plate of two different cuts of lamb and a plate of wild duck confit. I started with the lamb chop and loin, which were cooked just the right amount for me, and even if the chop hadn’t been as flavorful as it was, I still would’ve loved it just for its shape. The loin was little tough for me, but the dollup of young zucchini puree topped with fried potato straws beside it was delightful; so much so that I kept eating it long after I passed the plate to Kamran.

The duck confit was supposed to be caramelized, but Kamran and I didn’t notice it, maybe because we were too busy dipping it in the rich honey and black grape sauce smeared on the side. It almost overwhelmed the duck, but I don’t mean that as a complaint. There was a pile of mushrooms hidden inside a criss-crossed shell of potato fondant that Kamran said tasted like nothing and I thought tasted slightly like pound cake. We decided it was just there for looks.

Another little off-the-menu surprise arrived in the form of a saffron-flavoured jelly that our waiter referred to as a “sorbet”. The texture was somewhere between pudding and Jell-o, the taste was clean and refreshing, and the collection of nuts and currants on top was a nice addition, especially the pistachios. The presentation–a juice glass in what looked like a heavy brass measuring cup–was also very impressive, if you exclude all of the stains I made on the table cloth.

Kamran’s dessert was a cherry bread with an almost-savory vanilla cream, black grapes, mint leaves, and a wild sugar concoction on top that resembled the hair of a treasure troll. The bread was extremely moist, and the grapes were so delicious that I wished I’d eaten them one at a time instead of packing them in together, but overall, the dish was barely sweet at all if you discount the strands of sugar. It was perfect for someone like Kamran who gets easily overwhelmed by sweet, rich foods, but it would have been a let-down for me.

My dessert, on the other hand, was probably the most impressive one I’ve had in New York thus far. The bottom layer was a thick-cut slice of baked pineapple. Then there was a layer of THE most delicious vanilla cream I’ve ever had. Then a thin slice of dried pineapple. Then a scoop of peach sorbet stuck with a sprig of mint. Then that crazy sugar nest again.

It was such a positive experience overall that the things that let me down weren’t such a big deal, but for a well-rounded review, I should mention the following:

1) As someone who can give or take mushrooms, I was disappointed to see them in almost every dish. They were always done well and always looked nice, but I never felt like they added much to the plate.

2) The menu didn’t always deliver what it promised. There was supposed to be some interesting foams on a couple of dishes, for instance, and either they weren’t there, or we couldn’t distinguish them from what was happening on the rest of the plate. And there was supposed to be Turkish Delight served with our very delicious coffee and tea, and while the surprise saffron cup was welcome, we were really interested to see if the Turkish Delight was any different than the kind we buy in cardboard boxes at the candy store. All of this would have been fine, of course, if we hadn’t expected it after seeing the menu.

3) In a couple of cases, we felt like the chef had focused more on technique than taste. The potato fondant shell is the best example of this; it looked cool and probably took some skill, but it didn’t taste like a whole lot to Kamran, and I didn’t care for the stale cracker consistency.

The bill was outrageous by my standards–nearly $200, and I didn’t even have any alcohol–but I was delighted by something in every course, the portions were very large, and the dessert couldn’t have been better, so it was well worth the money for me. Especially since I wasn’t paying. (Thanks, Kamran!) I would definitely go back again for the atmosphere, for the service, for the risotto and prawn, and for that wonderful pineapple dessert.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This place is across the street from my parents’ house. Their story of their meal there had more to do with the blast-from-the-past they were seated next to, and not the food.

    I’m glad you reviewed it!

    (And I can’t wait to try it!)

    • plumpdumpling says:

      Thanks for reading, exciting new commenter. It must be so amazing to live where your parents do, to be able to look out on that bridge all of the time. I hope they’ve done well for themselves and can take cabs everywhere until the 2nd Ave. subway is finished, though.

      I want to hear more about this blast from the past. Everyone we saw there was slick and newmoney Turkish.

  2. Patty says:

    I’d be too intimidated to even walk into a place like that. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you. (I do wish you would’ve gotten some shots of the restaurant itself. Maybe you should go back.)

    • plumpdumpling says:

      I’m too intimidated, too. The hostess who seated us was wearing this silk dress that had cream ruffles on the top and a black empire waist at the bottom, and I was like, “Oh, cool, I’m wearing pants from Old Navy.” Luckily Kamran dresses well enough that no one pays any attention to me.

  3. Clint says:

    Never, ever be intimidated by food or restaurants.

    Also, next time I’m there, we must eat our way through the city. Or at least try our hand at it until we burst like that guy in Alien.

    • plumpdumpling says:

      It really is so stupid to feel that way, but I just know that the stink of Ohio is on me wherever I go and that everyone can tell I couldn’t set foot in any of these places if it weren’t for Kamran’s generosity. How do I get over it? Wag my pearls in their faces and speak with a Connecticut accent?

      I’ll begin expanding my stomach nightly in preparation for your return.

  4. Sarah says:

    Mmm… warm pineapple… mmm…

    I’m pretty sure that cooked pineapple is the best fruit in the world. I put Nutella on mine, and unsweetened whipped cream, if I’m feeling extra indulgent.

    • plumpdumpling says:

      It probably helps that it’s my favourite fruit ever and can do no wrong. Since Kamran won’t let me keep Nutella at his house, I’m going to stay at my own apartment tonight just to be able to eat an entire jar of it on pineapple behind his back.

    • ael88 says:

      If you like warm pineapple, you should toooooooooootally go from some battered pineapple fritters. Seriously. I would eat like 10 each day if I could afford the bypass surgery.

      (Actually, I can afford the surgery! Mediiiiiiicare!)

      • plumpdumpling says:

        And I don’t care what I look like, so we both win! Let’s make some in Kamran’s 3-foot-by-2-foot kitchen when you’re here!

        • ael88 says:

          Why not fill his shoebox apartment with oil, pineapple, and batter, and set it all on fire! Fritters will be flowing down the street.

          • plumpdumpling says:

            And we will gnaw the breading off each other like so many Ohioans on buffalo chicken wings.

            • ael88 says:

              Dibs on the crust coming off Kamran’s ass.

              • plumpdumpling says:

                Kamran says, “That’s one step too far.”

                Which I think means he’s into it.

                • ael88 says:

                  Oh, I forgot about that cell-phone-in-toilet incident; he’s still sensitive about anything ass-related. Sorry, Kam.

  5. gaelic says:

    You are too old to have such immature phobias over fish. You do have the stink of Ohio on you. Oh, $200! What a fancy place under the Quneesborough bridge.

    • plumpdumpling says:

      Boy, do I know it. If I could lose my fear of fish and my dislike of tomato, my life couldn’t be better.

      I love that area, with the Bridgemarket and that beautiful/creepy bridge and the lines of the Roosevelt Island tram overhead. I’m glad to see there’s new stuff going in.

  6. caropal says:

    Dear Lord. Can Kamran play sugar-daddy to us both when I (eventually) visit New York? I wanna eat fancy New York food!

    • plumpdumpling says:

      Knowing this, Kamran will refuse to see you out of spite, and you’ll be relegated to $7 Indian food with me instead. Mwahahaha.

  7. caropal says:

    Ooh, I’d get you all to myself, then? HOTHOTHOT.

  8. Tracey says:

    The chicken salad cube is amazing. Do they just have a mold in the kitchen for making those? More food should be cube-shaped, I think.

    • plumpdumpling says:

      When I finally get around to making my own Cadbury Creme Eggs at home, I’m totally making some cube-shaped ones for you.

      And maybe I’ll try binding some tomatoes in my non-existent garden so that they grow to be cube-shaped, and then you’ll have to eat them just for the novelty.

      • Tracey says:

        Woohoo! (To the Creme Eggs. Not to the tomatoes.) Can you just imagine how much sugar you get to use in a Cadbury Creme Egg recipe? I’m secreting insulin just thinking about it.

        • plumpdumpling says:

          OMG, what a great idea! I’m going to totally sabotage your diet just for fun by posting entries that are merely lists of sugary foods we like to eat.

  9. Spyked says:

    Whoa, your dessert was entirely too pineapple-ly for my delicate sensibilities.


    Dear Katie,

    Mmmm. Pineapples.

    Youºre the wisest. I can’t reread all your entries so I’ll just ask you where a good first date spot is for that girl you met on the internet that you bond with over the x-files and write long overly-elaborate e-mails to.

    Like…if you were this girl who went to Brown and was obsessed with pop culture in that high-holy-maniacal pop culture way that art students do it…where would you want to go.

    I’d like to point out that I’m in Portugal. And the food is amazing. Especially the pastries. I would bring one back for you and hand-deliver it but you know. You know I would eat it. I’m going to the beach. So there.


    • Obvs. you’d take her to a Japanese joint. For kitsch factor and plenty to talk about, I’d go with Benihana, though you’d have to make it clear that it’s for the irony to score points. If you want to go for actually-cool, go to Kyotofu, where even the name is a topic of conversation.

      OR! Kamran and I love Alta, which is a very romantic tapas bar with a huuuuuuuge menu. Bacon-wrapped dates and olives? You can’t go wrong.

      Or how about ‘sNice? It’s vegan, so it’s very laid back, but the food is also awesome. Especially the ice cream sandwich for dessert, which involves two giant cookies with soy ice cream that totally doesn’t taste like soy.

      Would you believe that I already knew you were in Portugal based on the fact that your apostrophe is a little circle? I don’t know if that happens anywhere else, but I always associate it with the ‘gal. I sent something to your house about a week ago, so you really do owe me that pastry.