Monday, October 3, 2011

A-munching we will go...

munchmobile 2011 nj
As many of you already know, this summer I was selected to be on the Munchmobile Tour. The trip I ended up going on involved Turkish cuisine. (Pay no attention to that picture of me talking with my mouth full with the wind in my face. My mom DID try to raise me better than that).

The trip was a lot of fun and I wondered if I should tell you all about the trip. But then I decided not to. If you are curious, try out yourself :)

What I HAVE decided to share are my complete reviews of the restaurants (edited to keep the image of the Munchmobile Driver's integrity intact).

The one rule which was enforced was: when describing what we were eating, we could not use the word "good" because that particular word didn't really describe the food... "spicy and addictive" great, "tasty" ok, "awful" still ok. "Good"? Bad. Which is why I jokingly created the following Off-The-Record Review (which Pete Genovese promptly printed in the state's largest newspaper)...

The Quote: “Four Seasons was good. Rumi was good. Lalezar was pretty good. Hunkar was good. I really liked that food at that place that tasted good. The end.”

Although the quote was not um, good (not all my friends got the joke), it did actually sum up my experience: not one of the restaurants failed to appease my palate.

The trip started off well with the first dish of the day, a shepherd
salad. The combination of tomatoes, parsley, cucumber and onions was
tossed with the right amount of vinegrette. The falafel, tinged green from
herbs, was crispy and was nicely accompanied by a tahini sauce.

Of all four places, I enjoyed this babaganush the most. Why? Texture. It
wasn't blended to death. Although the gyro was standard, the lamb burger
was juicy and had a wonderful peppery taste. The savory cheese puff filled
with feta was almost too rich for a second bite... almost. The chicken
kabob was perhaps my favorite entree of the day. Marinated in their Four
Season Kebab House Sauce, it was super tender. Each dish was accompanied
with a mold of white rice and orange bulgar. Not only did it make for an
attractive presentation, the combo was delicious. And who would think that
a salted yogurt drink would be that refreshing?! It was not as heavy as an
Indian lassi and not as salty as an Afghan dogh. Will I be back? I don't
know... all the locations are a bit far for me... but I know SARAH will!

In the Hummus War of 2011, Rumi was the winner although their babaganush
was bland. I enjoyed the fresh grape leaves stuffed with rice, pinenuts
and herbs which had a subtle sweetmeetessavory taste. The Manti, although
a little doughy went well with its yogurt sauce and if I lived closer,
could become a "standard." The Köfte, oval-shaped ground beef patties were
definitely not something that would ever pass over the counter at a
McDonalds: less peppery than the lamb patties at Four Seasons, they were
grilled just right. The chicken kabob was a bit dry (was it because we
didn't eat it at the restaurant?) The eggplant with tomato sauce went very
well with the meat dishes. The lamb chops looked very pretty but were just
good, not great. Although the fearless leader may disagree?
Hummus, what hummus (really... who runs out of hummus?!) Luckily the
babaganush was blended so smoothly that it looked like hummus, so we
didn't miss it. The babaganush had a smoky flavor. And what's this?
Woohoo... finally something to tempt my spicebuds. The ezme actually had
some heat to it; luckily I had some sour cherry juice to temper it a bit.
Since fried liver seemed to be a typical dish (it was on all four menus),
we finally ordered it. As Sarah put it best..."for liver, it wasn't bad."
It was tender and although it still tasted like liver, it wasn't
overpowering. The vegetable turreen might have been the miss of the day,
reminding me more of a vegetable soup that overcooked the veggies. The
lamb was chewy, almost tough. The fish was very moist and mild, and did
not taste at all "fishy"; it also looked back at you which might not be a
welcomed sight by some. The rice pudding was milky and not too sweet.
The okra with lamb was a truly superb dish: the lamb tender, the okra not
gummy. Perfect for summer were the dilly cucumber dish (cacik?) and the
tabbuleh. To drink... Turkish orange soda which tasted like... wait for
it... ORANGES (in other words, citrusy versus that cloyingly sweet orange
soda available at the local soda fountain).

I wasn't that impressed with the doner kabob (gyro, say
tomayto, I say tomahto) a dish that is only served on weekends. The thinly
sliced pork and beef were almost the consistancy of a jerky. The manti
dumpling dough didn't win me over as much as Rumi's did. The rice was just
plain white rice unlike the bulgar served elsewhere, but it was flavorful
(broth instead of water?). The chicken with yogurt was quite tender but
not as layered with flavors as Four Seasons' chicken dish.

The milk pudding was not as gelatinous as Four Seasons' "milk jello"
bottom of the pot pudding. I preferred Hunkar's rice pudding to Lalezar's.
It was thicker and a little bit sweeter. But someone disagreed with me and
a catfight broke out. Unfortunately for the driver, the catfight wasn't
between the Turkish waitresses.


BEST RESTAURANT: Four Seasons. To be perfectly honest, this was not an
easy decision. Either Turkish food is not easy to mess up, the Driver got
good suggestions, or I'm not picky when it comes to food. I'm going with
the second one. Although I wasn't totally impressed with all of the day's
dishes, none were complete inedible disasters. Heck, even edible
disasters. All four were good restaurants. I just liked more dishes at
Four Seasons than compared to the others. Plus the waitress was so
informative and friendly.

BEST DISH: Four Seasons' Chicken Kabob

BEST WAITRESS: Weronika at Four Seasons


BEST DECOR: Kumi. The delicate robin blue walls, black punched-tin
lanterns, and dark wood wainscotting gave a sophisticated Mediterranean
feel. Unlike the cafe feel of Four Seasons, the European family restaurant
feel of Hunkar, or the "hey look at me, I'm Turkish" look of Lalezar.


BEST DESSERT: Hunkar's Apricot (Kayisi Tatisi). Any baklava is good
baklava; but I have had better at other restaurants which were not on the
route. The apricot didn't taste like it belonged in grandma's fruitcake;
it had a fresh fruit taste. And with the Turkish coffee, was the perfect
ending to the tour.

BEST LEFTOVER: My mom thought that Hunkar's bottom of pot pudding was the
best of all the leftovers I took home.

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