Note: Savarona has closed. It closed so quickly, in fact, that none of the city’s major critics got around to reviewing it. The double gamble we referred to in our opening paragraph did not pay off.
The new restaurant Savarona takes a double gamble. The first is that New Yorkers will warm up to haute Turkish cuisine, of which this is practically the only example in Manhattan. The second is that they’ll do so in Sutton Place, a tiny East Midtown enclave not easily reached by mass transit.
I can’t say whether the gamble will pay off. The only thing I can say is: I certainly hope so. Savarona deserves your attention. In a town where so many restaurants are plainly derivative, this one blazes its own trail. The chef, Tevfik Alparslan, comes from Istanbul via La Tour d’Argent and Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. His menu has a recognizably Mediterranean tint, but every dish we tried led us to unfamiliar territory, and quite happily so.
The owners have given Alparslan a beautiful stage on which to perform: a comfortable space, elegantly redecorated. The lighting is warm and inviting, the tables generously spaced. The restaurant is on the ground floor of a residential building in the shadow of the Queensboro bridge, but set comfortably back from the street. There is room for outdoor seating in good weather. There is an ample bar and a spacious, semi-private dining room that seats twelve.
Appetizers are generally priced in the teens, entrées in the twenties. The reasonably priced wine list is Mediterranean-centric, though there are no actual Turkish wines, curiously enough. There wasn’t as much variety as I’d like; most of the bottles were fairly young. (We had a 2005 Italian Syrah; $56.)
There was a nice bread service, with four kinds of homemade bread and a fried cheese spread (above right).
I enjoyed the Stuffed Mackerel ($12; above left), accented with fresh pine nuts, currants, asparagus, warm fennel, and a fresh red pepper emulsion. My girlfriend had the traditional Mezze Platter ($14; above right). Two of the five items were made with eggplant, which is about the only food I don’t eat, but she said they were terrific. I liked the yogurt cucumber and the chicken salad, the latter topped with pine nuts.
I thought that the entrées surpassed the appetizers, but my girlfriend said, “I’m not so sure; that eggplant was pretty damned good.”
An entrée of Stuffed Grape Leaves ($24; above left) was remarkable: four plump grape leaves stuffed with beef tenderloin in a sweet cherry-apricot sauce. The Sultan Kebab ($25; above right) had tender meatballs and diced beef in a yogurt and light chili sauce.
The pastry chef here trained in French kitchens, and the staff admitted that the deserts are more French than Turkish. Pineapple ($12) with mango sorbet, mascarpone and spun sugar could make an appearance anywhere. It was one of the most enjoyable desserts we’ve had in quite some time.
There were minor service glitches, as one might expect at a three-week-old restaurant. Plates were deposited in front of the wrong diner. The cheese spread arrived a bit too late. One item wasn’t quite as warm as it should be.
The food at Savarona is very good, and the space is as relaxing as any we’ve visited in recent months. Since there is almost zero foot traffic on this stretch of 59th Street, the restaurant will be heavily dependent on word-of-mouth and favorable reviews. This is a restaurant we’ll be rooting for.
Savarona (420 E. 59th Street between First and York Avenues, Sutton Place)