Simit Sarayi

435 5th AveNew York, NY 10016 • (929) 374-3237 • simitsarayi.com

For all intensive purpose the name basically translates to Bagel Palace. And a palace it is not. In Turkey it is essentially a Panera, a local chain of decent baked goods and other dishes. And if I was in Turkey I’d probably only give this place 3 knives, but that’s in Turkey. To have this in New York City on my walk to work, it is a godsend!

About once a month I go butt-wild and buy a double Noah’s Ark- four of everything. The spinach rose borek might just be my favorite thing of all. Warm it up with a dollop of plain yogurt and sliced tomatoes on the side and you’ve got yourself one of the easiest, bestest meals you could wish for.

I also loves me some su boregi, which is sort of like a savory kugel or sauceless, meatless lasagna. It sounds awful the way I’m describing it, but I promise it’s delish. Granted it’s even better at Gulluoglu on the East Side, but since Gulluoglu isn’t on my walk to work, this one is plenty good enough.

Their dill and feta buns are terrific too, which are pseudo pogaça-like. For those of you who don’t find the poaça analogy helpful, it’s a small, savory pastry filled with herbs and cheese.

Ironically the top billing, the simit, can be a bit of a wild card. Sometimes it’s true to the motherland, thin and dense and seeded galore. Other times it tries to masquerade as a wannabe sesame bagel. I prefer the former.

On the sweet side, they also kick some serious ay çöreği, a crescent-shaped, semi-sweet dessert filled with ground hazelnuts that are so dense they almost taste like chocolate. Then, they top it off with sliced almonds.

All of the little cookies are money too. Perfect for çay sati (tea time). They have chocolate chip, Nutella filled, hazelnut and fig. You really can’t go wrong. And that’s what I love about this place. You could throw a dart anywhere in the joint and still be happy with what you got to eat, unless you hit the cashier, of course.

Advertisements

Four Seasons Sultanahmet

No. 1, Cankurtaran Mh., Tevkifhane Sk., 34122 Sultanahmet-Eminönü/Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey+90 212 402 3000 • fourseasons.com/content/fourseasons/en/properties/istanbul
cq5dam.web.press.400.keepaspectratio

For those of you still hung up on Midnight Express, the notion of dining in a Turkish Prison is probably not high up on your Istanbul bucket list, but rest assured, your fears would be sorely misplaced, because this prison is the Four Seasons of prisons. No, seriously. It’s actually a Four Seasons. With prison yards turned into lush gardens, cells turned into rooms and the cafeteria turned into an expansive restaurant atrium.

Like all Four Seasons restaurants, the food falls somewhere between good and great, although I would temper your expectations toward the lower end of that spectrum, because compared to the Four Seasons in New York it’s not even close. I mean that food-wise. In terms of décor it blows New York out of the water. Crazy to say about a prison, I know, but true nonetheless.

The food itself is a classic array of the usual suspects, mezes and iconic Mediterranean dishes ranging from whole sea bass (levrek), to dolma (stuffed grape leaves), to kufte (meatballs), to lentil soup (lentil soup). And while they all hold strong, there are better to be had throughout the city. But the food is not why you’re heading here, it’s for the one-of-a-kind experience, and on that The Four Seasons Sultanahmet delivers in spades.

3 teeth

Karakoy Lokantasi

Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mh., Kemankeş Cd No:37/A, İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 292 4455 • karakoylokantasi.com
thumb_600

Karakoy is the dark horse of Istanbul if you ask me, which suits it nicely since the direct translation of its name is “dark village.” Such an unlikely, industrial waterfront turned so hip it could easily give Brooklyn a run for its money, filled with one incredible restaurant after another, a stunning, refurbished Hamam turned spa, and unique boutiques speckled throughout.

Yet, amidst all of the funkier, cooler restaurants there lies a much lower key option, not trying too hard to live on the edge, delivering all your classic meze with excellent service and a simple, inviting, understated (comparatively) décor.

That said, the mezes themselves were a bit on the hit and miss side, not quite living up to the raves. My favorite being the smoked bonito fish with red onion (lakerda). Perhaps it’s the latent Jew in me, responding to the reminiscent flavors of sable and red onions atop a bagel and cream cheese… Cue Homer Simpson drooling noises.

After that, both the mustard pickled levrek (sea bass) and the grilled octopus proved to be a solid yum, while the yaprak sarma (stuffed grape leaves) and sigara boregi (phyllo dough stuffed with feta) proved to be nothing memorable.

The only flat out miss was the midye dolma (stuffed mussels), which is normally my favorite meze of all mezes. But I have to say these might’ve been the worst I’ve ever had. I mean they really shat the seabed on this one. So much so that they should foot the bill to fly in Sehmus, the Midye Whisperer of Bodrum, to teach them how it’s done.

But back on a positive note, the cacik (yogurt and herbs) was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. Granted I like the more soupy version well- okay, I like practically anything with yogurt, but this was definitely on the better end of the cacik spectrum. In fact the only other I can claim was as good was at Beyoglu in New York. Also, the fig dessert (pictured) with kaymak was pretty tasty as well.

So not exactly an out-of-the-way must. And I can’t say I’m even sure that it’s better than the scads of much cooler looking places all around it, but after a glass or two of Ala Yeni Raki who even cares?

3 teeth

 

Mama Shelter Restaurant

 Hüseyin Ağa Mah., İstiklal Cad. No:50 D:54, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 252 0200 • www.mamashelter.com/en/istanbul/restaurants/rooftop

rooftop

Right off the main drag a.k.a. Istiklal, there is a hotel by the name of Mama Shelter, created by the master himself, Philippe Starck. And while this isn’t what I would call his crowning achievement compared to the likes of the Delano, the Royalton and the Mondrian, it most certainly checks the cool box, drawing heavy influences from the same bag of tricks he used to design the Modrian in LA. The lobby is very white on white and the rooftop bar and dining area is complete with the same kind of sprawling city view, as well as beds and giant, over-sized planters. Granted he goes a great deal more colorful at Mama Shelter.

But sadly the cool décor goes straight to the heads of the wait staff who seem busier perfecting their aloof struts back and forth across the rooftop as opposed to taking care of customers. That said, should you manage to flag one down, brace yourself, because there’s more bad news, the menu is a bit hit and miss.

My first gripe being the iced tea. Not only is it not fresh brewed, it’s Lipton. Served in a can. Which I suppose should earn them a few marks for transparency. On the cloudier side of things, however, would be the preparation of the salmon cakes which are more like deep-fried fritters served with a slaw that is actually peanut based as opposed to vinegar or mustard, giving the dish a decidedly Thai net, net. And the net of that net was gross. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement even for me, because it wasn’t vomitous, but it really wasn’t good either.

And just when all hope was lost, Mama showed us her moxie with a delightful quinoa salad, made refreshing with chunks of watermelon and made complex and flavorful with bits of smoked circassian cheese. It was simple yet inventive and single handedly saved the life of our server who I was about to throw off the roof.

Perhaps Mama just needs to spend more time with her kids and get the house back in order?

2 teeth

Lucca

Bebek, Cevdet Paşa Cd. No:51, 34342, Turkey • +90 212 257 1255 • luccastyle.com

thumb_600

I’m not exactly sure what this place is trying to be, other than a place to be seen, because the menu is all over the map, covering everything from Japanese and Chinese to Mexican and even French cuisine. And while one could easily argue that this is the trend of most restaurants these days, siphoning influences from one cultural dish to inject into another, it is usually done with the focus of a through line. A theme, if you will. But here, that theme has zero to do with the food and everything to do with the fact that everyone around you is drop dead gorgeous, wearing as little clothes as is considered legal by the government- Sorry Erdogan, no burkas here. There are, however Mcalren’s and BMW i8’s- in fact the latter is the first I have ever seen on the road, and the former is only the second. So, to see both back to back in a matter of minutes is quite rare.

Sadly, the only other thing worth noting is the gin-based sangria (very refreshing and unique), but that’s to be expected from a “scene” I suppose, because most people are more concerned with looking dead sexy with a cocktail and a ciggy in their hand than actually eating anything. And it shows. The fish taco was begging for salsa to not only give it moisture, but heat, yet even if it did, the taco shell tasted like a pestemal (Turkish towel). Also in Mexicoland, the crab and avocado toast wasn’t much better, mainly because there was zero crab in it. Perhaps it was a typo and they meant “carb?”

Moving to Asialand, the crispy ponzu beef was nothing of the sort. It’s just crispy beef. The ponzu influence is either imperceptible or it crawled away with the crab. That said, crispy beef is probably not all that common in Turkey, so if you’re jonesing for some, it’ll do.

Italyland was also passable with a very basic rocket salad, done with artichokes and asparagus. Most likely the dish of choice between the cocktail and cigarette I mentioned earlier, after all, abs and buns of steel don’t grow on trees.

And finally Franceland, which may have been the worst showing of any nation, with a seared foie gras crostini lacking the sweet and savory contrast so iconic for the dish. As a result, it proved to be one of the blandest attempts at foie gras I have ever had. Which is sad. Mostly for the goose, whose torture went in vain.

Back on the plus side, the service was surprisingly good for such an affected place. Perhaps I should take this as a compliment, because not only were we treated well, we were seated at a choice table right at the front for all passersby to see. Then again, I’ll chalk that one up to wifey, because I sincerely doubt it was me who was supposed to be the eye candy.

2 teeth

Le Fumoir

Serdar-ı Ekrem Cd. Galata, Istanbul, TK • (0212) 244 2423 • http://www.georges.com/french-restaurant-istanbul-le-fumoir/
8713_georges_hotel_galata_0503002

Located on the roof of the very hip George Hotel in the Galata district of Istanbul, this place enjoys a very impressive view of Sultanahmet (an incredibly scenic and historic peninsula in Istanbul loaded with wonderful sights to see like The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace and The Grand Bazaar). But far more impressive than all of that is Le Fumoir’s Bloody Mary.

Really? In Turkey? Bloody yes! Up there with as good as I’ve ever had. First, they make it with fresh made tomato juice, no canned shit. Then they add roasted red peppers and if you tell them you like it “aci” (spicy), they will deliver in spades. But the heat alone isn’t what makes this cocktail shine, it’s the quality of the ingredients. So simple, yet so fresh, which even makes all the difference when it comes to hooch.

On the other side of the table, wifey enjoyed a gin-based variation on a mojito, made extra refreshing with the addition of cucumber. While also good, it was no Bloody Mary. Both, however were good enough that we felt very conflicted about leaving to go to our dinner reservation elsewhere. I mean, if they can do this with booze, I have to believe the food is something to behold. Note to self for my next visit to Istanbul.

So please read the knife count with an elephant-sized asterisk, because I am only judging it based on setting and drinks. If you eat here and hate it, I am absolving myself of all legal ramifications.

4 teeth

Delicatessen

Kısıklı, Mim Kemal Öke Cad. No:19 Istanbul, TK(0212) 225 0604 • http://www.delicatessenistanbul.com/
Delicatessen

Set amidst the Fifth Avenue shopping scene of Istanbul you will find a number of interesting looking places to spend you money on something other than high fashion. One such place being Delicatessen. A contemporary take on the name with its glass cases filled with goodies both savory and sweet, made hipster by its industrial steel and brick décor.

Within those cases, unfortunately lie offerings that are a bit hit and miss, at least by human standards. The army of street cats that will descend upon your table at the first sight of food will beg to differ. But assuming you’re human, because as I understand it most cats don’t read, here is the breakdown of do’s and don’ts:

For starters I highly recommend the inventive twist on the Turkish classic, sigara boregi (warm cigar-shaped, feta-stuffed pastries), only Delicatessen jazzes them up with the addition of marinated porcini mushrooms, making them more interesting and better than most I’ve had. On the flip side, their attempt at an Italian staple, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola and balsamic was less successful. The pear wasn’t ripe enough and cut too thick, so it overpowered everything else in the dish.

But far worse than the prosciutto was the filet and mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly thin and yet they STILL managed to under cook it. Which might not have been so bad had the quality of the meat been up to snuff, but it was sinewy and not worthy of human consumption. So, I fed the uncooked portion to one of the street cats.

Now after the steak one might assume that I cut my losses and avoided any further transgressions on the dessert course, but making an ass of you and especially me, I went for the blackberry cobbler in the dessert case because admittedly it did look pretty good. And pretty good it was, served warm and a la mode. Just not good enough to save this place from the meek knife count.

2 teeth

Galata Kahvehanesi

Şahkulu Mah. Tımarcı Sk. No:1 34421 Istanbul • (0533) 2391403

11427347_490024501147302_1593690506_n

Just off the main drag cutting through Galata there is a monopoly brewing by the name of Nar Hotels. A rather interesting concept whereby the hotel and its restaurants reside in several different buildings that span for blocks, as opposed to everything being under one roof. The result is very charming, quaint and each décor is done very tastefully, packing a lot of style into each square meter. Take Galata Kahvenhanesi as a prime example, with its soothing use of earth tones combined with a contemporary flair. It’s enough to make you forget all about the dilapidated building falling to pieces next door.

While we’re on the subject of things falling apart, let’s discuss the service in Istanbul restaurants during Bayram. Not only do you not get the A Team (who are busy on holiday in Bodrum), but they skip right over the B and C teams and go straight to D, as in Deplorable. We had to ask for things so many times I believe it may have set a world record. In fact, the only way the service could’ve been any slower was if the waiter had dropped dead mid-shift, been rushed to the hospital, resuscitated and rushed back to the restaurant to continue serving.

Fortunately for us, the chef apparently stayed through the festivities, because the food was up to snuff. The meze platter was fresh and flavorful, filled with eggplant dolma, bulgur salad, hummus, etc… And the rocket salad was equally worthy of praise. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t was the bread, which boy genius (a.k.a. our waiter) decided would be better served warm, so he nuked it, making it as chewy as a dog toy! Head in hand. But all things considered, I still most definitely recommend this place. Just not during Ramadan.

3 teeth

 

Kahwet Fairuz

Karakol bostan sokak No:13, 34367 İstanbul • (0212) 219 6530
11358076_102748086737400_1379043374_n

I loved this place walking in and hated it walking out. Reason primarily being my own fault I suppose. I clearly had baklava on the brain and when we stopped here for teatime, we should’ve just walked back out when we saw they didn’t carry any regionally authentic desserts. But nooooo, me and my stubborn ass just had to see if a Lebanese place could actually pull off a decent cheesecake. Well, I think we all knew the answer before the plate ever hit the table, but the depths to which this cheesecake sank are only rivaled by the core of the Earth.

And while it may seem unfair to throw a place under the bus from such a minute sampling, if you clearly ask the server to suggest the single best thing on the menu and he says “the cheesecake,” it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the food if their best is the worst.

On the plus side, however, I must give props to the decorator. The place is simply impeccable when it comes to detail and charm. Not a inch of this place went without thought from the fez lighting to the upside down hand mirrors to the bright colors and hookah centerpieces. Which brings me to an observation… I think the restaurateurs of Istanbul have handily cracked the code on how to make a place look cool. Now they just need to get their acts together and hire chefs worth their salt, because in four days we didn’t eat a single meal north of three knives.

2 teeth

 

Konsolos

Meşrutiyet Caddesi No:56, 34430 İstanbul (0212) 219 6530 • http://www.konsolosistanbul.com
150706174600_IMG_93211280x843

Believe it or not, we walked out on a reservation at Mikla, listed as #96 on Pellegrino’s Top 100 list in the world, just to eat at Konsolos (unranked) instead, solely based on vibe/decor. Call me shallow (which is fair), but I’d say it’s more a case of Pellegrino letting those bubbles go to the brain. The crowd is Disney-hotel-depressing, filled with patrons in their 90’s or 9’s, all oohing and ahhing over a glass enclosed view that comes a dime a dozen at almost every major city around the world. So, trying to coast on view alone, the décor feels dated and sad. Especially by comparison to the top of The George Hotel where we had just come from having a drink and Konsolos, which we popped in for a peek just before arriving at Mikla. Sure, the food might be good (although a fellow foodie told us later that we dodged a bullet), but to be in the top 100 in the world, shouldn’t you be firing on all cylinders?

But enough about Mikla, let’s talk about Konsolos, and its striking dining room, which drafts its grandeur off of its former tenant, the American Consulate, set in a dramatic space where visas were once issued, they have since decked the place out to look like a Victorian masterpiece had sex with a black light poster from Spencer Gifts. I know that doesn’t sound all that appealing as I write it, but I can assure you it’s unequivocally stunning. Dare I say one of the most impressive decors I’ve ever laid eyes on and unfortunately even the photo above doesn’t do it justice, but just trust me. Hell, it made us pass up Mikla, didn’t it?

But this looker’s also got skillz, serving up Italian classics with a twist. For example, the rustic Italian bread comes with a tomato sauce for dipping, made special by the addition of mustard seeds, giving it a little heat, a little crunch and a lotta damn that’s good. Skip the other spread though. It’s walnut and soy based and it’s no contest.

The artichoke trio, while also interesting by Italian standards was pretty basic by Turkish ones, done in typical meze style, only instead of being topped with carrots and peas marinated in olive oil, it was topped with arugula and parmesan crisps, which kinda fell short on either side of cuisine expectations.

After that came the pastas and I have to say, mama mia Konsolos has game! Both the parpadelle ragu and the lamb shank fettucini were moist and delicious. Granted I think the parpadelle was actually fettucini and the fettucini was more like short cut spaghetti. Also, the lamb pasta was a bit over salted, but I think that was more due to the salt garnish around the rim of the plate. If you avoid mixing your pasta into it, or sliding your fork through it, you should fair much better than I did on my first two bites before discovering the culprit.

For dessert, while the profiteroles get full marks for inventiveness, they get very few marks for awesomeness. which was kind of a shame because we were both sorta hoping for a more faithful representation. Nonetheless, what you do get is a presentation not to be forgotten. The waiter actually pours liquid nitrogen (aka dry ice) over the ice cream at the table to create a crumbled “astronaut ice cream” effect next to the four different cream filled pastries. The pistachio cream was the best of the lot, followed by lemon and chocolate, with strawberry in the rear. But the pastries were too bready and the cream was too sweet. And the ice cream, well, it’s novel. I can say that. What I can’t say is that the meal lives up to the décor quite yet, but give this newcomer some time and I firmly believe greatness awaits, especially once winter hits and it becomes more en vogue to dine indoors.

3 teeth