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
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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.

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Crimson

2901 Ocean Park Blvd. Ste 127 Santa Monica, CA 90405(310) 396-2400 crimsonla.com

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If you hate Tommy James and the Shondels, the University of Alabama football team and Tom Clancy novels about submarines, then your crimson ship finally came in. In the form of hummus wraps stuffed with fresh tabouleh, bursting with flavor. Dip that in a side of their tzatziki and you’re golden. But speaking of gold, their Turkish style grape leaves drizzled with a harissa yogurt are so good I think they should be made mandatory for all other restaurants to emulate. Even their Arnold Palmer was pretty decent, making this an all around great spot for a grab and go, delivery or a casual bite.

I’d elaborate more, but this one is a solid fastball down the middle. And besides, you have too much work to be sitting around reading lengthy blog posts waxing Hemmingway about a dolma anyway.

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Galata Kahvehanesi

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

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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.

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Pera

303 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017(212) 878-6301peranyc.com

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The stars are primarily for the food. The service is actually hit and miss. First time we went it was pretty slow. And by slow, I mean if we didn’t ask for things to be sped along, we’d still probably be there. But the second time we went it was as though they remembered us and redeemed themselves in spades. Hard to say until I go a third time for the tie-breaker.

As for the decor, it’s nice. Simple and elegant, but nothing too lavish either. And the crowd seems to be more business than pleasure. But VERY packed regardless. Not an open table in the place at 6:30pm on a Tuesday.

But forget about all of that, because the moment the bread hits the table, Pera shines. What I mean by that is the bread is like nothing you’ve ever had. Akin to a souffle, it is light and airy and served with crumbled feta that literally melts into the steam of the bread.

The dolma (stuffed grape leaves) are also solid. Made turkish style with currants, the way I like them.

And the dates wrapped in pastirma (Turkish sopressata) were also pretty awesome.

But then, the dark horse rode in. The fried calamari. A dish I’m seldom a fan of, so much so, that when my wife wanted to order it, I rolled my eyes. Well, I wound up eating a lot of crow on this one. And a ton of calamari along with it. It was easily the best I’ve ever had. By a wide margin. Served with hot peppers, chives and sucuk (spicy sausage).

Then for entrees, I had the Lamb Adana, which was solid. But nothing better than it is at other Turkish haunts in the city. That said if you’re craving lamb, I would skip it and go for the lamb “tacos.” HIGHLY recommend. Can’t decide which is more amazing, those or the fried calamari.

Also worthy of note, the salmon entree was excellent, especially considering it’s not a Turkish fish.

Now for the only two misses: I found the okra entree to be a touch bland. And for dessert, the chocolate volcano was just okay- shoulda gone with the Baklava. And I will… Next time.

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