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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Karakoy Lokantasi

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

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Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

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While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

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