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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Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

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Bosphorous

108 S Park Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789 (407) 644-8609 bosphorousrestaurant.com

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Considering my wife is Turkish and I visit Turkey for a few weeks at least once a year, I would say I’m a pretty good judge of Turkish cuisine. Therefore, by the power vested in me, I pronounce Bosphorus to be the real McCoy. One bite and you feel like you’re sitting in Istanbul enjoying mezes (appetizers) and sipping raki (anise Turkish booze). Everything is as authentic as it gets and once upon a time it was pretty damn good too. But ever since they opened a second location in Dr. Phillips, the food at both has slid downhill. Particularly at the Dr. Phillips location. So if you if you’re going, head to Winter Park instead.

That said, there are still a few things that remain strong, like the lavas (a giant puffy bread) with cacik (yogurt mixed with garlic and herbs), the lahmacun (ground lamb flat bread: pictured), the babaganoush and humus. The rest is sadly a shell of its former self, from the oily mucver (zucchini pancakes) to the flavorless okra dish to the adana kebabs that are not very adana (spicy).

But at least the staff is still very friendly, so if you need additional guidance, feel free to let them show you around the menu. Also, two things; I recommend going with three or more people so you can try lots of different things and second, don’t go if you are in a rush. Turks like to take their time and so should you. Besides, it’s not good to eat too fast. And yes, I am your mother.

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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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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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Konsolos

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

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Vespa

Neyzen Tevfik Cad. • Marina Yacht Club, 48400 Bodrum, Turkey • +90 252 3161228

Vespa-Restaurant

Regardless of how good the food is in Turkey, if you are spending any length of time there, eventually you are bound to suffer from meze and fish fatigue. This is when I like to mix it up with something like Ox Burger or Vespa.

Vespa is a very capable pizza joint (and night club) located right on the marina, like so many other restaurants in the greater Bodrum area, however in Bodrum proper it’s pretty rare to be on the boat side of the road West of the castle, which they are. And which is nice.

Service is usually a tad rushed because the place seems to be packed every night. Guess we’re not the only ones who get meze fatigue?

The food, as I intimated already is solid. And I mean that only by Turkish standards. I mean c’mon, it’s not like you can compare it to Roberta’s or Grimadli’s, but for the Bodrum area in Turkey it does quite well. Not that pizza is the most foreign of cuisines to Turks, after all, the Romans did in fact consider Turkey part of home once upon a time. And with dishes like lahamacun and pide, who are we kidding, they are basically pizza-like objects already. But I don’t want to discount anything here either. If making pizza was easy, everyone would do it. Yet only Vespa seems to get the important alchemy of sauce and crust.

And having had many a pie here I can confidently say that they are pretty consistent, so feel free to let your cravings guide you. Salads are also good, but a little more on the simple side. Nothing too inventive. Just the classics. In fact, the only twist I recall seeing on the menu is a pie with sucuk on it (spicy Turkish sausage). Not exactly revolutionary, but a nice local spin on a tried and true. And that right there sums Vespa up in a nutshell. Tried and true and never disappoints.

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Mythos

Symi Harbor 85600, Symi, Greece • +30 22460 71488
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We went here on a recommendation from our hotel, which claimed that the chef at Mythos was the “most consistent” in Symi. Well, we assumed he meant consistently good, but from what I could see, consistently chatty is more like it. He is perpetually fluttering from table to table like a social butterfly, meanwhile, his kitchen is churning out turd after turd.

Eleven courses we endured through the chef’s meze tasting, explained on the menu as the best of his best, and out of all eleven we only bothered to finish two. That’s not to say that all nine of the remainders sucked, but most of them did, with a few mediocre stragglers.

Of them, the spinach pie was by far the worst I have ever had. Like something you’d expect to find in a high school cafeteria. So soggy and lifeless his citizenship should almost be revoked for such a blight on Greek cuisine.

Next, a half notch up from shitsville was the shell stuffed with slop, or as they called it, shrimp and cheese. But it was so bland and over-cheesed that you could barely find the miniscule frozen shrimps hidden within in its mediocrity. Needless to say this was another one bite and done dish.

Working our way further through the chef’s tour de farce, we had a underwhelming mousaka and an equally prosaic lamb with rosemary.

Even the bookends of the meal were tragic. The bread was a touch stale, the salad was limp and over-dressed and both desserts tasted like bricks of cream. One marginally flavored with lemon. The other with banana.

But to be fair, the eggplant dish with sweet potato and berry jam, as well as the seafood risotto, were both relatively good. Then again, McDonald’s is relatively gourmet when you are relatively starving in the desert.

The only things that rose to a level of great were the rooftop setting, which has a pleasant view overlooking the harbor, the wait staff who was friendly and attentive, the kalamata olives, which the chef obviously doesn’t make, but rather purchases and then pulls out of a jar to serve and finally the lamb kebab with a spicy sweet sauce and tzatziki. Congratulations. I guess in Stockholm he learned that if you throw enough darts at the board eventually one of them is bound to hit. That said, even the kebab was dry and overcooked, but fortunately the sauce covered it up.

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Elia

Apellou 27 | Old town, Κos, GR 85300, Ελλάδα • +30-2242022133 • elia-kos.gr
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If you’re visiting Kos as quick, novel day trip or you’re simply stuck there on an unfortunate layover between ferries to a more desirable Greek island, fret not. There is a truly great restaurant to be found amidst the touristy madness. Elia is located in Old Town along the exact same strip of shit stores where you can buy everything from Kiss T-Shirts and Yankees baseball caps (who knows why?) all the way to Spartan replicas, ouzo bottles sporting boners and hordes of infused olive oils (which make more sense).

But once you set foot inside Elia, you feel as if you are finally in Greece and not some isle of commercialism and greed. While the front is charming with it’s wood cabinetry and shelves loaded with jars and containers, I recommend you sit in the back, further escaping into the dappled garden light where you can cool off and enjoy some of the best Greek you’ve ever had.

It started off with a bountiful basket of bread, olives and tapenade. The pitas are piping hot, fresh from the over, so we horked those down pretty fast.

Upon several waiter recommendations we also had some of the best tzatziki I’ve ever had served along side some of the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had, made with red peppers and olives in addition to the eggplant.

Then came an olive and feta pie he recommended, which came in almost empañada like pastries. Again, it was very good.

The consistency kept coming with the lamb kapamas which was a shank stewed in a wonderfully sweet cinnamon sauce. It was so friggin’ good I forced the entire thing down even though I was already full by the time it hit the table (the portions are so generous you can easily get 4 servings out of any of those three starters).

So after such an impressive performance I just had to press on. We asked for his reco on dessert as well, and while he said “of course the baklava,” he also said, if you want to try something much more unique, try the ice cream with sweet vegetables and fruit. Sweet vegetables? With ice cream? Okay, he had me. I’m always a sucker for something new.

Once again, Elia soared. Creamy, cold vanilla surrounded by eggplant, tomatoes, olives and cherries. All of them preserved in such a way as to retain their original flavor, while also managing to deliver enough sweetness to coexist with the ice cream. So different. So good.

And best of all, the price was extremely reasonable. And I’m not just saying that because the waiter treated us to two glasses of a delicious dessert wine, sort of like a Greek port. I am, however, giving Elia five knives because they didn’t miss a single note. And because they turned being stranded in Kos into lemonade.

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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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