Midyeci Sehmus Usta

Şehit Uğur Öztop Cad. Gündoğan, TK 48965 • +90 535 9492313sehmususta.com

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This is not just a restaurant, this is a movie in the making about a kid who comes from nothing and manages to build an empire… out of stuffing mussels with rice. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be a great movie, but it is truly inspiring to see what this man, Sehmus, has managed to achieve since 1981, when he first started selling midye dolma (stuffed mussels) out of a street cart. A head-scratching concept to say the least, because shellfish from a barrel on wheels sounds like the recipe for E.coli if ever I heard one. In fact, back when my wife and I first visited Bodrum together nearly 15 years ago, she tried to get me to try the mussels from one of the street carts and I looked at her like she had seven heads. Granted they were all very pretty heads, but seven nonetheless. That said, after trying a small sampling of three, I immediately ordered another dozen. And every year the number has grown exponentially to 24, 30, 40- even 50 pieces in a single order. Praise be Sehmus! I have seen the light!

And I’m not the only one. Somehow this mussel man (see what I did there?) managed to assemble a family owned and operated network of street carts stretching from Izmir all the way to Bodrum and everything in between. A veritable army of street vendors all carrying a product so consistently great they could give Penn Tennis Balls a run for their money. Too obtuse? Penn used to have a long running ad campaign about how “amazingly consistent” they were. But I digress.

Which brings me to today. Finally, the man, the myth, the legend, has decided to settle down, planting roots with his first brick and mortar restaurant, located in Gundogan, serving up mussels in every way shape and form. In fact, the menu almost reads like that scene in Forrest Gump where he goes on and on about all the ways you can cook shrimp.

But fret not, because the dolma are still the best on Earth. And if you’re not close to Gundogan, that’s okay too, because the army of street vendors is still on the march.

One caveat, however. The rest of the menu doesn’t quite hold up to the dolma. The midye casserole is just okay- be sure to ask for it aci (spicy) and without cheese (one of those rare dishes that’s better sans). Another zag from expectations is that I much preferred the fried calamari over the grilled variety, which is rare for me. And last but not least, the seafood with rice was also a big snoozer. But hot damn are those dolma good! So go for those, some raki or Efes, and eat so many you turn yourself into a dolma. Sage advice if ever it existed.

3 teeth

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?

3 teeth

 

Turkish Kitchen

386 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 679-1810turkishkitchen.com

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If you have read any of my other reviews you probably guessed by now that I have some sort of link to Turkey considering how many Turkish restaurants I have reviewed. And you would be right. I go to Turkey at least once a year for a few weeks and I absolutely love the food. But unfortunately there are too many great dishes for one restaurant to hold on their menu so I kind of have to run the circuit to truly get my fix on all of my favorites. And Turkish kitchen is the only place in the city that I found to have my absolute top favorite dish, midye dolma (stuffed mussels). A dish born out of fishing towns like Izmir and the beautiful coves of the Turkish Riviera. But TK is more than a one trick pony. They do a lot of things well, particularly their whole fish served bones, head and all- which is the way they serve it in Turkey, so be prepared to clean it should you choose to order it. Décor is nice and service is always friendly. And while they are the only ones to carry my favorite dish, if you find yourself lovin’ some Turkish like me, check out some of my other recos, because Turkish Kitchen is just the tip of the buzdagi (iceberg).

3 teeth

The Ultimate Mussels

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Midye Dolma Carts & Sehmus– Bodrum, TK

During the Summer, throughout the Bodrum area, there are these guys walking around with street carts, loaded with mussels. Now, if you are half sane, mollusks are probably the LAST street meat you’d ever want to risk your life with, but please hear me out.

These mussels are called midye dolma (stuffed mussels) and they cooked, stuffed with rice and spices, closed back up and then chilled. All of this happening back in Izmir where the family catches the mussels and prepares them. Then, they load up their sons (it would seem they have outdone the old lady who lived in a shoe) with these mussels and send them off throughout the Turkish Riviera.

So, should you happen to see one of these guys, don’t think it’s some rinky dink operation. And especially don’t pass them by. Get yourself a dozen, squeeze some lemon over the top and order yourself a glass of white wine or raki. I will bet my foodiness that about halfway through you will be ready for another dozen.

Yamashiro – Los Angeles, CA

Most people come to Yamashiro for the view. I go for the mussels. I mean sure, the view is spectacular and the grounds are impeccable, but the Seven Spice Mussels are seventh heaven. Forget the sushi. Forget the fact that Jason Priestley once took Jennie Garth here for a date on 90210. Just remember to get the mussels if you should ever go here.

L’Ondine – Cannes, FR

The place is very unassuming from a culinary aspect as you would likely discount it as just a beach that happens to serve food, but assumptions are like really annoying phrases that you’ve heard all your life so I’ll spare you. That said, park your assumptions on the Croisette because the Moules Frites here is phenomenal.

Beyoglu

1431 3rd Ave. New York, NY 10028 • (212) 650-0850
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This and Pasha are my two favorite Turkish restaurants in the city. Although as I write this, I’m thinking Beyoglu might have the edge. First, the decor is fun and lively and the service is friendly- which is par for the course at pretty much every Turkish restaurant in the city. And then the bread and cacik comes (cacik is the Turkish version of the yogurt/garlic/herb concoction you find in Greek and Indian cuisine as well)… But their cacik is out of this world. Fresh, homemade yogurt so thick and creamy it’s like eating it right out of the cow. That, coupled with their warm, fresh baked Ramadan-style bread, and you’ll be in heaven before the food even arrives.

As for the mezzes (appetizers) they are all excellent. The spinach pie, the octopus- even the entrees were both solid. The only things I wish they had are mucver, lahmacun and midye dolma. But it’s been a while since I’ve been there, so maybe they’ve added them. Guess I’ll have to go back and see.

4 teeth