Archive for the ‘Turkish’ Category

New Jersey minutes/January 2014

January 2014

Those who love New York take the bus. My consort and I had an offer of a ride to and from a meet-up with the eating-Asian/Asian-eating group that always includes us in such fabulous meals, but I insisted we should follow the slow route one way so Bob could see the ethnic richness that lies between the Port Authority and the relatively upscale suburb where Petite Soo Chow is tucked away in the back of a little parking lot, catercorner from a Russian catering hall. And, as always, I was right. The local passes through another world of Spanish signs and symbols, but we soon realized we were flying and should get off and walk. So we did the last mile poking through three great food stops — one Russian, two Turkish — and contemplating what a gorgeous mosaic this whole region is.

We bought nothing at our first stop but succumbed to both a simit and those tiny Antep pistachios with outsized flavor at the second, after walking down every aisle to marvel at the variety of stuff on offer, then we crossed the street to Gulluoglu baklava cafe just to look. As the cheery countergirl said: “Looking is free.” But we had to indulge, in two cylinders and two squares of pistachio baklava, for which she charged us by the pound ($5.36) rather than the piece ($8). The Cat WCTLWAFW went nuts for both the simit and the cylinder.

And at the end of the walk we were rewarded with easily the most excessive Chinese feast we’ve  split a tab for ($31 a head, in this case). The waitress was in major up-selling mode, but everyone was definitely open to nearly everything she up-sold (lobster and crab were lines drawn, however). First to land on the table were excellent Shanghai-style fried buns, soup dumplings and pickled cucumber spears, then three choices off the cold buffet near the front door (all of which scared me): tripe, jellyfish with celery and a sort of Chinese headcheese (or jambon persille sans the greenery). I also passed on the thickly sauced eel with pork belly but quite liked the whole steamed bass, the stir-fried pea shoots and the weird but worthwhile packets of carrots and mushrooms wrapped in bean curd skin. As much as I love duck, though, the eight-treasure one that was sliced open was too much treasure, not enough meat. Because it’s near New Year’s, we were also treated to a mochi-like cake. WIGB? Absolutely, especially if we can snare a speedy ride home over the Chris Christie Memorial Bridge.

Strangers on a bus

August 2011

I spent weeks online before trekking to Turkish Air, trying to settle on somewhere to go after Istanbul with the six days Bob had tacked on after his workshop, after his three weeks on the road teaching three other workshops. My head was spinning from so many suggestions from friends, neighbors, strangers, websites, to the point that I just got on the plane thinking we could play it by ear, since flights seemed to be cheap and open and hotels seemed available everywhere. And I had already decided we would spend one extra day in Istanbul to let Bob rest a bit when two young women behind me on the shuttle to Santralistanbul tapped me on the shoulder and tried to ask a question. I thought they were Russian, and all of us were struggling to communicate when one of them asked: “Do you speak English?” Turns out they were Turkish, home from London and Paris, and as we talked they finally asked me the one question that made me focus: “What do you want to see? Ruins? Museums? The beach? Tiny towns?”

I’ll take tiny towns, Leyla! We were already leaning toward Sirince, in Anatolia, where good friends had just stayed. But she mentioned her family’s hometown, which she said used to be a tiny fishing village but is now one of the most popular places on the Aegean for Turks. And that’s where we settled for our last night before heading back to Istanbul.

Alacati did not look promising, especially when the innkeeper sent us to a huge, expensive fish restaurant, empty at midday, and Bob volunteered: “I just remembered how much I hate beach towns.” I kept saying “fishing village, fishing village.” And that evening it turned magical. The hotel was perfect, with a great shower, flowers everywhere, a huge old fig tree in the garden, and it took us just minutes to walk into the heart of the town, where endless cafes had tables set out and shops were crowded.

The innkeeper’s husband suggested Trip Advisor’s top restaurant, Asma Yapragi, and called ahead to say “Bob is coming,” so we got a nice table on the street for dinner. The owner ushered us in to see what she and her team had cooked that day, set out on a huge table, from which we chose fried squash blossoms stuffed with cheese, a pea puree, Swiss chard baked with bechamel and topped with yogurt, a crunchy artichoke-pasta gratin and amazing zucchini ribbons braised with garlic and onion, followed by lamb that had been roasted for five hours with garlic and rosemary and was teamed with rice pilaf. All of it just reinforced how awful Turkish food is in New York. Aside from the good bottle of Turkish rosé, and the low bill, we could have been eating in Provence.

Next morning the innkeeper had her staff serve us breakfast early before the flight back from Izmir: a choice of 10 jams made by her husband (we tried nectarine, fig, orange and a local cherry one), local wheat bread, cheeses, olives, tomatoes, red peppers, arugula and two types of cucumbers, one round, the other elongated. And we had the Turkish egg casserole, scrambled with tomatoes, peppers and onions, which finally made me understand what the slop on the Richmond Hotel’s otherwise-outstanding buffet was meant to be.

I had also read about an amazing chocolate-chestnut cake at Kose Kahve, but when we found the place it was not to be seen; instead Bob chose the mastic-fig tart. Which could have been a heavily frosted cake from Wegmans for all the fig and mastic taste/texture it had. Worse, with two Turkish teas, we paid 18TL, about $10. A better deal was the crumbly, intensely flavored mastic cookie we split from a 1941 bakery we passed, for 1TL. I can still taste it. And in a good way.

Under the Turkish sun

August 2011

Friends who had stayed there advised us Nisanyan House in Sirince would be “formally informal,” but we loved it, starting with the elderflower drink on arrival, served outside near the fountain laid with fresh flowers every morning. Our first room was huge, with a glassed-in tub/shower room, but even when we moved to a smaller one we woke up to the gorgeous view of the village sprawled below us. Breakfast was always an elaborate affair: preserves, cheeses, breads, fruit, eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes, olives etc. The one day we asked for a late-afternoon snack the kitchen rustled up a superb salad with cheese and purslane and tomatoes, plus a cheese plate, with Turkish white, to eat outside with the resident cat begging and posing. A gaggle of geese hung out in the parking lot, and a working donkey passed through morning and night. And the staff was superb, even the members whose English was about equal to our Turkish.

The only weak link was dinner. You have to order well in advance, so when you sit down the kitchen is ready, and if you’ve already had a late-afternoon snack you might not want that huge lamb shank that sounded so good earlier on. At least Bob’s shank was worth it, with succulent meat and flavor that didn’t taste too gamy even to me. The rice-cheese pilaf with it was also excellent. But I stupidly ordered a vegetable stew described as “mommy style,” and it was a mess of overcooked potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and zucchini in watery brodo with zero flavor and the eye appeal of upchuck. No wonder we got in a stupid argument. Our choice of meze was also misguided; the zucchini blossoms and pepper stuffed with rice were bland and mushy. Wine prices seemed out of line, too; I had to remind Bob we wouldn’t spend $50 on a bottle in New York.

Next night we happily trekked back down into the village, where we’d had a decent-enough little repast of salad, mezes and sweet wine at Artemis our first evening. Good old Trip Advisor rated Ocakbasi highly, and the setting would have made up for any lame food: tables out on a terrace right above the cheesy market with the usual views of the village. But the only thing lame was the “Turkish pancake,” which was more a Turkish quesadilla, and an anemic one at that. Roasted peppers were world-class, smoky roasted eggplant just as great, as was a green salad made with crunchy perfect vegetables. With a bottle of Turkish rosé served half a bottle at a time, it was well worth the walk down and back up the winding steps past goats and cats and old people on their stoops. It might not be “Italy with an edge,” but Sirince is a hot destination for good reason. It’s just most seductive after dark or from above.

New York minutes/Mid-February 2010

February 2010

The good: Nam in TriBeCa, where four of us headed after the amazing “That Night’s Wife” with original score at the World Financial Center and where I could only wonder why we had never tried it before. The elegant room looks like $30 entrees, but I don’t think anything was over $18; Oyster Bay SV was only $30 when wine stores are gouging at $13 or $14. We split outstanding beef rolls and seared tuna rolls plus exceptional grilled eggplant; only the bland green papaya salad with shrimp and scabs (a k a dried beef) was a letdown among appetizers. Roast duck might not have been the freshest bird ever, but it was perfectly cooked, and a noodle dish with pork-and-shrimp meatballs and grilled pork rivaled it. WIGB? Absolutely. Len was longing for the Vietnamese coffee we saw at the next table, and it would only be safe at lunchtime. Plus the staff was so chipper. 110 Duane Street near West Broadway, 212 267 1777.

The sad: Quinto Quarto in the West Village, where we stumbled in for late lunch after finding Market Table closed for a wedding reception and where we soon learned $14.95 is no deal for two courses, wine and coffee. Bob described the food as profoundly mediocre, but I think he was too kind: My “orzo” salad of barley, radicchio and tomatoes with a dusting of grated pecorino bordered on flavor-free, as did his “ribollita,” a mess of mixed vegetables in bland broth. Worse was the baked lamb, allegedly with rosemary; it tasted as if it had been sitting on a steam table long enough to turn to mutton. Only my “bombolotti alla gricia” was half-worth eating, although it arrived cold, a mortal sin in Italy; the sautéed onions, guanciale and pecorino hung together despite the absence of the promised “hot chilly pepper.” Trebbiano and Montepulciano were big pours but also wan. Espresso and macchiato, though, tasted almost Trieste-worthy. And the waitress who made them was incredible: super-friendly, efficient, upbeat. Too bad she wasn’t doing the cooking. WIGB? If a real chef were around. The room is quite nice.

The believe-the-hype: Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, where a friend and I landed after Sigiri was closed despite the open-hours sign on the door on a less-snow-than-expected afternoon; we were able to walk right in and get seats at a relatively quiet table in the back and were soon sharing a superb pork-kimchi tamal, fabulous steamed buns with shiitakes (more like soft tacos) and spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage, spinach and cashews. I never like wine in teeny tumblers; it never feels worth $9. But that’s a tiny complaint when the staff was so hospitable, the ingredients so clean and the experience so uplifting. WIGB? Can’t wait. I’m even half-tempted to buy the cookbook. 171 First Avenue near 11th Street.

The decent: Turkuaz on the Upper West Side, where we hooked up with three friends after another great “Selected Shorts” at Symphony Space on a snowy night and where the staff let us linger well past midnight in an empty back room. Raku to start was not the smartest idea, but it kept us to one bottle of Turkish white for $32. I’m not sure the “platter” of spreads was worth $19.95; it was more the size of a dinner plate, and we got two baba ghanoush because they were out of a fifth spread. Everything tasted fine, with excellent bread, though. I didn’t try the two meat shish kebabs or $26 lamb chops, but the decent vegetable casserole was overpriced at $14.95. The bathroom was a trip, too, back to the 1950s or a backward country, with old armchairs and that disinfectant reek. WIGB? Maybe. It was certainly comfortable, with more than accommodating service. 2637 Broadway at 100th Street, 212 665 9541.

The design/food fail: Community Food & Juice across from Columbia, where Bob and I settled after a preview program on the enticing “Latin Music USA” series on PBS at the  J-School and where we might have been happier if we had taken seats on the banquette rather than evading two self-absorbed crazy women at the door. Instead we were crammed into a ridiculously tight table in an alcove where the waiter and runner could only get to the next table by slamming into Bob and where the jerk at the next table was bellowing about tits. It all made me think a new rule should be that any restaurant designer should have to suffer a meal at every table greedily wedged in. But all that might have been forgiven if the zucchini-scallion pancakes had not been both desiccated and tasteless and the shrimp dumplings had not been so sad. Only the spicy green beans with peanuts redeemed the meal. Does no one monitor what leaves the kitchen? WIGB? Not on a bet.

New York minutes/End o’ April 2008

May 2008

The good until it got annoying: Pudding Stone West, where I arranged to hook up with a friend on a chilly Sunday night and regretted it once great throngs of cloned women — all the same age, all the same look — thronged in and started whooping and Vows-hunting. Until then, we had been enjoying our $9 wine at the bar, with the superb bartender and a martini glass filled with $10 avocado puree for dipping with chips. By the time my consort turned up, I had heard about enough. WIGB? Only if I can sit outside. There are worse things than views of funeral homes where you can still hear the eulogy. 645 Amsterdam Avenue at 91st Street, 212 787 0501.

The not bad: Bodrum Mediterranean, where the three of us decamped in search of quiet, a good snack and more wine and where those minimal expectations paid off. The place is pretty slick, with good flatware, but we were only in the market for mezze and happily split a $14 plate of mixed tastes and then a pizza. The first (hummus, babaganoush, lebne etc.) I liked better than my consort did, and the second left me wondering, yet again, what in the name of rennet people are buying instead of real mozzarella. This was like slime on a crust, and it’s the same mucus-like experience you suffer everywhere pizza is sold anymore. WIGB? Maybe, because it’s in the neighborhood, and our friend who used to live here was amazed at the options. Still, when we signed our bills at 9:20, we felt as if we were keeping the staff from going home. 584 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 2806.