Between cats

I almost skipped my last supper in Istanbul, having had a late lunch with cauliflower and cat over in Orhan Pamuk’s neighborhood and knowing I had one more big breakfast to tuck away before the long, long ride home. But I would have missed an experience that had everything: great food, good wine, excellent service, a dramatic setting, cats to shoot on the walk to and from and, best of all, proof that bitches act the same all over the world. When I walked into Aheste, having had my lunch date reserve for me (cuz you can’t just walk in), the host/server offered me two tables, one awkwardly positioned in the center of the narrow room and the other in the window, where a scarf and bag were arranged in one chair, as if the owner had just stepped away. I didn’t understand that the latter was really available and settled for awkwardness, only to watch as a couple entered shortly afterward and the waiters started to remove the bag and scarf to a high stool. The young woman next to that table grabbed both, angrily, and then apparently instructed her husband/date to get the check even though they were still eating. If I had known it would be so easy to evict a princess, I would have chosen my table more wisely.

But as soon as the menu was set down and the host/server translated what I could not, I was oblivious to everything but the food and wine. I was actually tempted by the lamb neck but chose grilled mixed (mild) peppers with anchovy “aioli” and green olives plus the mutebbel, a combination of smoky eggplant with tahini and walnuts. And I would have been totally happy with those, especially after the sourdough bread with garlic confit in excellent Turkish olive oil. Maybe because I snapped everything, or because I had a little notebook, or because Istanbul, even with a population now of 18 million, 4 million more than my last trip in 2011, is a very tiny town, I was comped sensational ceviche, of buttery sea bass with red onion, dill fronds and orange. That made me order the chard with smoked yogurt so I could taste more of what the generous chef was cooking up, and I am here to report that “dried rose” actually could outperform bacon bits as a garnish. I couldn’t finish any of it, but I was then comped the craziest pumpkin dessert all week: crisp, crunchy, slightly sweet slices of squash set over ice cream and dusted with chopped walnuts. If I got it all straight, the cucumber cousin is being cooked via centuries-old molecular gastronomy — limestone does the trick.

As my own private Baedeker said: Eating at Aheste “tastes like being here.”