Monday, May 22, 2017

Emaar Square Mall opens on Asian Side of the city in Istanbul

Dear readers,

Since no one really talks anymore, I received a WhatsApp message from my sis on the morning the day before Mother's Day to say she received an email that Galeries Lafayatte had opened on said day at newcomer Emaar Square Mall & should we go to check it out. Since GL (as I call it for short) is my favorite department store on this side of the Atlantic (Bloomies on the other side), I said definitely!

She came to pick me up a couple of hours after our 'conversation' and we turned on google maps to show us how to get to this new shopping mall on the Asian side of the city.

Now... let's hit the pause button for a moment! Living on the European side of the city with shopping malls galore, a shopping mall on the Asian side of the city has to really tempt me to cross a bridge and deal with traffic when I have about 5 shopping malls within a 1-mile radius to my house!

Of course, the "trigger" for me was Galeries Lafayatte!
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Now, let me remind you... the department store had just opened on the morning of our visit. So, you can imagine that it was not "fully-stocked" yet, but at least we had a preview of what to expect. The 4-story 9,500 square meter department store is airy and very inviting that's for sure!  
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
I was happy to see that a couple of retail brands I personally like and not before sold in Istanbul were on display, but of course, this branch cannot compare to their flagship shop in Paris, but will definitely help to appease my shopping needs in between visits to Paris! So, welcome to Istanbul Galeries Lafayatte!

Just a general comment about shopping malls in Istanbul before I share some more info about Emaar Square.

A "shopping mall" in Istanbul is not a shopping mall if the complex doesn't include million-dollar luxurious residences, state-of-the-art "smart" office building(s) and a five-star hotel thrown in for good measure!

Emaar Square fits and exceeds these expectations! First, the shopping mall has 150,000 square meters of rentable space, a family entertainment center, ice rink, aquarium & underwater zoo, 2,400 seat 4D movie-theater and a 4,500 vehicle parking lot! 

Surrounding the complex are 1,000 homes, 180-room Address Hotel and 40,000 square meters of rentable office space! 

Open since April 28, 2017 and owned by Dubai-based Emaar Properties (The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, etc), some of the other attractions at Emaar Square that impressed me were:

Although, I cannot afford it... but, I still like to look... Harry Winston is opening its first shop in Istanbul...
@ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Cartier has a few branches in Istanbul and is opening at Emaar Square too...
Cartier @ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four, a newcomer at Akmerkez Shopping Mall on the European side of the city is also opening a branch here! You can read all about this heavenly pastry shop in my blog. 
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Since Emaar Square is so new, except for the "classic" shopping mall retailers, the majority of the major players have not opened yet. This also includes the more upscale eateries that I'm sure will open soon so I don't have information to share with you about them. Currently, the Food Court is open with many fast food eateries, some with private seating areas, where you can grab a quick bite. While most are inexpensive, some are a little pricier.

From the indoor Food Court area, you can go outside to the terrace which is surrounded by several coffee houses and a nicely sized stage in the center where there will be live performances on weekends...

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
One final area I would like to mention and had time to visit is the Turkish Village located on Level 3 of the mall.
Turkish Village @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
There are two Turkish food restaurants in the village, but more importantly and more interesting are the stands that will be open only on weekends where you can taste or buy and take home a variety of regional Turkish delights from around the country. 

Finally, Emaar Square Mall will be organizing Atelier Workshops on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and will also host Art Exhibitions.

So, welcome to Istanbul Emaar Square! It will take a while for you to "settle in" but the major portion of your journey is complete and now it's time to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s!

Stay well,

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul

Emaar Square Mall
Ünalan Mahallesi, Ayazma Caddesi No. 78
Çamlıca, Istanbul
Open daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chamlija & Arcadia: Vineyards in Kırklareli in the Thrace Region

Dear readers,

The weather was absolutely gorgeous the weekend of April 29th so I'm so happy that I had signed up to attend an event on this weekend organized by the Chaine des Rotisseurs. I have been a member of the France based International Association of Gastronomy's Turkey chapter since 2009. Basically, the purpose of the association is to organize dinners at fine dining restaurants where members can get together to socialize and enjoy good food & wine. As members, we are invited to functions & events not only in our own country, but we can also attend events in other countries (80) with Chaine des Rotisseurs chapters. 

This time, the Chaine des Rotisseurs in Istanbul organized a weekend getaway to the Thrace or Trakya region where we would visit two vineyards to develop our knowledge of viniculture and taste some great wines & local delights in the process!

Our group was about 30 people and we hopped on our private bus at 8:45am in Levent and arrived at our first stop - the Chamlija Vineyards in the Kırklareli province at around 11:15am to begin our tour.
Chamlija Vineyards @Kırklareli, Thrace Region - Turkey
We were greeted by Mustafa Çamlıca (the Turkish spelling of the brand), the 3rd generation of the family that has been farming in the region since 1936 after immigrating here from the town of Kubadin, Razgrad in northeastern Bulgaria. 
Mustafa Çamlıca, owner of Chamlija Vineyards
Chamlija has a total of 85 hectares of vineyards throughout the Kırklareli province and their plantings range from 5,000 to 6,666 vines per hectare. In fact, some vineyards have around 10,000 vines and are some of the most dense vineyards in the Balkans and Turkey.Mr. Çamlıca explained that the reason for the high-density plantings was to enhance the quality of the wines and to encourage deep root systems to define the full potential of the terroir. We only had a chance to visit 3 of Chamlija's vineyards, but this was more than sufficient to give us an idea of the land, soil, etc. 

We had built up quite an appetite at this point, so we headed to our next stop: lunch at Çamlıca Restaurant (not owned by the vineyard) in Büyükkarıştıran, Lüleburgaz.
Çamlıca Restaurant during @Chamlija Vineyards tour 
As we ate our modest lunch consisting of salad, absolutely delicious buffalo milk yogurt and grilled köfte, Mr. Çamlıca and his staff gave us more information about the wines produced at Chamlija Vineyards.
Chamlija Wines
Chamlija Vineyards produces 7 white wines: Narince (Turkish), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Albarino and Narince-Chardonnay grapes. We had an opportunity to taste a few of the choices available and although not a major white wine lover, I was very impressed!

Red wine lovers are familiar with the majority of the common grapes used like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir but I had never before heard of or tasted Caladoc (French grape) or Papazkarası (indigenous to the region). While some of the reds were blends, more than a few were not. Once again, the wines we tasted were more than impressive! Not surprisingly, Chamlija Vineyards has won many local and international awards for their wines! Moreover, I love the labels which were designed by Mr. Çamlıca's daughter Irem.

Fully fed in more ways than one, we took a group photo and departed the restaurant to head to our next stop...
Chaine des Rottiseurs Chamlija Vineyards tour
Also in the Kırklareli province, our next and final stop was Arcadia Vineyard & Bakucha Hotel & Spa around 25 km from where we were, but because of the final dirt road we had to pass to reach the vineyards, it took us over an hour to get there, but it was definitely worth it!
Bakucha Hotel & Spa @Arcadia Vineyards 
We arrived in time to check into our rooms and relax for an hour or so before the fine dining dinner that awaited us with a view of a portion of the sprawling vineyards from our rooms & hotel restaurant!

Overlooking the Istranca mountains, Arcadia with its vineyards, production facility and hotel (26 junior suites with balcony or terrace) is a total of 200 hectares and so so inviting!  

Like I said earlier, a lovely dinner awaited us with a full moon and a crackling fire in the garden as the nights are definitely chilly here although it was in the high 20's (centigrade) during the day.
Bakucha Hotel & Spa Restaurant @Arcadia Vineyards
The food was definitely topnotch! We started with chicken liver paté; "loznik" caramelized leek slices in cornbread wrapped in vine leaf; deep fried grated squash patties with strained yogurt. Then, we were served handmade spaghetti with porcini mushrooms. Our main course was "Lamb Mutancana" Edirne Palace style with a side of arugula salad with roasted pine nuts and dried blueberry & honey dressing. Dessert was baba au rhum (small yeast cake saturated with syrup) and flaked pastry with Anatolian blue cheese cream. All our our meals were paired with the appropriate Arcadia wine. So, we definitely ended our day on a high note!

I woke up early Sunday morning to a sunny day with the "silence" of chirping birds and crystal clear skies! I had a light breakfast (ate too much the night before) although the open buffet selections were very tempting and included a variety of Turkish cheeses, homemade jams, mini pancakes, grain breads, savory and sweet pastries, greens from their garden, cereals, eggs, etc.! 

After breakfast and some time for soaking up some rays, we were given a presentation about Arcadia Vineyards by owner Zeynep Arca...
Zeynep Arca, owner Arcadia Vineyards 
Arcadia Vineyards was established 10 years ago by father-daughter team Özcan and Zeynep Arca. They were both amateurs to viticulture and viniculture but knew they wanted to get into the wine-making business and did their homework: from deciding where to buy land to the wine specialists they worked with! They wanted to produce wines that were natural and unique with a minimum amount of intervention to reflect the unique terroir of the region. 

I must admit I was not familiar with Arcadia wines. but I'm so happy I had the chance to meet Ms. Arca and listen to her story while tasting her wines. 

Afterwards, we were taken for a tour of Arcadia's production facilities, cellar and surroundings. 
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia's vineyards are a total of 35 hectares and produce approximately 100,000 bottle of wine annually. The grapes harvested are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris and Turkish grapes Öküzgözü (red) and Narince (white). Arcadia's wines are very good - especially their white selections.

So, why the name Arcadia? Simply, Ms. Arca told us that Lüleburgaz used to be called Arcadapolis which means "heaven on earth", so it made perfect sense!

It was an absolutely wonderful action packed two days! We visited a couple of the Kırklareli province's vineyards, had fantastic wines and food and I made some new friends!

Our bus trip back home took about 3,5 hours due to heavy traffic, but every minute was worth it and I would like to thank the Chaine des Rotisseurs team for organizing this trip!

If you too would like to visit the vineyards in this region, I suggest you contact them directly and they can assist you with individual or group visits. 

Cheers... şefere... a votre santé

Stay well,

Bakucha Hotel & Spa, Lüleburgaz -Turkey



Monday, May 8, 2017

Aila Restaurant: Yummy Turkish Meze and Grills Galore!

Dear readers,

Socially, it has been an active and enjoyable several weeks for me. I've had the opportunity to visit a few newcomers around town that are worth writing about and recommending to my readers on my blog. 

The last event I attended was on April 27th when I was invited to the pre-opening dinner organized for food writers, journalists and bloggers by the newly opened Fairmont Quasar Istanbul Hotel for their restaurant Aila, specializing in Turkish meze (or appetizers) and grills. 
Fairmont Quasar Istanbul in Mecidiyeköy
Part of the worldwide Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the 5-star Fairmont Quasar Istanbul opened in Mecidiyeköy in the latter part of the 1st quarter of 2017. The hotel is surrounded by the sprawling Quasar Residences & Offices, but it's entrance is on a quiet side street off of the main Büyükdere Street.

With anticipation and not knowing exactly what to expect, I entered Aila from its separate entrance versus from inside the hotel. Upon getting off the elevator, a lovely high-ceiling marble-floored entrance leads you to the restaurant's modest sized elegantly decorated bar, overlooking a portion of the restaurant's outdoor seating area.
Aila Restaurant Bar @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Both sides of the bar's walls were lined with all sorts of herbs and spices in attractive decanters purchased from the famous Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) located in the old part of the city in Istanbul.

After socializing with the guests in attendance as well as meeting the hotel's General Manager Kai Winkler ... and wondering where the entrance to the restaurant itself was, shazam... the walls of the bar lined with the herbs & spices opened to reveal the 2 separately decorated Aila Restaurant!

Aila Restaurant (Grills section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Aila Restaurant (Grills section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
First, we were given a tour of the Aila Restaurant's "Grills" section. The decor was contemporary and minimalist with an open kitchen and grill counter on the left hand side of the restaurant. At the end of the hall, there is a private room for special events or just privacy (for up to 20 people).

Then, we walked back through the bar to the left side of the restaurant...
Alia Restaurant (Meze section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
A live musical group playing traditional Turkish music called fasıl greeted us as we entered the restaurant. You see, a typical night of "Meze/Rakı" (appetizers & the Turkish national drink rakı similar to ouzo in Greek or arak in Arabic) sets the mood with this type of music.

This section of the restaurant was decorated in warmer colors and lighting and adjacent was the open "Meze" counter where the delectable appetizers are prepared by the chefs and on display for all to view and drool over I should say!
Meze selections at Aila Restaurant @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
One wall was lined with a display of wonderful homemade pickled vegetables and fresh vegetables were also on display on the counter definitely enticing diners!
Aila Restaurant (Meze section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Finally it was time to eat and taste an array of meze and grills!
Aila Restaurant @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
A "meze and grill" restaurant is all about sharing. Sharing good food, conversation and cheer with good friends, family and/or associates! And... that's exactly what we did! Besides the meze photos above, the following are just a sample of some of the other goodies we had.
Purslane Salad w/radishes, apple, goat cheese & red beets @Aila Restaurant

Grilled octopus w/tabbouleh & red onions @Aila Restaurant

"Adana Kebab" (left) & Tenderloin of Beef (Dana Torpido) @ Aila Restaurant
We tasted 12 cold appetizers, 1 salad, 2 hot appetizers, 3 grills and 2 desserts (unfortunately I didn't have room left for dessert). 

I must admit, I was very impressed with the flavors of the "typical" yet prepared with a "twist" meze by the chef. Recipient of the Le Cordon Bleu Le Grand Diploma, noted chef Umut Karakuş is very experienced having worked at many prominent restaurants around Istanbul and definitely added his own touch to the traditional dishes. For example, he served "humus" with chestnut mushrooms and instead of "circassian chicken", he prepared "circassian duck". In other words, almost each meze has an ingredient(s) normally not used, but it works very well and gives a fresh adaptation to the flavors.

It was a lovely lovely evening! We ate... we drank... had great conversation... caught up with old friends... made some new friends... like I said, that's the idea and concept behind a "meze and grills" restaurant and Aila definitely makes the grade!

Aila Restaurant opened on May 2nd and is open daily for dinner between 6:00pm and 1:00am. There is live music a few nights during the week (check with restaurant for details) and you can also dine in their nicely decorated outdoor dining area. Most importantly, no matter which side of the restaurant you choose to sit, you can order from both menus!

Afiyet olsun! Bon apetit!

Stay well

Aila Restaurant
Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Büyükdere Caddesi No. 76
Mecidiyeköy, Istanbul
Tel: +90 (0212) 403 85 00
Reservations are recommended