Monday, March 20, 2017

TOI ISTANBUL: Revisited at New Location

Dear readers,

I know it has been a long time since my last post but the latter part of 2016 was a busy time for me with several trips abroad and projects for customers. Alsoto be quite honest, I didn't get a chance to visit new restaurant/cafes or even if I did, I didn't feel they were worthy of a write-up! 

Finally, a couple of weeks ago I attended a dinner organized by my dear friend Burçak Desombre, a certified sommelier who organizes tasting menu dinners with wine pairings for groups up to 20 people at noteworthy restaurants around the city.

Although I have written about TOI Istanbul before (May, 2016), I felt this lovely fine dining restaurant deserved an update so that I could give you info about its new location as well as general info about the menu, etc.

TOI (pronounced toy-e) Istanbul moved to its current location in Kuruçeşme, right across the street from Kuruçeşme Park on the Bosphorus in November, 2016. The venue was quite popular at it's previous location, but now, TOI Istanbul can accept more diners and is more centrally located.

On the 2nd floor of a two story building (Japanese restaurant below)... as you walk up the stairs, you know you will be stepping into a fine dining restaurant...

TOI Istanbul 
Dimly lit and elegantly decorated, the dining tables can be organized based on the reservations for the evening... so a huge table was set up for our group in the center of the dining room ...

TOI Istanbul
Also... notice the ceiling? Once the weather warms up, it can be opened so you can not only enjoy an "outdoor" dining experience, but will also have a lovely view of the Bosphorus depending on where you are sitting!

I'm not going to share photos of our dinner as I did this in my previous post and don't want to repeat myself. Moreover, some of the tasting dishes we had were "off the menu items". I must add however that I love the china ... all plates are not the same size or color, but rather selected and designed for the dish you order. The water glasses are colorful and butter dishes are ceramic. So, not only is the food fantastic, but the presentation refined and appealing! The music played is also very good and further adds to a fine dining experience. 

Now,  I will give you  general information about TOI's menu. Chef and owner Ismet Saz (you can also read about him in my previous post), changes his menu every 45 to 50 days, but does keep some of the favorites as long as it's in season.   

The a la carte menu is not very crowded and includes 10 starters (24 TL - 62 TL); 4 pasta & risotto (40 TL - 46 TL) dishes , 10 main courses, with an emphasis on fish (41 TL to 175 TL) and 4 sides (22 TL). Unfortunately, I forgot to look at the dessert menu as I'm constantly watching my weight now that I'm where I'm supposed to be after losing 17 kg last year!

There is also a 7-course tasting menu (currently 195 TL), with (115 TL) or without wine pairing option which you can order at your table or Chef's Table area. 

Just like at its previous location, their is an open kitchen with a section for those diners opting for a Chef's Table experience (up to 4-6 people) with a spacious fully-stocked bar withseating. Of course, let's not forget TOI's wine list which is very impressive with an extensive list of wines from Turkey and around the world at prices that are lower than at "like" restaurants around the city! So, you can easily enjoy a bottle (or 2 ... or 3...) with your meal without paying through the nose! By the glass prices are a little higher, but the quality of the wines warrant the higher prices. 

TOI Istanbul
Last, but not least... TOI is now serving Sunday Brunch between 11:00am and 4:00pm. But, this is not your typical open buffet Sunday Brunch to be sure! Besides some of the "classics" fresh lobster, shrimp, Serrano ham and so much more is offered (I have to definitely go!) for a cost of 195 TL/person which includes a glass of champagne (Moet & Chandon).

Our group totally enjoyed our night at TOI Istanbul ... the food was fantastic... the ambiance as expected and great conversation with new and old acquaintances... what else can you ask for? Reservations are highly recommended. 
TOI Istanbul

Stay well,


Kuruçeşme Caddesi No. 11
Kuruçeşme, Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 258 00 29
Open Monday-Saturday between 
6:00pm 2:00am
Sunday Brunch served on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of each month

Thursday, June 16, 2016

BIJOU BRASSERIE ISTANBUL: "Pop-Up" on the Bosphorus...

June 16, 2016

As Bijou Brasserie was a "pop-up" restaurant, it closed as of the beginning of October, 2016.

Dear readers,

The word "pop-up", although not a new concept, has entered our vocabulary and lives in a major way in Istanbul in the past year. First, we started seeing "pop-up" or short-term retailers, food markets, etc. at some of the major shopping malls around the city... now, we have "pop-up" restaurants! As far as I can recall, the first one, which I haven't had a chance to visit yet opened at the beginning of May and now, the 2nd Bijou Brasserie opened at the super-posh, exclusive and expensive Les Ottomans Hotel conveniently located in Kuruçeşme on the Bosphorus shoreline. 
Bijou Brasserie
Bijou Brasserie opened on June 3rd and will more than likely stay open until the end of September (weather permitting) and then poof it's gone! It's an interesting concept actually! The venue is the newest brainchild of Kaya Demirer, a major player in the Turkish Restaurant Industry. His CV is quite long, but suffice to say that he owns Frankie Istanbul, a fine-dining restaurant & bar with live music on the terrace of the Sofa Hotel in trendy Nişantaşı and partner of Jamie's Italian located at the high-end Kanyon Shopping Mall in Levent.

So... this past Monday, normally the most hated day of the week (June 14), a couple of my dear friends and sister decided to get together for lunch to try it out.  It was a gorgeous day - sunny with a light breeze by the water and about 28 centigrade.

I purposely arrived earlier than the 1:00pm time we had set so that I could take pictures and peruse the menu. I entered Bijou from the exterior of the hotel by the swimming pool, but you can also go through the hotel lobby...
Bijou Brasserie @ Les Ottomans Hotel
Since it was such a picture-perfect day, all the photos you will see here are "raw" and didn't need to be refined with photoshop. 

In a few words, the decor and colors used are lovely, inviting and refined, but most importantly the seating is super comfortable!
Bijou Brasserie @ Les Ottomans Hotel 
After everyone came, we each ordered a different glass of wine instead of ordering a bottle (each one of us preferred a different 'color') and immersed ourselves in reviewing the selections on the menu, which is more than adequate and includes a nice selection of typical Turkish & International dishes, but some with a twist. Unfortunately, we were all on a diet, so we opted to select dishes that were lower in calories than what we would have normally chose... next time!

For example, my friend Burçak recommended we order the Cheese Platter (local and international - 36 TL), Charcuterie Platter (local and international meats - 49 TL) and Burrata (44 TL) and share... we didn't do that... So, Burçak just ordered the "Burrata with colorful tomatoes, asparagus, pine nuts with fresh basil and pesto sauce"
Burrata @ Bijou Brasserie
Not only was this dish a feast for the eyes, but it was also quite yummy and filling. There is a total of 5 dishes in the 'A Good Start' section (36-55 TL) and the "Prawn Tempura" (48 TL) caught my eye... next time!

Müjgan (who also happens to be Burçak's mom) and my sister Meltem were of the same mindset and wanted a salad, in fact they ordered the same dish... "Smoked salmon on a bed of baby lettuce with apricots, strawberries, cherry tomatoes & mint-passion fruit vinaigrette" (40 TL)
Smoked Salmon Salad @Bijou Brasserie
As you can see, it was a nice-sized portion, served on a lovely ceramic plate... it was also very delicious, but what really caught my interest was the different dressing and ingredients used which are not normally associated with a smoked salmon salad. There are a total of 6 salads on the menu and what caught my eye was the "Octopus & Potato" salad with green olives, mustard, honey and smoked paprika" (42 TL)... next time! 

Last, but not least... since my diet plan is mainly made up of a combo of protein and vegetables (minimal carbs), I ordered the "Beef Tenderloin with mustard wrap" (36 TL) listed under the 'Wood Fired' heading...
Beef Tenderloin Wrap @ Bijou Brasserie
My dish was "almost perfect"... the mistake I made is I didn't tell our server that I like my meat "medium" - unfortunately most Turks prefer their meat "well-done" which is a little too dry for me. Besides the meat, the wrap was stuffed with seasonal vegetables... and the side of salad was perfectly seasoned and the dressing just right! Also, loved, loved, loved the plate it was served on... There are 2 other wraps under this heading and they are "Chicken & Hummus" (28 TL) and "Baked Vegetables" (22 TL) wraps.

We didn't leave Bijou Brasserie until almost 5:00pm!!! Although we ate on the light side, it felt great being by the Bosphorus, the conversation was unending and the sitting so comfortable we didn't want to get up! 

Although we didn't have dessert, we did have Turkish coffee and espresso... once again the presentation (like all the dishes) was excellent! For those who are wondering... no we did not eat the little morsel of delectable brownie it was served with! Talk about willpower... next time!
Turkish Coffee @Bijou Brasserie
Espresso @ Bijou Brasserie
Just a few words on the desserts (all 25 TL) ... except for the classic "Fresh Summer Fruits" selection, the other 3 desserts are atypical... and what caught my eye was the "Creme Catalan" Profiterole with green tea ice cream, cardamom bitter chocolate"... next time!

I kept on saying "next time" for some of the dishes I did not select, but it will have to be a few "next times" otherwise I will gain all the weight I will have lost by the time I go again, hopefully in the next couple of weeks... Because, some of the other dishes that caught my eye were the "Tuna Confit" (32 TL) under the 'Sandwiches' heading (total of 3 sandwiches, the others are Prosciutto & Roastbeef)... the "Seafood Paello" (120 TL for 2) under the 'Pasta & Rice' heading (total of 5 dishes)... maybe even the classic "Lahmacun" (22 TL) although the "Veggies Lahmacun" prepared with diced vegetables & pomegranate vinaigrette (20 TL) sounds interesting too... although an "Italian-style Pide (or calzone) stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella and pesto sauce" (44 TL) sounds appetizing, but there are also 2 typical Turkish-style "Pide" dishes under this heading too (32 TL, 38 TL)... choices... choices!!! . The last few dishes I've mentioned are listed under the heading 'Turkish Style'. 

But... the menu doesn't end here! You can have a Margarita (32 TL) or Prosciutto (42 TL) Pizza; Juicy Beef Burger (180 gr) with spicy fries, seasonal greens and homemade spicy mayo (48 TL)... and finely last but not least 'Main Dishes'  include "The Butcher's Daily selection of Beef or Lamb", Free Range Chicken or "The Catch of the Day" (68 TL - 75 TL).

Of course, you need something to wash all these delectable delights  down with! The wine selection is quite diverse with Turkish and International selections and wine by the glass starts at 27 TL, but the glass is 150 ml! Bottles start at around 125 TL - plus there is champagne by the glass too (55 TL)! Naturally, the cocktails available include a lot of summer favorites; beer lovers will be happy with the selections and teetotalers haven't been forgotten either.

So... definitely go to Bijou Brasserie this summer for lunch, cocktails or dinner... or a late Sunday Brunch. Between the view, decor, ambiance, excellent adept and friendly service, delicious food and moderate prices (for a venue of this caliber on the Bosphorus)... you definitely won't be disappointed! Bon appétit!

"The gang": Sis Meltem, me, dear friends Burçak and
Müjgan (left to right)@ Bijou Brasserie

Stay well,

Les Ottomans Hotel
Kuruçeşme, Istanbul
Tel: (0543) 323 96 96
Reservations are highly recommended - especially for dinner. 
Bijou Brasserie @ Les Ottomans Hotel

Monday, May 9, 2016

CENTRAL NIŞANTAŞI: Better Food... Better Mood... Better Music

Update: Unfortunately although Central Nişantaşı was a very nice restaurant, it closed in December, 2016. 

May 9, 2016

Dear readers:

The weather was absolutely gorgeous this past weekend in Istanbul - just in time for Mother's Day!

As my 91 year-old aunt and 86 year-old uncle were coming over to my house on Sunday, with my sister Meltem, nephew Arman and my honey Luka (maltese dog) we decided to go to Nişantaşı, a trendy and hip neighborhood on Saturday. In fact, we couldn't remember the last time we gone there. While the majority of Istanbulites were hanging out on the Bosphorus shoreline creating  massive crowds, we decided to have a more relaxing day, but not totally to our surprise, Nişantaşı was quite crowded too, but sis had no problem finding a parking space.

We first walked up Mim Kemal Öke Street which is parallel to the more trendy Abdi İpekçi Street which is lined with name brand retailers and all types of modest to expensive cafes and restaurants trying to decide where to eat. My idea was to go to Central Nişantaşı which opened on January 1, 2016, but since it was full, we continued our walk up and headed to Abdi İpekçi Street before returning to my first choice about an hour later when we were lucky to find a table on the outdoor terrace.

As you can notice Central Nişantaşı's slogan is bold and confident, so did they live up to it? Read on to find out...

First, let me add that the Chef/partner of this new eatery is Arda Türkmen, a very successful, experienced, creative and popular chef in Istanbul (his CV is at the end of blog) and who I met about 6-7 years ago and have had the pleasure of being in his company many times.

While my sister and nephew were perusing the menu under the watchful eye of my Luka....

Sis Meltem, nephew Arman and Luka
I went inside to take pictures of the indoor section of Central Nişantaşı...

Let me add that we got to this eatery at about 3:30pm for a late lunch and as you can see the indoor section was quite empty... there are two reasons for this: it was late afternoon but more importantly, when the weather is so gorgeous outside, Istanbulites do not prefer to sit indoors! But, I'm sure later on in the evening as the weather is still cool, more diners will opt to be indoors.

It appears that Central Nişantaşı will be updating its menu periodically (according to season) because the menu cover indicated that the selections listed were available in May & June. I'm sure not all dishes will change in the next menu, but will only be updated according to seasonal ingredients available. 

The menu consists of French, Italian and International cuisines. While the prices aren't cheap, they are not super expensive either and include 1 soup (18 TL); Salads (24-32 TL); Mini meals (22-47 TL); Pasta (38-49 TL); Pizza (32-39 TL); Mains (35-69 TL), Kid's menu (25-35 TL), Sides (7-21 TL); and Desserts (15-21 TL). The eatery also has a nice-sized wine menu, but I do wish there were many selections by the glass... I also found out that breakfast was served (typical Turkish breakfast, eggs, pancakes, quiches and cereal) but forgot to look at the menu.

We gave our orders and started waiting for our meal by munching on warm homemade grain bread and the best extra virgin olive oil drizzled with high quality balsamic vinegar... however, we did wait a little longer than expected for our meal to arrive and realized it had to do with the dish I had ordered. 

My sis ordered...

Beef Carpaccio/Central Nişantaşı
My 15 year-old nephew had (surprise! surprise!) ...

Cheeseburger & Fries/Central Nişantaşı 
And.. I ordered (and the dish that delayed service)

Quiche w/Ricotta cheese, baked cherry tomatoes & spinach/Central Nişantaşı
When I was taking the photo above, I didn't realize that the "french fry" I stole from my nephew was on the plate... so "no", the dish is not served with a single french fry! And... I really should have removed the bun from the burger to give you a better idea of the dish, but I was a little too hungry and wasn't thinking straight!

The dishes we had were excellent and of course, we all tasted each others meals. The beef carpaccio was prepared with lean and very tasty beef ; my nephew found the burger's bun a little too oily (but he ate the whole thing) but enjoyed the cheeseburger so much that he was very skimpy and only gave us a teeny tiny bite to try... My quiche was so yummy, I could have eaten a second one! It was definitely worth the delay because it was prepared to order and not microwaved (I hate that!) and the quality of the cheese and all other ingredients were delicious and fresh.

There's always room for dessert, but if it hadn't been for my nephew, I'm sure my sis and I wouldn't have had any! But my nephew wanted the "Death by Chocolate Cheesecake"...

Death by Chocolate Cheesecake/Central Nişantaşı  
Normally, this dessert is served with 1 oreo cookie set vertically next to the fruit... but they had just run out and we didn't want to wait for a new supply to arrive. Once again, my sis and I were only given a very small piece to try, but that was enough to make our eyes roll with delight and invigorate our taste buds! Long live chocolate!! Once again, it was clearly apparent that the ingredients were of the best quality. 

Most of my readers know that I do not like to write about a new eatery after only 1 visit, but there are exceptions when I am confident in the chef/owners and Arda Türkmen fits the bill! The service staff is congenial, the casual yet chic setting is inviting - but most importantly the food is absolutely delightful so kudos to Arda and his kitchen staff! Can't wait to go again and again and again so that I can try the Falafel... Steak Tartare... Grilled Salmon... Duck Confit and maybe the Pavlova for dessert!!!

Turkish Coffee/Central Nişantaşı
Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No. 11 Nişantaşı
Tel: (212) 296-92 86

Stay well,

Arda Türkmen founded Roka Davet Catering in 2003. In 2007, he opened Leblon Restaurant in Asmalımescit, Beyoğlu (highly popular in its day but now closed)... Forneria Restaurant in 2013 and Mükellef in 2015, both at the Haze Hotel in Karaköy, which has become a very trendy neighborhood with lively cafes and newly opened boutique hotels. While Forneria is on the street level, Mükellef, a "meyhane" or tavern style restaurant is on the hotel's rooftop terrace with a lovely view of the Bosphorus and Old City. Additionally, since 2010 he has a cooking show on TV (first at CNN Turk and now at TV 8) called "Arda'nın Mufağı" (Arda's Kitchen). I stole Arda's photo from his website for Central Nişantaşı - I'm sure he won't mind!