Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's "UP" in Istanbul/2... an ongoing series

Dear readers,

A while back I had started a new series of posts titled What's "UP" in Istanbul and this is the 2nd post in the series.

There is sooooo much going on Istanbul and if I wrote about everything that was going on, I would be on my PC 24/7. But, since this is not possible as I also have to work, I once again tried to prepare a potpourri of events/news that can be of interest to tourists as well as residents of the magical and mystical Istanbul!!

So... here goes!


An exhibit titled “Beyond the Apparent: A Selection from the Art Collection of the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey is now on display at the Suna & Inan Kıraç Foundation Pera Museum until December 31, 2011.

The Central Bank of Turkey was established on October 3, 1931 and the bank's collection on display includes contemporary works of art (paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and installations) by Turkish artists born between 1882 and 1960 – some of the works dating back to 1908.

For more detailed information on the exhibit, visit the museum’s website: www.peramuzesi.org.tr
Contemporary Istanbul, Turkey's first and only comprehensive contemporary art event is celebrating its 6th anniversary this year (www.contemporaryistanbul.com).

The event will take place at the Lütfi Kırdar International Convention & Exhibition Center (www.icec.org) between November 24 and November 27, 2011 and includes paintings, sculptures, videos, photographs, installations and limited editions from local and international art galleries.

Specifically, the art event includes approximately 3,000 contemporary works of art of over 526 local and international artists gathered from 90 contemporary art galleries from 20 countries worldwide.

Jan Fabre, Austria

Serkan Demir, Turkey
Furthermore, for the first time, Contemporary Istanbul will be hosting galleries from the Gulf Region in the "New Horizons" section of the event.

Katayoun Karami, (photograph) - Gallery Kuwait
Contemporary Istanbul is open to the general public from 11:00am to 9:00pm on November 24 and from 11:00am to 8:00pm on November 25-27. The entrance fee is 20 TL for adults and 10 TL for students, teachers and senior citizens over 65.

I had a chance to visit the art event last year and it was an experience I hope to repeat this year too! I highly recommend it to all art lovers!

Who doesn't like Italian food? Raise your hand... Of course, I am not surprised to see that no hands are raised!
Besides visiting one of the many excellent Italian restaurants around town, now you can enjoy these delectable morsels at Aqua Restaurant located on Bosphorus waterfront at the posh, yet comfy and friendly Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul on the Bosphorus in Beşiktaş.

Aqua Restaurant - Antipasti Lunch Buffet

Aqua's Executive Sous Chef Luca De Astis and his team have prepared a special Italian Antipasti Buffet which is available during lunch throughout the fall/winter season.

Aqua Restaurant Lunch Antipasti Buffet
You can either opt to just makes selections from the antipasti buffet which is 50 TL/person or you can choose from one of the following options (prices include VAT):
      • Antipasti buffet + pasta or risotto 70 TL
      • Antipasti buffet + dessert 70 TL
      • Antipasti buffet + main course 89 TL (meat or seafood)
      • Antipasti buffet + main course + dessert 100 TL
Buono Appetito!! For reservations, call Tel: (0212) 381 40 59

How would you like a "quick" trip to the Swiss Alps for a traditional Swiss meal without leaving Istanbul?
Yup... this is possible... all you have to do is head to the Chalet Restaurant at ... of course... the Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul Hotel in Maçka!
Chalet Restaurant (Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul Hotel)

Located in the plush gardens of the hotel, the restaurant is decorated to resemble a typical chalet in Switzerland!

Chalet Restaurant interior
The atmosphere at Chalet is warm, inviting and romantic, but more importantly, the cuisine is authentic!

Chalet Restaurant
The menu includes a variety of fondue and raclette dishes along with other local Swiss favorites. The Chalet Restaurant is open Wednesday-Monday (closed on Tuesdays) from 7:00pm to 11:30pm. Reservations are recommended.
(Tel: (0212) 326 11 00; Ext. 3305)

Just when you thought what else can the Swissôtel offer its guest besides its wonderful restaurants to also include Gaja (International), Miyako (Japanese) and Cafe Swiss (all day dining), bars and other amenities... will hold onto your hats... they now come to us with WINTER WONDERLAND!!
Swissôtel The Bosphorus Istanbul "Winter Wonderland"
Opening on December 1 and located in the gardens of the Chalet Restaurant, Winter Wonderland offers lots of activities and goodies for kids and adults alike!
For the kids... there is a large ice skating rink, hot chocolate cascading tower, swiss "delights" (crepes, ginger bread cookies, etc.) and a variety of activities surrounded with log cabins and pine trees.
For the adults, winter parties will be organized, hot wine will be served, there will be DJ performances and a special breakfast will be served on Sundays.
Winter Wonderland will be open from 4:00pm to 9:00pm from Wednesday to Friday and from 10:00am to 9:00pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Skates can be rented at the ice skating rink and the cost to skate is 15 TL for 30 minutes. There are no age limitations and ice skating classes will not be available.
Wine lovers are well aware that at this time of the year, wine producers around the world introduce their "nouveau" wines! This is always done on the 3rd Thursday in November or in this case November 17th!
In Turkey, Kavaklıdere (www.kavaklidere.com) introduced Kavaklıdere Primeur to wine lovers in Turkey.
Kavaklıdere Primeur Wine
Kavaklıdere Primeur White 2011 is produced with Sultaniye and Sauvignon Blanc (10%) grapes and the color is bright and a light yellow. It has intense white flowers, citrus and fresh tropic fruits and the palate is crispy, well-balanced, round and persistent.
Kavaklıdere Primeur Red
Kavaklıdere Primeur Red is produced with Öküzgözü grapes and the color is bright and a lively fuchsia. It has pronounced red fruits, raspberry, blackberry and cherry. The palate is well balanced with rich fruit flavors and soft tannins and it is crispy and round.
When I saw the TV commercial for this new product - to be quite frank - I was totally surprised!
Yes... ladies and gentlemen... the classic and traditional tastes of Turkish coffee are now available in single serving packages. All you have to do is heat water and stir! You can buy it with a little sugar (az), medium sugar (orta) or lots of sugar (çok şekerli)!
Personally, I prefer to make it the "old fashioned" way with freshly ground Turkish coffee beans and prepared in a cezve...
Cezve used to make Turıkish coffee
but, for the purposes of this post, after taking a picture of the instant Turkish coffee package... I prepared it... and... I was pleasantly surprised that it's tastes good and not very far from the authentic version! The only mistake I made is that I purchased the "orta" (medium) sugar version and I take my coffee black!
These little packages are sold at all supermarkets. So, if you don't want to fuss and make Turkish coffee the old fashioned way, this is a good substitution and great little gift ideas to take back home if visiting Turkey for a vacation! I forgot to jot down the price, but if I remember correctly, it is around 1 TL/package.

Friday, November 18, 2011

YAŞASIN! ... from the Vinkara Vineyards!!

Hip hip hooray or ... Yaşaşın! to Vinkara Vineyards!!! This fairly new Turkish wine producer has just introduced a naturally sparkling wine produced using the "Method Traditionelle" used in producing Champagne!

Of course, they cannot call it champagne as only those produced in Champagne, France can be classifed as such... but Vinkara - has captured the same taste!

The first tasting of Yaşasın (roughly translated means hooray, yippee, long live, etc.) was held at the Marmara Taksim Hotel last night (November 17) and participants included restauranteurs, sommeliers, press, friends and me!

Guests started gathering at the hotel's Tuti Balkon at around 7:00pm where we were first served a variety of fruit cocktails to tide us over until the official presentation began at 7:30pm...

The speaker was Mr. Marco Monchiero, a wine producer and oenologist residing in Italy and a consultant at Vinkara Vineyards since 2008.

Mr. Marco Monchiero (left) and translator (right)
Mr. Monchiero has been producing wines under his own label "Monchiero Carbone" since 1990 and has been a consultant to numerous vineyards since 1993.

The "champenoise" method of producing sparkling wine is a very complicated and long process, but he was able to give us a "short" version in a way we could very easily understand.

Vinkara's Yaşasın brand was produced with Kalecik Karası grapes, normally used to produce red wine which are harvested at Vinkara's vineyards in Kalecik, Ankara.

I will not get into the technical side of the production of this sparkling wine as this is not my field, however, I do want to mention that Mr. Monchiero said that Kalecik Karası grapes are very similar to Pinor Noir grapes used to produce champagne and that's why the production was very successful.

After this introduction, he popped the first cork and we excitedly waited for that first flute of sparkling wine!

To make a very long story short, I think I probably drank a whole bottle by myself last night! Yaşasın received high marks from the sommeliers who were present as well as all the other guests in attendance.

Yaşasın sparkling wine will be sold at specialty wine shops throughout Istanbul and the rest of the country as well as the wine and chocolate shop located at the entrance of the Marmara Taksim Hotel. The retail price was not officially announced but will be between 80 to 90 TL (vat included).

With the holidays coming up, I recommend that you stock up on Yaşasın to ring in the New Year!


For those of you not familiar with Vinkara wines, I suggest you visit their website for detailed information at www.vinkara.com

I was first "introduced" to Vinkara wines when I was still at The Guide Istanbul and I was sent several bottles of Vinkara's first crop of wines introduced to the market - the Doruk Series - earlier last year with a press release. At that time, PR companies were still allowed to send complimentary bottles of alcoholic beverages, but alas, this is no longer permitted by law. 

To be quite frank with you, I wasn't very impressed with the labels of the wines, but was very pleasantly surprised when I tasted the wines!
Then later on - in November 2010 to be exact, I attended the opening night party of Contemporary Istanbul (an annual contemporary art event). As with all parties, a wine company - in this case Vinkara, was a co-sponsor of the event.
Normally, I took a glass of wine from the the servers walking around the room, but at one point, I went to the table to get a glass... and what do I see? Vinkara Wines with the most beautifully designed labels!

I know they didn't "read my mind", but I guess they too realized that their earlier labels were not up to par and did something about it! Once again, Kudos to Vinkara! Now, everything was complete... not only are Vinkara's wines very good - they also look good!

Then, earlier on this year, I had the opportunity to attend another event where a tasting and lunch was organzied for a group of food and wine writers where we had a chance to taste some wines from the "Quattro" series and the "Mahzen" or "Reserve" series... need I say, we were once again very impressed!

This very new Turkish wine producer is quickly starting to make a mark for itself on the Turkish wine market and in fact, has won several awards at prestigious international wine competitions and events.

So, if you haven't had a chance to try these wines, I highly recommend that you try a bottle soon - I'm sure you too will find a wine to your liking among the many choices available!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Şişhane: A night of wining & dining...

Dear readers,

Just like my darling little Maltese terrier Luka, my social life has gone down the  tubes in the last few weeks! He wrote about this in his latest post on his blog... http://lollifeofluka.blogspot.com so I won't repeat what he wrote (you can always visit him separately)... but I - versus - Luka have a very big repertoire of subjects that I can write about as I have been around a whole lot longer than him!

So... I dung into my subject pool and decided to write about Şişhane and a portion of Meşrutiyet Caddesi (Street).

Şişhane Metro station @ Meşrutiyet Street
Şişhane is a district in the municipality of Beyoğlu and right below Tünel (at the end of Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu) and Asmalımescit (another hip area for partying - even though most of the outdoor seating areas have been removed) and also a short 10 minute walk from Galata.

Up until a couple of years ago, Şişhane was an area you may have just "passed through" on your way somewhere else! You wouldn't even think of walking down Meşrutiyet Street from the Şişhane side towards the more popular area of Tepebaşı.

The dilapated and rundown neighborhood went through a major metamorphosis and is now full of charming boutique hotels, cafes, restaurant/bars and several retailers.

Like I said, Meşrutiyet Street (Caddesi) runs from Şişhane to Tepebaşı and is probably about 10 city blocks long... and about 5 blocks of it is part of Şişhane.

Even though all of Şişhane is not on just one street, for the purposes of this post, I will only write about this street, because there are soooo many places to mention. I will write about other parts of Şişhane in another post at a later date (don't know when though!).

So, we will start our tour of Meşrutiyet Caddesi by the Metro station in Şişhane and end at the Pera Palace Hotel. Like I said, there is so much to do and see in just a 5 city block area that attracts people from all walks of life and age groups. Also, I will only be mentioning the eating and drinking venues and leave out the hotels... except for the historic Pera Palace Hotel at the end!

Our first stop and right next to the metro station is Miss Pizza (www.misspizza.com.tr).

Miss Pizza @ Şişhane
Miss Pizza opened their first branch in Cihangir several years ago: this branch opened in 2010. This quaint and charming little "pizzeria" has indoor and outdoor seating areas with an open brick oven. I visited Miss Pizza a couple of times this past summer, but still haven't had a chance to try their pizza which is said to be very good. I was only their briefly before an appointment both times and only had something light - an avocado caprese (mozzarella cheese, avocado, cherry tomatoes, black olive paste and basil) which I thought was great and refreshing. The prices are modest and the menu includes antipasta, salads, pizza and desserts. Alcohol is served.

Right next door... on the same side of the street is newcomer Spoil (www.spoil.com.tr). 

Spoil is a restaurant/bar and opened this past summer. The spacious venue has high ceilings, brick walls, minimalistic decor, a nice sized bar and a menu consisting of specialties from International cuisine. Spoil is open from noon to 2:00am on weekdays and on the weekends until 4:00am, so after dinner, it turns into a bar/club with DJ performances. I haven't had a chance to visit Spoil yet, but I do know the owners and they do have a good reputation on the culinary scene, so I have no doubt that the food is good.

As you can see from the picture above, because of the smoking ban in Turkey, come "rain or shine" you will notice customers lined outside of the venues for a smoke! Sometimes, the "main" party is outside!

If you are in the mood for some Chinese food on your night out... you can stop by Chinese Express (www.chineseexpress.com.tr) which is right across the street from Spoil. I haven't eaten here, but I have ordered take out many times from the Chinese Express branch in Ortaköy, so I know the food is good!

About 1/2 block up the street from Chinese Express and on the corner is newcomer Good Mood (www.goodmood.com.tr).

I went to Good Mood during the first week of October with a bunch of girlfriends to celebrate a friend's birthday. Good Mood is quite small with several tables in the front and several small tables paralel to their bar. The menu includes international fare and we enjoyed the Bruschetta Trio the most. But, to be quite honest, they have to work on the quality of their main courses.

Bruschetta Trio @ Good Mood
However, Good Mood makes good cocktails! I personally had a couple of votka martinis which were very good, while most of my friends had red wine. And.. the music is EXCELLENT! There are DJ performances nightly (closed on Sundays) and the venue is open until 4:00am.

Votka Martini @ Good Mood
Our next stop is right across the street from Good Mood - Da Vittorio (www.davittorioistanbul.com).

Da Vittorio
Located at the entrance of the Ansen Suites hotel... you guessed it... Da Vittorio is an Italian restaurant! Vittorio Sindonini - owner & chef is someone I know for over 15 years! He is originally from Palermo, Sicily and lived in NYC for many years, but I met him when he was part of the opening team and manager of Papermoon in Istanbul in 1996. We have kept in touch over the years - he left Istanbul for a few years, but a major Istanbul lover, he returned several years ago and opened his own eatery about 2 years ago.

The modestly sized restaurant has two separate rooms and is very cozy. The modest sized menu includes a good selection of specialties... my personal favorite is the "Classic Eggplant Parmiagiana" - a dish not commonly found on the menus of Italian restaurants in Istanbul. Da Vittorio is open daily from noon to midnight - prices are modest to expensive... reservations are recommended.

The next stop on our tour and about one block from Good Mood and on the same side of the street is my personal favorite - Bird (www.birdistanbul.com)

Bird (photo from their website)
Bird is celebrating its second season and this highly popular restaurant and bar is probably the hottest spot in town and nearly impossible to get a reservation unless you make it days in advance! The venue is small... the food is excellent... the prices are modest... great cocktails are prepared... the wine list is impressive...the music is great... the crowd is chi chi... what else can I say?

We now continue our walk up the street, and once we pass several hotels, our next stop is North Shield Pub (www.thenorthshieldbar.com) located on a corner, adjacent to the Pera Palace Hotel.

Just as its name suggest, The North Shield is reminiscent of a typical English Pub right down to the decor (brass, mahogony, etc.) and menu! Beer lovers are also in for a treat as the selection is quite impressive! There are many branches of The North Shield throughout Istanbul and this branch opened last year.

A few steps from The North Shield is another newcomer called Meze by Lemon Tree (www.mezze.com.tr).

Meze by Lemon Tree (from Meze website)

Meze... which means appetizers or small dishes.. or tapas is an appropriate name for this quaint and small eatery! Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to try the tempting and tantalizing dishes, but so many of my friends have! I hope to stop by on my next visit to the neighborhood.

We end our tour of the 5 blocks of Meşrutiyet Caddesi with a small stop over at the historic Pera Palace Hotel, which was totally renovated and re-opened in 2010 (www.perapalace.com).

Pera Palace Hotel

The Pera Palace Hotel opened in 1892 and has a very long and illustrious history that I suggest you visit their website for all the details. For your dining pleasure, you can go to Agatha Restaurant... for cocktails to Orient Bar or for pastry to Patisserie de Pera.

This ends our tour of a portion of Meşrutiyet Caddesi... covering only most of the venues between Şişhane and the Pera Palace Hotel...

I hope you enjoyed the journey!