Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Dear readers:

Update February 4, 2014: Unfortunately the longstanding Leblon has closed its door as of Feb. 1, 2014. Talented chef and owner Arda Türkmen has another restaurant called Forneria (which I have yet to visit and write about) in Karaköy which he opened last year. There is no word yet whether Leblon will once again be opened in another part of the city.  

This blog post is literally "right off the presses" as they would say!!! I went to Leblon Restaurant today for lunch and decided to write  a quick review of the place before I got bogged down with my projects! I do have TONS of other things to write about too, but this place got me so excited, that I moved Leblon to the top of my list!

I never start my posts with a picture of myself, but I wanted all to first see the contented look on my face instead of opening with a photo of the eatery!

Me with a "contented look"!
First, a little background info on Leblon or 11Leblon before I get down to the nitty gritty! Leblon is located in Asmalımescit and is a stone's throw from Tunel Square at the end of Istiklal Street in Taksim. In fact, it's paralel to Istiklal Street on General Yazgan Street.

Leblon, named after a town in Brazil opened in 2008 and that's when I first went to this restaurant. Officially called 11Leblon, it was so named because "11" was the number on the building before it changed (so typical for numbers to change in Istanbul - as well as street names) and 11Leblon is also the name of a beach in Leblon, Brazil.

Like I mentioned above, the first time I went to Leblon was in 2008 and like most people, I went because the eatery was highy publicized in a very popular Turkish film called "Issız Adam", so out of curiosity Leblon became an instant hit. I remember I had enjoyed being there and I also remember eating grilled salmon which was very good and if I remember correctly, I went with my friend Ayşe Nur.

As I was working full time then and was the General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of the english language guide magazines (The Guide Istanbul, Ankara, Bodrum, etc.), I never had a chance to go again... there were just so many places to go and soooo little time!

Then... I believe it was last year, I started watching a cooking show on CNN Turk called "Arda'nın Mutfağı" (Arda's Kitchen) which I stumbled upon by quite accident because the show was aired in the early afternoon on Saturdays.

Arda Türkmen
Obviously it didn't take me long to realize that Arda Türkmen was the owner and chef at Leblon! In fact, thanks to facebook, it didn't take us long to realize we had a friend in common and became facebook friends last year and ever since then, I have been meaning to profile him on my blog because I think he is a wonderful up and coming chef and creates wonderful dishes in the kitchen!

Long and short of it, time passes by very quickly and because of my crazy schedule and of course Arda's, I still haven't been able to do that, but interestingly, we had a chance to meet "face to face" for the first time in Alaçatı, Çeşme in April when I went there for the Fresh Herbs Festival! So, now my "facebook" friend now had a "real" face for me!!!

After being facebook friends, several months ago, I also finally entered the "tweeter" world! So, I also started following him on tweeter (although he's still not following me!). Until August, after his show ended on CNN Turk for the season, the show moved to a different channel during the summer. Now, he's in the process of negotiating for the fall/winter season and soon his show will be back on the air hopefully.

One of the great things with facebook or tweeter is that you can keep with the news/events in "real time"! On Monday, Arda sent a twit stating that Leblon would begin serving an open buffet lunch starting on Tuesday (yesterday). I immediately sent a twit back to find out if it was going to be available every day and that I would swing by on Wednesday if so as I was going to be in the neighborhood because I thought it was going to be a "one shot" deal, but thank god I was wrong.

So, after the IWI (International Women of Istanbul) Orientation meeting at the Hilton Hotel today, I headed to Leblon... and just as I entered the eatery, Arda was on his way out to attend a meeting, but we had a chance to talk very quickly and said we would set up a time to finally do that profile!

Now... on to the nitty gritty!!

Leblon's "Open Buffet" Lunch spread
Leblon's open buffet lunch is available on weekdays between noon and 3:00pm and includes 12 hot/cold dishes and 2 desserts (the items will change daily). The price for this "all you can eat" spread is only 25 TL/person! Additionally, all beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic) are discounted 25% between noon and 5:00pm on weekdays! I call this a "sweet" deal!!!

For those readers who read my post on the Barbare Wines Grape Harvest, know that I am on a diet and have lost around 10 kg with 2 kg to go... but, although I initially had only planned on trying 2-3 of the "lighter" dishes, I said "the hell with it" and pretty much went for it!

I ordered a glass of red wine and started my "mini" feast with baked seabass wrapped in parchment paper...

Baked Sea bass wrapped in parchment paper

The seabass was cooked to perfection! It was lemony, the seasonings were just right and the tomatoes, parsley and onions added just the right "kick" to the dish! So much so, I immediately sent a twit!

Next up and after which I had "inititally" planned on stopping was just a very small serving of squash carpaccio, green beans in olive oil and fava...

It's incredible how you can take such "simple" ingredients and create such appetizing dishes!! Who needs all those extra sauces,etc. Among this threesome, my favorite was the squash carpaccio which was simply flavored with olive oil, lemon and topped with parsley, mint and goat cheese! However, don't think I didn't like the others on the plate...the fava was soft and creamy and the green beans were cooked just right!

As my taste buds were going wild by this point, that's when I said, "go for it Vildan and try at least a few more dishes!" (it didn't take long to convince myself!). I did stay away from the quiche and vegetable graten, but did try the baked macaroni with vegetables, circassian chicken, potato salad and chickpeas prepared with olive oil and tahini...

Circassian chicken (front), chickpeas (right), potato salad, baked macaroni (left back)
Once again, all the dishes were wonderful, except, the baked macaroni was a little too salty for my taste (I hardly eat salt).

Since I was going for it.... I had to go for dessert too! The choices were sour apple crumb cake and espresso creme brûle ...

Sour Apple Crumb Cake

Espresso Creme Brûle
I opted for the creme brûle, although I could have easily eaten the HUGE crumb cake portion the way I was feeling!!! I really enjoyed the creme brule because the filling was soft and creamy and the amount of espresso used was just right. Of course, I had a double espresso with my espresso creme brûle!

I needed have to tell you that I had a very enjoyable and incredible meal at Leblon and rolled out of there with a silly impish grin on my face and was NOT feeling guilty one little bit for all the food I ate, because it was worth it!

Just a couple more points on Leblon before I end this post... the eatery is cozy, I love the brick walls, high ceilings, lighting and excellent music in the background. The staff are very friendly without being "too much" and the waiters are very adept. Leblon also has an extensive a la carte menu which they recently revised for the new season. The dishes served on the open buffet are not on the a la carte menu. 

I'm very happy that I "re-discovered" Leblon after all these years and know that I will stop by more often - especially since I have friends already waiting in line to go with me! I'm still sooo full from lunch, I will just pour myself a nice glass of merlot for dinner and savor my delicious meal some more!

Whether you go for lunch or dinner - I hope you enjoy Leblon as much as I did! Thank you Arda and of course your entire team for doing a wonderful job!

I hope all your meals are enjoyable and shared with good friends and capped with good cheer!

11 Leblon
Tel: (0212) 252 86 36


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

BARBARE WINES: Tis' the Grape Harvest Season!

Dear Readers,

It has been a very long time since I have had a chance to post in my blog... in fact, I believe the last time was in February.

I'm not going to get into the details because it would take up too much unncessary space, but I lost all mom on March 8th and my life has been in an upheaval since then with another death in the family and so on...

But, life goes on and MUST go on and I have so so much to share and have to make up for lost time!

So... here I go!!!!

I LOVE WINE!!!! I guess it can't get simpler than that to start off this topic! I love trying different wines from different local and international producers any and every chance I get! Living in Istanbul, I have less choice of varieties to taste from international brands, but for the last 5 years, many new and boutique Turkish winemakers producing great and up and coming wines have entered the market and it's a very exciting time in Turkey!

One such wine brand is BARBARE WINES... I was first introduced to this new brand in mid 2010 when I attended a wine tasting they held at a restaurant in Taksim to introduce their wines to the market. First, I was struck by their name and found it quite interesting! In Turkish it is pronounced in 3 syllables "bar-ba-re", in French "bar-bar" (the e is silent) and I guess you can pronounce the name as "bar-bare" in English. In short, the Barbare Vineyards are located in Tekirdağ (more on that later) close to a village called "Barbaros", hence the name.

I remember being quite impressed with their selections of wines, but as is common with smaller wine producers in Turkey, their wines are only available at a limited number of retailers and restaurants at that time and I didn't get a chance to "renew" my acquaintance with Barbare until May 29th of this year!

Barbare Wines held another wine tasting this year at the lovely fine-dining Sunset Grill&Bar Restaurant with a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus from its hillltop location in Ulus and this time I had a chance to get to know Can Topsakal, the owner and Xavier Vignon, a noted onolog from the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region in France for the last 15 years. Also, my friend Tülin Bozüyük who I met while she was at Kavaklıdere Wines was appointed the General Manager of Barbare Wines at the beginning of this year...

Can Topsakal, Tülin Bozüyük, Xavier Vignon (left to right)

Sunset Grill&Bar (lounge area)
Suffice to say we had a lovely evening, had a chance to taste a variety of wines from the latest harvest and in fact, a small group to include myself, Can, his lovely other half Yudum, Tülin, Xavier and a couple of journalists had a wonderful dinner, more wine and great conversation at Sunset Grill&Bar after the wine tasting event!

As far as the title of my post goes, the grape harvest season begins around August 15th and lasts through October 15th - or sometimes longer depending on which region the vineyards are located.

My dear friend Tülin called me a couple of weeks ago and invited me to the grape harvest at Barbare Vineyards on September 9th and she didn't have to ask me twice! I also had the opportunity to attend a grape harvest at Pendore Vineyards (you can also read my post on these vineyards from my archives) when she was at Kavaklıdere Wines and had a fantastic time.

A group of wine lovers (about 15 of us) met in front of Akmerkez Shopping Mall in Etiler at around 10:00am on Sunday and departed on our trip to Tekirdağ at 10:30am arriving at the vineyards at 12:30pm.

Barbare Vineyards (Tekirdağ)

Tekirdağ, also in the Marmara Region of Turkey is about 130 km from Istanbul and the vineyards are about 5 km from the city center.

It was a lovely sunny and slightly windy day and we started our "tour" with a glass of Barbare Rosé wine (80% cabernet sauvignon and 20% mouvedre) while we soaked in the setting...

Figen Mertol, Vildan Yahni (left to right)
I met Figen when I attended the grape harvest at Pendore Vineyards last year and just a couple of weeks ago stayed at her fantastic boutique hotel called Katre in Alaçatı (more on that on my post on Alaçatı which I will prepare in the next couple of days hopefully) and if I look different from my other photos for those who are repeat readers is because I cut my hair really short, but more importantly lost 19 lbs or 8,5 kg (yea!!!!)

The Barbare Vineyards are about 230 "dönüm" which equals 23 hectares if I did my math right and entered the winemaking business in 2000 and their first wines to hit the market was in 2007. Although a "newbie", they have already won awards locally for some of their wines.Their grapes are cultivated with organic agriculture - that is, no chemicals or pesticides are used and wines are produced "Chateau-style". Interestingly, or rather not... Barbare only cultivates the following grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache, mourvedre and sauvignon blanc - that is they do not use any turkish grapes to produce their wines.

Our next stop on our tour was the production facility itself which is about 500 square meters. The current capacity at Barbare is 100,000 bottles of wine annually and in time, they have the capability of increasing this to 200,000 bottles/annually, but the major focus of this "boutque" winery is to produce "quality" wines and "quantity" is secondary.

Özcan Yetiş (General Manager of Barbare Vineyards Facility in Tekirdağ)
Here, Mr. Yetiş gave the group information on how they process and ferment the grapes at Barbare Vineyards...

Then we moved to the area where the grapes are aged in French oak barrels...

Our next stop and of course the piece de résistance was a visit to the wine cellar where the wine tasting began!

Vildan Yahni, Tülün Bozüyük (left, right)
Now, it was time to once again go "above ground" and tour the rest of the facility and to see the grapes "up close and personal"...

Normally, the grapes are picked by the workers in the early morning hours of the day before the weather warms up, so Tülin showed the group how the grapes are picked and also had the participants taste the grapes - which taste nothing like the grapes we buy from the markets!

After this mini-tour it was time for lunch and of course more wine!!!! During our particular tour, Maria, the owner of Maria's Bahçesi (Garden) restaurant in Istanbul prepared a variety of dishes for us, but during the "normal" official tours, participants are offered a BBQ feast.

Maria, Haşmet (Maria's husband), Vildan Yahni

The amount of wine offered during the tour is unlimited, so be very careful otherwise you will get a major buzz, which is okay if you arrived with a tour and are not driving! And, you also get a chance to try almost all the wines that Barbare has on the market (except the rare premier line)!

My personal favorite among the Barbare wines is Elegance 2009 (24% syrah, 54% grenache, 19% mourvedre, 2% cabernet sauvignon, 1% merlot), but I also enjoyed the Syrah & Grenache & Mourvedre  2009 (50% syrah, 25% grenache, 25% mourvedre), HOWEVER, I was very very impressed with the Premier Syrah!!! Prepared with 100% syrah grapes, unfortunately the wine is only available in a limited supply (it's on the menu at Ulus Restaurant in Istanbul) and it is F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S!!! Like I said, the premier line is limited, but knowing Can helped in getting a glass on the sly! 

After a couple of hours of eating and drinking, it was time to go home! We departed the facility at about 6:00pm and arrived back at the Akmerkez Shopping Mall around 8:30pm (there was traffic on the return home as we got closer to the city). It was a perfect day with perfect weather, great company, wonderful food and excellent wine! 

For more information on Barbare Wines, you can visit their website however, the website is in the process of being updated and is only available in Turkish, but at least you can see what wines they offer and some of the restaurants/cafes around town where they are sold, so that you can get a chance to try them - you will definitely not be disappointed! 

I recommend that all wine lovers or new wine enthusiasts attend at last one grape harvest in their life time! It is so much fun and you learn so much too and since each vineyard and the wines produced are different, you won't be "repeating" yourself if you attend several grape harvests either! You still have time to attend one this year, so I recommend you give Barbare Vineyards (or any other vineyard of your choice) a call to find out the prices and schedules as they all differ. Also, if in the neighborhood, you can also just "drop by" a vineyard and they will be more than happy to give you a wine tasting and information and you can usually buy bottles of wine at discounted prices.

In fact, a good friend of mine Burçak Desombre, a certified sommelier is planning a trip to Barbare Vineyards on Saturday, September 15th and you still might have time to join in on the fun if you live in Istanbul and there is room on the tour. Burçak is fluent in Turkish, French and English so no worries! You can visit her website for detailed information on this tour or any upcoming event she is planning.

May your glass always be full with good wine and cheer!