Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lucca: Great Food, Fantastic Cheer & Super Company Adds New Goodies to Food & Cocktail Menus

Dear readers,

Sorry to have had to take another long break between posts, but between work and getting my apartment painted, I can't believe that a month has gone by!

Although I'm still very busy and clients are waiting for their projects, I had to take a "ME" break and just write for myself! I truly do wish that one day I will have enough money to NOT work and just write posts for my blog!!! I can dream can't I???

Anyway... on to the business at hand! Last week Friday, I received an email from İlknur, who works at Kiraz PR firm and she invited me to a "tasting" at Lucca - MY ALL TIME FAVORITE cafe, restaurant and bar! I was thrilled because Lucca is my "home" and I have been a regular since it literally burst onto the scene in the lovely Bebek neighborhood in Istanbul in 2004 and hasnt looked back!

I can comfortably say that no other restaurant, cafe and bar has been able to meet my standards in Istanbul to surpass my affection for Lucca! I love the setting, I love the hominess, quality of the food and drinks and also, and very important as well, the excellent service provided by Lucca's very friendly, expert and long time staff - not to forget the owner Cem Mirap and managers Turgay and Bahadır of course! There's some major teamwork going on at Lucca which further adds to their success! 

So, the tasting was scheduled for yesterday - October 16, between 5:00pm and 7:00pm and İlknur informed me that a couple of other bloggers/internet magazine editors were invited.

As usual... I arrived early - around 4:30pm... any excuse to hang out at Lucca as I have been so busy and hadn't had a chance to visit in a while! The tasting didn't start at 5:00pm as planned - most Turkish journalists are not known for being prompt, but that was just fine with me! In the meantime, Cevat Yıldırım, Lucca's head bartender offered me a sample of one of the new cocktails that are being added to the menu for the new season! Although the new menu is not out yet, all of the cocktails I've mentioned here can be ordered right now. The dishes will most likely be available at the beginning of November right after the Sacrifice of the Feast Holiday which is next week.

Prosecco and "aperol"
This cocktail is a "knock-off" and Cevat's version of prosecco and aperol - a very common apertif in Italy. Since aperol is not imported to Istanbul, he prepared his own version and it is lighter in color and with more of a bite with orange flavors and peel.

Afterwards, I caught up a bit with Cem Mirap - the owner and brainchild behind Lucca, but this time I forgot to ask him to see new photos of his precious twins!

Me (left) and Cem Mirap (right)
Unfortunately Cem was unable to join us during the tasting due to his hectic schedule.

Then... we moved over to our table to start our tasting with Pelin Çakar - the smart, spirited and knowledgeable Kitchen Coordinator/chef at Lucca!

Pelin Çakar (Lucca Kitchen Coordinator)
Actually Pelin doesn't get much chance to spend time in the kitchen except the mornings when she preps the kitchen and staff because she is also responsible for the overall coordination of the kitchen activities, purchases, menu preparations - in other words, you name it!

We started off our tasting with some of the dishes  that are currently on the menu to include grilled fresh asparagus with parmesan cheese shavings, fresh asparagus puree and fresh mozarella cheese.
Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

Fresh asparagus puree

 As asparagus will be out of season shortly, these dishes will be taken off the menu and fresh artichoke puree will be added instead. In either case, if you like these vegetables, you will definitely enjoy these dishes in season! As far as the mozzarella cheese goes, it is a different kind of fresh cheese which is soft in the center (can't remember the technical name) and has to be consumed 1-2 days from purchase... it's the first time I was tasting this cheese at Lucca and loved it ... but have been eating the asparagus dishes quite often! 

While we were enjoying these regular treats from the menu... Cevat served us another one of his new creations... gin flavored with lemon and  lemon zest....Since gin and I haven't been "friends" for over 20 years, I did taste it - it was excellent and refreshing... but didn't want to push my luck!

Gin flavored with lemon and  lemon zest
As we were chatting with Pelin, I mentioned that in all the years that I've been a regular at Lucca, I NEVER ordered a salad because all the appetizers and main courses are sooo good! To make sure, I didn't miss out on this treat... she ordered the smoked salmon salad for all of us to taste... and may I say - I will definitely be ordering this salad!

Smoked Salmon Salad
First, the smoked salmon's taste and texture was incredible and she informed me that they recently changed suppliers and the arugula, avocado and other salad greens were especially fresh and mouthwatering... a very light olive oil dressing  was added and cashews were scattered around the dish.

As it was now time to try just a few of the new goodies (we didn't taste all as it wouldn't be possible!), Cevat prepared a wonderful red wine sangria to accompany the samplers...

red wine sangria (yummy!)

First up among the new delights is.... Steak Tartare!

Steak Tartare
Steak Tartare is an acquired taste and might not be to everyone's liking and a dish not frequently found on the menus of restaurants in Istanbul. Furthermore, La Brise Brasserie (this venue will be another blog topic soon!) prepares the best Steak Tartare in Istanbul as far as I'm concerned. Lucca's version is also quite good and most importantly top quality meat was used and by just playing around with the seasonings as we discussed with Pelin, it will quickly become a hit with afficiandos of this dish!

On the more "casual" side... the next dish we tasted was mini hotdogs with a side of seasoned French fries...

Mini hotdogs with french fries
Although these bit-sized morsels were excellent and can easily compete with the mini hamburgers on their current menu, you won't see me ordering them unfortunately because I am on a perpetual diet and after working so hard to lose 10 kg - can't afford to tempt myself! The hearty white bread was specially prepared for Lucca for this dish and each is stuffed with caramelized onions, very spicy pepper sauce and a piece of lettuce.

Since we really weren't doing a food and cocktail pairing, the next drink that Cevat prepared for us was truly decadent and wicked: Pineapple Express!

Pineapple Express (totally wicked!)
 Pineapple Express as you might have guessed, is prepared with pineapples and smoked votka. Be very very careful if ordering this drink because it will definitely creep up on you!!

Now... on to the piece de résistance dish of the tasting: Duck Confit with teriyaki and ponzu sauce...

Duck Confit with teriyaki and ponzu sauce

I love duck and have eaten my share - both in Istanbul and in Paris! My all time favorite was the duck at D'Argent and I can defintely say that Lucca's is almost as good!!! The baby duck literally fell off the bone! Not only is the quality of the duck itself important, but also the cooking technique and Lucca has succeeded at both!

We tried one final drink before going onto dessert... Lucca's version of a Banana Daiquiri which includes of course bananas, drambuie and Havana Club rum...

Banana Daiquiri
Personally, I am not a major fan of mixed drinks and prefer to drink red wine and scotch from time to time... but I can definitely say that all these cocktails were very very good!

I have been mentioning Cevat's name left and right since the beginning of this article and here he is below with his night team... he has many long years of experience in the business and has also worked at major 5 star international hotels in Istanbul and has also won numerous awards at competitions.. and he also makes a mean votka martini - just the way I like it - very dry with 3 olives! Of course Kemal and Mehmet are also very good bartenders.

Kemal Soysal (left), Cevat Yıldırım (center), Mehmet Şahin (right)

After all the food we ate and the cocktails we drank, we still managed to have room for dessert! Desserts are also no-no's for me and I rarely order dessert at Lucca or any other venue for that matter... but this one was fresh and scrumptious: bitter almond ice cream topped with espresso! If you don't like espresso you don't need to add it to the ice cream, but when you do... the bitterness of the coffee and the sweetness of the ice cream are a great combo!

Bitter Almond Ice Cream and Espresso
Before wrapping up my post, I want to mention another cocktail which I had a chance to taste at the beginning of the evening before the tasting started... it is called "spritzzz" which is a sweet Italian aperatif... all you do is pour in the glass, add some ice and a piece of orange... excellent!

Still on the subject of alcohol, I asked Cevat if there were going to be changes made to the  wine list and he informed me that he has some new suprises that will be added to both the wine list by the bottle and by the glass. He did however tell me that Barbare wines, an up and coming Turkish wine producer using organic grapes (my favorite is Elegance which will be on the wine list by the bottle and another red wine by the glass) will be added to the repertoire.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the casual and informal food and drink tasting at Lucca and I'm happy I have the chance to share the details on my favorite spot in the city wit my readers.

Lucca is open from noon to 2:00am on Monday and from 10:00am to 2:00am on all other days... breakfast treats are also served... Brunch on Sunday and my other favorites from their menu include  Shrimp and Duck Rolls, sushi platter, grilled salmon and köfte (Turkish style meatballs). Also, the prices at Lucca are not cheap, but they are modest compared to "like" venues and sometimes their prices are even lower!

As Lucca ( is usually very crowded, I suggest you make reservations for dinner or even the peak lunch hours. Enjoy!

Photo supplied by Lucca
Now, it's time to get back to work... I feel refreshed! Also, after such a feast last night, I only had a light breakfast and now that it's almost 6:30pm,  I best have a light early dinner before I pass out!

Till the next time....