Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Raika Restaurant & Bar : The newest "Turkish" on the Istanbul scene...

Dear readers,

As I mentioned in my previous post on the Vinkara Wine Tasting I attended at The Marmara Taksim Hotel on February 21st, I wanted to "kill two birds with one stone" and scheduled a dinner with my sister Meltem and friend Nur for the same evening - at the same site! Since the wine tasting was scheduled to end at around 7:30pm... I thought it was the perfect time to finally visit Raika, an independently managed new Turkish restaurant on the 20th floor of the hotel offering panoramic views of the city!

Raika is the newest member of the Istanbul Doors Group and opened in October 2012! And what is the Istanbul Doors Group? Well... they are also the owners of A'jia Hotel on the Asian side of the city, Da Mario Gina and Mama (Italian restaurants); Gigi (French); Angelique, Poupon (nightclub, bar & restaurant), Kitchenette and Carlotta (cafes), Ca'Doro and co-owners of Zuma and Tom Aikens Restaurant, Tom's Kitchen, Tom's Deli! The group also has a catering company and "Doors Academy" (culinary school)! I might have left something out, but as you can see, the list is long, illustrious and impressive!

One of the great things about dining out in Istanbul is that there are now very good restaurants where you can not only enjoy the view, but the food too. For example, the independently owned and managed fine dining restaurant Mikla... located on the top floor and terrace (during the summer) of the Marmara Pera Hotel; Nu Teras (open only during the summer and on the roof of an historical building in Tepebaşı); Vogue (International & Japanese cuisine) high atop the BJK Plaza building in Akaretler to name the ones that immediately come to my mind.     

I made reservations for 8:00pm at Raika but between the traffic in Istanbul, etc etc we  hung out at the bar waiting for my sister to arrive with Nur who had arrived early... and to my pleasant surprise... we had a last minute guest join us! I met Burçak Desombre (a Turk married to a Frenchman... thus the last name!) years ago when she worked at a friend's wine firm and we've kept in touch through the years and the different jobs she's held. Briefly, Burçak is a certified sommelier (or wine steward) and she formed her own company called "Vinipedia Danışmanlık" (Consulting company) in 2011 and organizes all sorts of wine tastings for beginners and wine aficionados alike among other events and also offers consulting services to restaurants! She was also at the Vinkara wine tasting and had come upstairs to Raika's bar to have a drink before going home and I invited her to join us and I'm so glad she agreed!

Sipping glasses of prosecco (38 TL) and a Garrone Bianco (24 TL) for Burçak... we chatted up a storm waiting for my sister to arrive while enjoying the view from Raika Bar which is located to the right of the elevators... 

The Bar & Lounge is spacious with seating at the bar and clusters of tables surrounding the dimly lit interior... In fact, as of February 22nd, (we missed it by one day) there is live jazz music with different jazz artists at Raika Bar every Friday night.

Once my sister arrived, we moved over to the main dining room which is to the left of the elevators... this "wrap around" dining room is quite spacious with split-level dining areas with seating for about 190 people according to Raika's website with an open kitchen...

As we were quite hungry by now, with menus in hand and after being told by the waiter that the concept at Raika was to "share our meals", we set out trying to decide what to order...

Raika specializes in regional Turkish cuisine. The word "raika" means "simple, pure, unadulterated" in Turkish which also coincides with their concept as all dishes are served on "no frills" minimalist plates and all "sides" are extra...

Raika also has a very impressive wine list and each wine on the menu includes an explanation of the wine in Turkish and English and are available in all price ranges. We decided to order a bottle of Paşaeli "Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc-Merlot-Petit Verdot" blend (2008) which was a full-bodied wine which went very well with our selections. Paşaeli is a mid-sized Turkish wine producer from the Aegean Region and for the last few years has been producing very good red wines...

We ordered 8 appetizers to share: Jerusalem artichoke braised in olive oil (16 TL); Topik (an Armenian dish prepared with chickpeas, tahini, onions, currants, pistachio and cinnamon) (13 TL); Mucver (patties prepared with wild greens) (22 TL); Lahmacun (thin dough topped with minced meat and spices - like a pizza) (12 TL); Stuffed Chard Leaves (19 TL); Mixed green salad (16 TL); Purslane with strained plain yogurt (12 TL); Roasted eggplant & coriander in olive oil (12 TL)...

For our main course we ordered lamb chops (49 TL) and a side of roasted potatoes in wild herb butter (10 TL). 

Before I make a general comment about your selections, I highly suggest you visit Raika's  website where you will see a copy of their menu and wine list. Additionally, two "tasting" menus are available.

The dishes we ordered were good, however, we felt that the portions were not very satisfying and were suitable to be shared by two, maybe 3 but not more. For example, the lahmacun and mucver we ordered included 3 pieces each and since we were 4 people we ordered an "extra" from each one and were charged accordingly (extra lahmacun 4 TL; extra mucver 6 TL). However, there were 4 lamb chops, so we didn't have a problem there...

When it came to dessert, we decided to order just one to share. However, Merve Yılmaz, the restaurant's assistant manager and I go back for years, and she was kind enough to offer us a dessert too, so we ordered Künefe (warm shredded wheat and cheese), topped with clotted cream (18 TL), a typical Turkish dessert and chocolate souffle. However, we were also sent Turkish style pumpkin dessert by mistake and didn't turn it away...

Which we washed down with Turkish tea and Turkish coffee of course!

Unfortunately, we were a little disappointed with our desserts! The künefe was dripping in butter which was very overpowering; the chocolate souffle tasted more like chocolate pudding and the pumpkin dessert should have had some more syrup and was dry...

All in all we had a lovely evening and enjoyed each other's company and hope to have more dinners like this together to discover new venues to share with you my readers! The bill for our meal & drinks at Raika cost 492 TL (+ tip).

Me, sister Meltem (left); Burçak (right front), Nur (right top)

I suggest that you make reservations for dinner at Raika and it might also be a good idea to try it out for lunch too... I'm sure the view is just as lovely during the day! 

Tel: (0212) 243 37 73 

Enjoy & stay well!


Vinkara Wines/L'Ordre Mondial Wine Tasting

Dear readers,

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but because of my intense interest in wining & dining... I became a member of the Turkish chapter of the Châine des Rôtisseurs (an international gastronomy society established in Paris in 1950 with chapters in over 70 countries) and L'Ordre Mondial des Gourmets Dégustateurs (established in 1963 and an integral part of the Châine des Rotisseurs) which was established to promote the "enjoyment, appreciation and knowledge of fine wines, quality spirits, beers and mineral waters from around the world"... since 2009.

At during different times of the year, each organization plans and organizses dinners, wine tastings, etc at different venues throughout Istanbul for its members (and sometimes guests) and we are also invited to attend different functions organized in other parts of Turkey as well as the world! 

The first event that L'Ordre Mondial organized for 2013 was a wine tasting to introduce Vinkara Wines to its members which took place in the VIP Lounge on the 18th floor at The Marmara Taksim Hotel on Thursday, February 21...

Although I am very familiar with Vinkara Wines and have been working with them for the past couple of years (translating their website, brochures, etc from Turkish to English), I didn't pass up the chance to attend this wine tasting because we were going to be trying their latest vintages...

I don't want to spend time giving you a lesson on Vinkara Wines, so  I highly recommend that you visit their website for detailed information on this highly successful and fairly new mid-sized Turkish wine producer by visiting their website:

The owners of Vinkara Wines are also the owners of the Marmara Hotels chain, so they had prepared a lovely spread for this event....(normally wine tasting are pretty plain with just some crackers, bread and cheese) which was overseen by Rudolph Van Nunen, the hotel's talented Executive Chef and someone who I've known for over 10 years and met through mutual friends. 

As you can see we were a fairly large group (about 30 or so). The wine tasting was hosted by Mohamed Hammam (President of the Turkish Chapter of Châine de Rôtisseurs); Ardıç Gürsel (owner of Vinkara Wines), Niso Adato (President of the Turkish Chapter of L'Ordre Mondial) and the wine tasting presentation was conductef by the assistant Italian oenologist at Vinkara ...

Mohammed Hammam (top left), Ardıç Gürsel (top, right); Me and Rudolph Van Nunen (bottom  left);
me and Niso Adato (bottom left)
After the introductory comments, we got down to the task at hand!!! 

In summary, we tasted Vinkara's sparkling wine (produced with the méthode traditionelle used to produce champagne); 1 white wine (Narince grapes); and 5 red wines - the majority produced with Turkish grapes (Kalecik Karası, Boğazkere, Öküzgözü) except for the "Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Syrah "Reserve" Blend... Also, "Kalecik Karası" grapes are the signature grape at Vinkara because their vineyards are located in the Kalecik Karası district near our state capitol Ankara. 

I've included a picture of the little coasters that included the information on the wines we were tasting which is a fantastic idea, however, not implemented at many wine tastings in Istanbul! Each coaster included info on the vintage, alcohol content, the grapes, grape region and maturation time in oak barrels (where applicable)... and then all you have to do is add your own notes (like I did) on your thoughts of the wine!

The Vinkara and L'Ordre Mondial wine tasting began at about 6:00pm and ended around 7:30pm.... all in all, it was a very successful event and Vinkara's newest vintages are very promising and offer different tastes for wine lovers to try!

A final note on Vinkara Wines... at the entrance to The Marmara Taksim Hotel there is a shop where you can purchase these wines... not only are they available in normal sized bottles, some brands are also available in single serving bottles!

Selection of Vinkara Wines sold at shop at The Marmara Taksim Hotel
Also, some of Vinkara's  brands are sold at most of the major supermarkets around town! So, I suggest you try Vinkara wines and feel free to share your thoughts with me!

Stay well!


Side bar: since I found myself at The Marmara Taksim Hotel, this also gave me a chance to try out Raika, an independely owned and operated new Turkish restaurant located on the 20th floor of the hotel.... see next post for details!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ritz Carlton Istanbul hosted "Basta Bad Pasta" Workshop in January!

Dear readers,

I've written this before and I'll say it again... I love to cook, but because I have a 2x4 kitchen, I don't get a chance to show off my skills very often - except for myself! I have been an avid viewer of cooking shows on TV for the past 20 years and my passion for cooking began when I lived in NYC... the cooking shows were fantastic and I learned alot! For the past 5-6 years I have been following cooking shows on the local Home TV channel in Istanbul (Jamie Oliver is my favorite) and CNN Turk where I follow Arda Türkmen, a talented young Turkish chef and owner of Leblon Restaurant (see my post on Leblon) in Asmalımescit (soon he is opening a second restaurant in Karaköy... more on that when it opens!)  I also have many cookbooks, but to be quite frank, I prefer watching cooking shows to learn how to prepare new dishes and I have this habit of even changing those recipes to suit my own tastes! My main priority is using fresh fresh fresh ingredients in season and lots of herbs and spices! As much as I love to cookI hate to bake although I'm a major "sweets"holic! The reason for this is quite simple... in baking you have to be precise with the ingredients and measurements and I have no patience for that because I like to add my own touch!

On the other hand... until last month... I had never attended a cooking class or workshop! Odd right? But, I guess the main reason for this was finding the time and until 2-3 years ago, there weren't many places in Istanbul to attend cooking classes, but this has changed dramatically in the last year or so... that's another blog topic!

So... when I received a call from Yasemin Uygurmen (PR & Marketing Manager) at the Ritz Carlton stating that there GM Max Zanardi (a long time friend who I hadn't had a chance to see since he returned to Istanbul to head up the hotel last year) wanted to invite me to a "Basta Bad Pasta" workshop, I got very excited and of course accepted the invitation!

The workshop, titled "Basta Bad Pasta" (Basta means 'enough' in Italian, so 'enough of bad pasta' was the theme)  was organized on January 21-23 with guest chef Umberto Cavina and his team from the Monte del re  ristorante in Dozza, Bologna and held at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul's all day dining Çintemani Restaurant located on the lobby level of the hotel, offering a wonderful view of the Bosphorus!

I attended the workshop on January 22nd and it began at about 4:30pm... first we would make the pasta and then our chefs would cook them so that we could enjoy our efforts afterwards!

As you can see from above, we were each assigned a station with an apron, chef's hat, rolling pin and dough! We didn't prepare the dough from scratch because it would take too much time to wait for the dough to rise, so we skipped a step to save some time!

Our first assignment was to roll out the dough really thin (although this was the first time I was doing this, I did get a "very good" from one of the chefs)! The second step was to divide the rolled out dough into two pieces: one to be used to make ravioli and the second to prepare cappellini/linguine...

Chef Umberto Cavina (right) and team member
Chef Umberto then gathered us together at his station to show us how to make the ravioli and then sent us back to show our stuff and voila!

The ravioli I prepared (right) along with trays of ravioli prepared by the group!
As a "first time" preparer of ravioli, I don't think I or any other member of the workshop did a bad job!

The second part of the workshop involved preparing capellini/linguine... the "old fashioned way"! Sure, there are now machines where you place the dough through an opening and out pops out linguine! But, we were given a traditional wood rack with tighly strung 
strings like a guitar and we had to place the rolled out dough on top of the strings and then using a rolling pin, make the linguine! Now... this wasn't easy but lots of fun!

These were our major tasks at the workshop, but then our guest chefs gathered us together at their station to show us how to make other types of pasta... like tortellini which was a little more difficult to accomplish the first time out!

By this point, we had definitely worked up an appetite that's for sure, but since the workshop was organized to teach us how to prepare "home made" pasta and took a couple of hours, we left the cooking of our ravioli and linguine to the chefs and thank god we did!

So... we moved over to our table with a glass of Kavaklıdere/Egeo Merlot in hand to wait for our meal!

We munched on some excellent warm bread rolls and butter (once in a while I indulge but didn't have any butter... just the bread) and started our excellent and delicious dinner feast with an unexpected "appetizer" surprise (I thought we would just have the pasta we made).

Eggplant Parmesan
Chef Cavina prepared the most delicious mildy warm eggplant parmesan I had eaten in a long time! After devouring this dish, next up were the ravioli and linguine we had prepared which I will share with you in a collage of photos, which also includes a photo of the luscious dessert that topped off our meal!

All in all it was a lovely evening! Sure, this might not be your "typical" cooking class where you do everything from start to finish, but sometimes it's best to leave the cooking to the experts and still feel satisfied that you could contribute!

I also had a chance to catch up with Max at the end of the evening and stayed around to have a glass of wine with Max and Chef Cavina. Like I mentioned earlier Umberto was visiting from Dozza, Bologna and gave me a brochure of the hotel/restaurant/conference center he is from and it looks lovely. I couldn't read the brochure because it's in Italian... but you can visit their website for details and cooking classes are offered there too! So, if you are in the neighborhood and visiting Bologna, you might want to stop by and have a wonderful meal prepared by the jovial and talented chef!

I would like to thank Max for inviting me to such a fun night and I hope the Ritz Carlton  organizes workshops like this more often in 2013, so that more and more people can attend and enjoy a night of cooking and dining in elegant surroundings!

Bon appetito!

Stay well!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

La Brise Brasserie: A "French" Delight in Istanbul!

Dear readers,

I love almost everything French! I love Paris and try to visit as often as I can afford it! In fact, I love visiting all parts of France and have been to Chamonix in the winter, Cannes & St. Tropez in the summer... parts of the wine country... I also love French brands with Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior on the top of my list! What can I say, I have expensive tastes! 

Of course undoubtedly I love French wine and, when La Brise Brasserie opened in Asmalımescit in the Beyoğlu district in Istanbul in January 2008 it didn't take me long to go and see it for myself and I was in tenth heaven! This lovely quaint French Bistro was truly decorated to resemble a typical Parisian bistro ... the minute you walked through it's doors, you were no longer in Istanbul! After getting hooked on the decor, I got hooked on the food and tried to stop by as frequently as I could, but always for dinner! 

La Brise Brasserie is owned by Lale and Teoman Hünal (also the owners of The North Shield Pubs), a lovely couple who I've gotten to know and admire. The brasserie's chef is their daughter Esen Hünal Blake, an exceptionally talented young chef and La Brise was decorated by Seda Hünal, their other daughter who is a very talented interior designer! So, you can see... it's truly a "family affair" at La Brise!

After a long and successful run in Asmalımescit, they decided to spread their wings and moved to chi chi Nişantaşı on Mim Kemal Öke Street late last year in September! Parallel to the posh Abdi Ipekçi Street, Mim Kemal has really flourished in the last year and has some excellent restaurants & cafes (i.e. Hünkar, Delicatessen, Mezzaluna, Bread & Butter, Den Cafe,etc) stealing the scene from its "sister" street from time to time! 

La Brise Open Kitchen (top), indoor dining area (bottom)
I attended the opening night cocktail party organized by La Brise and had every intention of stopping by to eat shortly thereafter, but between the end of year rush and unavoidable reservation cancellations a few times in January, I finally made it to La Brise last week on February 13th with my two dining buddies (my sister Meltem and good friend Nur)!

I had missed going to La Brise and it was a nice treat! This time we went without making reservations (big mistake!) and got there around 7:30pm and were fortunate enough to get a table outside as the dining room was full. So, I highly suggest you make reservations before going!

La Brise's food, wine and dessert menus are quite extensive!

With our cocktails in hand, we started browsing the menu which is prepared in French and Turkish...

The a la carte menu is made up of a smogasbord of French delights! It includes anything and everything from Oignon Gratinée (onion soup), Salade Verte (green salad) and Niçoise Salade to a whole host of tartines as entrees and to Steak Frites, Steak Tartare and Chateaubriand (for 2) to Confit du Canard (duck confit) to Choucroute Garnie (pork chops with sauerkraut) and much more for main courses!

Everything sounded so good and I have tried most of the dishes before so this time my sis Meltem and I opted for the traditional Salade au fromage de chevre (goat cheese) while Nur ordered Tartine saumon fumé, fromage du chevre (smoked salmon and goat cheese tartine)...

For our "vin" for the evening, we chose a bottle of Doluca KAV Böğazkere-Öküzgözü from their every extensive wine list. Although there were many many wonderful French wines, prices in Turkey are quite expensive, so we opted for a moderately priced Turkish wine which everyone enjoyed. The salads were excellent and the portions generous... I especially liked the extra touch of the pomegranate in my salad which added a nice kick to it! As far as the salmon goes... the quality was excellent and I immediately knew where they purchased it from! To give a plug to my friends David Shipman and Dilistan Çilingiroğlu, La Brise purchases the salmon from this fantastic couple's company called Delicco Fine Foods ( I believe they also sell their products at select supermarkets. You can check their website for details.

For our main course, my sis and I once again chose the same thing: Boeuf Stroganov (Beef Stroganoff) which we both love while Nur was more adventurous and ordered Parmentier de boeuf braisé parfumé a la Truffe Noire - in other words braised beef flavored with black truffles and topped with mashed potatoes! Talk about down home cooking!

Boeuf Stroganov (bottom); Parmentier du boeuf braisé (top)
Both dishes were very very good and we were all in "French" heaven in Nişantaşı as you can see from the looks on our faces below while we were still just having our entrees!

Meltem (sis, left front), Nur (left back) and me!
Although we ate a lot of food and our attempts at maintaining our weights was greatly tested, there was no way we were going to end our dining feast without having dessert! But, we were good and just ordered one dessert to share: Mille-feuillle au rhum although the dessert menu also includes Creme Brulee, Crêpe Suzette, Mousse au Chocolat, etc and of course Plateau du fromages (cheese platter)!

I have to admit that the dessert was so fresh, flaky and light that it took us mere minutes to devour it and we could have definitely each eaten a full portion!

To wrap up, we had a lovely evening catching up and enjoying an excellent meal with superb service in a lovely ambiance at La Brise...

To give you an idea on the prices... entrees range from 16 TL to 45 TL, main courses from 36 TL to 96 TL, Desserts and cheese from 15 TL to 42 TL, coffee and tea from 7 TL to 9 TL. They also have an excellent list of cognac and liqueurs ranging from 22 TL to 50 TL while the wine list prices start at around 89 TL/bottle (some are available by the glass).

Finally, I wanted to include a photo of Esen, the chef at La Brise which I took at their opening cocktail party in September. Besides being a very talented chef, she is also a wife and mother with a toddler who looks exactly like his grandfather Teoman!I ran into them at Kanyon yesterday and had a chance to meet the little fella who appeared to also be very shy or just sleepy!

Esen Hünal Blake (chef)

Bon Apetit! Afiyet olsun!

La Brise
Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No. 11/A
Tel: (0212) 244 48 46

Stay well!


Friday, February 8, 2013

TURKISH SOUP RECIPE: "Didem's Soup": Quick, Easy & Healthy!

Dear readers,

I love to cook and I love to eat! I guess that's why I've always had a weight problem! At my heaviest (about 18 years ago), I was about 212 lbs. But, then after going through some major surgery in 2002 and with the removal of most of my small intestine, I pretty much had to learn how to eat again, which was a blessing in disguise! For example, I very very rarely eat fried food, butter, white bread, rice, etc. as besides not being healthy, I don't have a tolerance for it. However, I do succumb to butter and French baguette bread when I go to Paris because it is so incredibly good there! But unfortunately my tolerance for desserts has not waned and I love them all!  

Now I'm at my all time low (between 128-130 lbs) after doing the Dukan Diet and losing 11 kg in about 1 1/2 months last year and I've maintained my weight so far!

Unfortunately cooking is not something I get a chance to do often for many reasons. First, my kitchen is a 2 by 4 and my counter space is even smaller! I'm single and it's usually not fun whipping up dishes for one person and I don't get a chance to entertain my friends with lavish meals - once again because my kitchen is so small!

However, I do make simple things that are suitable for one. I have been watching cooking shows on TV in NYC and in Turkey ever since I can remember and I have gotten very good tips from especially Jamie Olivier and Arda Türkmen (with a cooking show on CNN Turk in Turkey). I do have many cookbooks, but I'll be honest - I usually don't refer to them! However, I do have a wonderful neighbor - Didem who I have become close friends with in the last year although I've been living at the apartment building for 3 years now. She is an excellent cook and is not really hooked on "healthy" food like I am and prepares incredible regional dishes and soups. One day I hope to have her start a blog to share her recipes over the internet!

Because of Didem I have stopped using packaged soups! Truthfully, it was much easier emptying a package of soup mix to 1 liter of water than making from scratch!  Alas, Didem reminded me and it is so true, these soup mixes contain a lot of different additives or else how could they have such a long shelf life! Also, from time to time I ordered soup from different restaurants, but usually they are prepared with butter, beef stock, etc. making them too heavy for my taste.

Didem has a wonderful habit of sharing the dishes she makes for her family with me from time to time and I'm incredibly spoiled! The soup recipe I will now share with you is one of my favorites and it is so quick and easy to make and it's healthy and light on the calories (although I have no idea what the calorie count is) too - even if you make her version instead of mine, which I tweaked a bit...

I got up to a very wet and cold day today in Istanbul and weather like this makes me want to make soup! So, after I had to make a quick run to the vet because Luka got sick (he's ok thank God but  got me scared and needs 2 more days of treatment and has a build-up of water in his lungs due to the cold weather) I made my favorite soup - affectionately called "Didem's soup" because it's her own concoction and doesn't have a name.

When you look at the picture it "looks" like tomato soup, but it's not! In fact, almost all soups are basically the same with pretty much the same ingredients, but the "mix" of the ingredients make them different...

So, first before getting to how to make it... let me share the recipe.

Ingredients (serves 4):

5 cups (1 liter) water
200 g tomato puree
1 tablespoon red pepper paste
1 tablespoon white flour (I use whole wheat flour)
1 package condensed chicken broth or 1 large tablet chicken bouillon
1/3 cup vermicelli (can be less to taste)
1 chili pepper, sliced (optional)
125 g plain yogurt (I use fat-free yogurt) room temperature
1/2 lemon, juice of
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste

Now, I will explain how to make it!

1) In a dry pot, place the flour (white or whole wheat) over medium-high heat and stir continuously for at least 3 minutes.

This step is very very important for two reasons: you don't want the smell of flour in your soup and if it is not properly stirred, the flour will clump up when the other ingredients are added spoiling your soup!

2) Reduce heat to medium and rigorously stir in the container of tomato puree and then add the red pepper paste as you continue to stir. Then add the chicken bouillon or condensed chicken broth and continue stirring. (Just a note on the red pepper paste. The brand you see in the picture is not the one I use, but I wanted to give you an idea of the what the packaging looks like and the name... called "biber salçası" in Turkish. I use a top quality paste that Didem gave me, so shop around for the best one and they are usually sold in a jar in the "gourmet" section of your supermarket)

 3) Add 5 cups of water, sliced chili pepper and sea salt, freshly ground pepper and red pepper flakes (optional) and stir for about a minute. (A little note on the chili pepper - it will definitely add a nice "kick" to your soup if you like spicy food. Besides spicy food is known to speed up your metabolism and helps in burning fat quicker. However, it is optional if you don't prefer food that is too spicy because the paprika paste is also mildly spicy)

During this step you will know whether you stirred the flour properly because clumps of flour will not rise to the top in the mixture.

4) Add the vermicelli, stir well and reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, but make sure to check and stir once in a while so that the vermicelli doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot... I personally prefer lots of vermicelli, but you can put less but definitely not more than 1/3 cup because don't forget, vermicelli expands when cooked!

5) Squeeze half a lemon into the plain yogurt and mix well. Make sure your yogurt is at room temperature (remove from fridge one hour before using) and once again I use fat-free yogurt but you can use regular yogurt. Then slowly stir in the yogurt (for the purposes of the picture I couldn't stir in and take the picture at the same time, but make sure you stir in with a spoon and don't just pour in the mixture!)

6) Bring to a boil - uncovered - over low heat and then your soup is ready to serve!

I would like to thank my dear friend Didem for sharing her recipe with me. It was so good that I had two bowls before preparing this post!

I hope to from time to time share some of Didem's other Turkish recipes with you!

Bon apetit or as we say in Turkish... afiyet olsun!

Stay well!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Aqua Restaurant: Four Seasons Bosphorus gets a "visit" from the Four Seasons Firenze!

Dear readers,

For those of you who read my post on Bird Bar & Grill which I posted yesterday, I mentioned I had some time to spare before I have an event to attend in the evening...

Well... hot off the presses! I was fortunate enough to be invited to an evening of Tuscan style Italian cuisine prepared at the hands of Vito Mollica, the Michelin star chef of Il Palagio Restaurant located at the Four Seasons Firenze in Italy and hosted by Patrizio Cipollini, General Manager of the hotel and attended by Daniela Trovato, Director of Sales & Marketing and organized at the fine dining Aqua Restaurant at the Four Seasons Bosphorus in Istanbul!

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul on the Bosphorus

After that very long sentence... I love Italian food and had my fair share of it especially when I lived in NYC! I don't know the Italian population in the city, but I'm sure it's up there! So, besides eating a great selection of different goodies at Italian restaurants, I did have many Italian friends so I was exposed to lots of home cooked Sicilian dishes too (which to this day are my favorites... give me a shrimp marinara or eggplant parmiagano and I'm in tenth heaven!). Besides as far as I'm concerned - nothing beats a slice of pizza with a diet coke from an Italian Pizza Parlor in New York!

After moving back to Istanbul, I got used to eating more Northern Italian style dishes and I believe I've never tried typical "Tuscan style" Italian food until last night and what a wonderful introduction it was!

While we waited for everyone to arrive, we sat at the Lobby Lounge Bar and started our "Italian" evening with prosecco and a variety of appetizers, but quickly moved over to Aqua restaurant after all the guests arrived where our elegantly appointed white table cloth table awaited us!

Aqua Restaurant @ Four Seasons Bosphorus
Chef Vito Mollica prepared a 5-course menu for us and the dishes were accompanied with 3 Italian wines....

I'm still pretty much a novice when it comes to Italian wines and grapes and hope to change that once I get a chance from tasting French and Turkish wines. The first two courses were served with white wine (similar to a sauvignon blanc), Chianti Classico for the following two courses and Passito with our dessert.

Vito Mollica will be the guest chef at Aqua Restaurant through February 10 and I'm definitely not just saying this - if you live in Istanbul, I highly suggest you go to Aqua for dinner or brunch on Sunday. You can make your selections from his a la carte menu or he has prepared a different degustation menu for each evening which is priced at 140 TL for the food and 60 TL for the wine pairing (prices include VAT).

The best way to explain what we ate is to show you their pictures... so here goes!

Our first course... called Piccola Tuscan Ribolita is a hearty popular Tuscan soup prepared with bread and vegetables... and it was a great introduction to what was coming from our Michelin star chef!

Next up and a dish that is just too die for was crab meat and ricotta cheese with citrus dressing! I think if I was given another portion, I could have easily eaten that too! I mean, how can something so simple taste sooooo good! I guess that's the answer right there!

What's an Italian food tasting without pasta? Next up and also excellent was homemade Cavatelli pasta with marinated prawns and baby about cooked to perfection! Al Dente is a concept that has to make it into the homes of Turkish families because most of the time pasta is cooked to death, but really should be firm to the bite!

When I go out to eat, 10 times out of 10, I never order lamb! I'm sorry to say that lamb is not something I prefer and I have never gotten a taste for it although the majority of Turks love it and use it quite often in dishes! But, that doesn't mean I won't try it if I am offered it - like during this tasting! Chef Mollica prepared us a dish called "roasted lamb with sautéed artichokes, mint and olive crust"...The lamb was braised just right and I loved the artichokes!

Now, it was time for dessert - something which I have a very difficult time saying no to as  I'm constantly battling the bulge (lost 11 kg and have maintained it for 6 months, but if I continue eating dessert often, I will definitely run into trouble!).

When we were served a tiny dish with a small bit of sorbet, Çağdaş Ertuna, a columnist at Milliyet newspaper and sitting to my left and I both said "is that it?" and were disappointed! But, we quickly realized that this was just a "palate cleanser" and the real dessert arrived a few minutes later!

This dessert was called "layer of amarena (a sour dark colored Italian cherry grown in the Bologna and Modena regions of Italy) compote, lime mousse, pistachio crumble, amarena sphere sorbet"! I'm normally a chocoholic, but this was a very refreshing dessert and capped off my meal very well! And... the dessert was prepared by the Four Seasons Bosphorus's French pastry chef Ghislain Gaille.

What a lovely meal! What a lovely evening! During dinner I was seated next to Patrizio the GM of the Four Seasons Firenze and he reminded me that we had met when he last visited Istanbul several years ago for an event at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet. I also met Daniela Trovato, the Director of Sales & Marketing and we had a chance to chat before and after the dinner and sharing the same name, (Dani or Danielle is my middle name) we will surely not forget each other's names! Chef Mollica also made sure to pop out of the kitchen often and explain the dishes to us and it was delightful meeting him too!

Chef Vito Mollica, Daniela Trovato, Patrizio Cipollini & Dani (left to right)
Of course, I can't end this post without saying a few words about Leonardo Baiocchi (also an Italian!), the General Manager of the Four Seasons Bosphorus and Sibel Benli in charge of PR and Marketing for this site as well as the Four Seasons Sultanahmet. I only had a chance to meet Leonardo a couple of months ago, but know Sibel for over 5 years. They were also in attendance and were very modest and stood in the background as the team from Florence was hosting the event. I also had a chance to meet Florence Zwicky who has been the Director of F&B at the Four Seasons Bosphorus for the past 10 months.

I'm sure you are salivating at the food when reading this post. Like I said if you are in Istanbul, definitely make a reservation and try the food for yourself - you have until February 10th However, if you don't live in Istanbul, don't worry... you can always go to Il Palagio Restaurant at the Four Seasons Firenze... and make sure to say "Dani from Istanbul sent me" - I think they would get a kick out of that.

Also, I want to share a picture of this property with you... look at those lush gardens and sprawling grounds! I know where I'll be going on my next visit to Florence! Sure, I'm sure it's very expensive, but you gotta live life to its fullest and find a way to treat yourself from time to time!

Stay well!