Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Uskumru: An amazing seafood restaurant on Istanbul's Asian Bosphorus shoreline...

Dear readers,

I always seem to have a "story" before I write about a place and will continue with this tradition with this post too!

About 4 years ago I met Seyfettin Taştan, the owner of Uskumru (which means mackerel - apropos for a seafood restaurant!) Restaurant through a mutual friend at a Wine Tasting event. He told me about his then "new" restaurant and I told him I would visit as soon as I could. Then I started hearing kudos about Uskumru from friends who had very good experiences there...

Last week after I returned from a trip to the Burgundy Region in France (have been travelling quite a bit lately), my good friend Didem came over for coffee and told me that she organized a "girls lunch" at Uskumru and would I like to come! So, almost 4 years after I told Mr. Taştan that I would visit his restaurant... I finally had a chance to go yesterday! And... I must say I am sooo disappointed that I didn't go sooner and now I must make up for lost time!

Yesterday was a gorgeous day in Istanbul - crystal clear blue skies, sunny, no humidity and with a light breeze when we got together with Didem's friends and my sister in Rumelihisarı on the European side of the city to take Uskumru's shuttle boat service to Anadoluhisarı on the Asian side of the city for lunch at 1:00pm. One of the great things about some of the restaurants on the Asian shoreline is that they offer free shuttle service from the European side which is great so this way you don't have to worry about bridge traffic!

Eight of us piled into the boat and started snapping shots of the Bosphorus on our quick hop (tops 5 minutes) to the other side...

The trip was a little wavy but like I said we were at Uskumru in minutes! 

The "9th" in our group was already waiting for us at our waterfront table as she was already on the Asian side. Didem had already "pre-ordered" for us so we didn't have to worry about making any choices ourselves which was an excellent idea and she did a great job with selecting just the right amount of food! 

Before our appetizer or meze as it is called in seafood restaurants in Turkey arrived, we munched on excellent corn bread and green olives in tomato sauce which were both delicious (there goes the diet!)

The best "friend" of a seafood feast as far as I'm concerned is rakı (similar to arak, but definitely not as sweet as ouzo) and on this glorious sunny day that was my drink of choice! So, I highly recommend you try a combination of rakı, meze and fish!

Very quickly (and thank goodness - we were starving!), first our salads arrived and then our meze!

Leafy green salad with parmesan cheese (top)/tomato salad with red onions and parsley (below)

Quite simply, we had sea bass served with slices of white onions in a pesto sauce which was perfect! The fish was very very fresh... the pesto sauce, not common at seafood restaurants - was excellent and the sliced white onions added an extra zip! The eggplant puree was also very good and obviously prepared with quality eggplants and ingredients!

I always say this and will say it again... every salad is NOT good and probably one of the hardest thing to prepare! Not only do the ingredients have to be fresh, fresh, fresh and in season, the dressing is also crucial! These two salads where the best salads I have ever had at a seafood restaurant! The leafy green salad was finely chopped (just the way I prefer it) with hints of parmesan cheese throughout with an olive oil and lemon dressing. The tomato salad was incredible because the tomatoes were beefy and ripe and the sauce was prepared with some pomegranate syrup, but not too much to mask the olive oil/lemon the sauce was good enough for "dunking" and we did!!

I was so engrossed in "oohing" and "aahing" over the food and the splendid view and weather that I was missing the conversation at our table! With 9 women, as it was, 3-4 conversations were going on at the same time!

Next up was our hot appetizer... grilled calamari with soy sauce with a hint of pomegranate syrup (hence the color)...

I love calamari but I am usually disappointed when I order it grilled because usually it is very "rubbery" or "tough". But, this one was quite good - it was soft and had more flavor than others I've had in the past...

The "true sign" of a good seafood restaurant is the quality of the fish and how well the chef cooks it! So, although we had fantastic appetizers, I was hoping that the fish didn't fail the grade... and it didn't!!

Turks are definitely not into eating fish with lots of sauces and prefer plain old "grilled" fish above all others! Sometimes fish is salted and baked, but never, or hardly served with sauce! I know I am going on and on and giving huge kudos to Uskumru but they definitely deserve it because the sea bass and red mullet where cooked to perfection... moist and delicious and fresh! I also thought the onion was an interesting touch as most restaurants serve fish with arugula, tomatoes and red onion... but this was a baked white onion.

We ended our delicious feast with fresh fruit...

I don't think I had this much fun, good conversation and food with a group of women (more than half I just met yesterday) in a long, long time! It was about 4:30pm when we head out to take our boat ride back to the European side...

and this is us (minus one)... all content and happy after a great lunch! We decided we need to do this more often with this group at other places along the Bosphorus shoreline this summer! So, if you live in Istanbul or travelling to our lovely city this summer, make sure to visit Uskumru for lunch or dinner!

(me, sis Meltem, Emine, my dear friend Didem, Ayşe, Melek, Çiğdem, Tuğçe - left to right)

One final note on seafood restaurants in Turkey: 9 times out of 10, there is no menu. Instead, the cold meze selections are brought to your table on a platter to select from. The waiter will tell you what hot appetizers are available and also the fish selections of the day . I strongly advise that you ask the price of the fish before ordering (prices change daily) so that you are not surprised when the bill arrives! Usually a meal will run you between 100 - 150 TL (alcohol included) if you don't overdue it. Enjoy!

Uskumru Restaurant
Körfez Caddesi No. 55 Anadoluhisarı
Tel: (0216) 460 10 00 

(Reservations for lunch and dinner are highly recommended - ask for details about their free boat shuttle service at that time)

Stay well and bon apetit! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tugba Dursun: My Luka's "Temporary" Mom!

Dear readers,

I can't believe it has been a little over two years (May 10, 2011) since my Maltese bundle of joy Luka entered my life! He was about 7 months old, his name was Pamuk (which means cotton or fluffy in slang) then and I "adopted" him from a family that had purchased him from a local pet shop, but realized they couldn't take care of him! The minute we laid eyes on each other at his previous home, we knew we would be spending the rest of our lives together because it was love at first sight and he jumped into my eyes with such affection and warmth - although my sister and brother-in-law were standing right next to me. He too knew that I would be his new mom! With his papers and vaccination card in hand, he bid farewell to his old family and didn't even look back!

Luka at 7 months on May 10, 2011
To be quite honest, it wasn't easy in the beginning and our first week together was quite difficult and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into! After the initial hiccups, the next major problem was 'potty training' him because unfortunately it was obvious that his previous family let him "relieve" himself wherever he wanted inside the house! But, he was a good little doggie and after one month, he learned that this was not appropriate behavior and that problem was solved thank god! Our next problem - and the one that took the longest - was getting him to eat his dog food! My darling Luka preferred "people" food and once again I realized he wasn't trained to eat properly either! We finally solved this problem in December 2012 after he stayed at his aunt's house and she was tougher on him than me, so life is much easier now and I no longer have to "cook" for Luka!

I only took on getting a dog because I work from my home and freelance. If I still had an office job, it wouldn't be fair to any dog to take on this responsibility because they do need lots of attention and care and need to be walked at certain times of the day. My Luka is a wonderful dog - doesn't bark needlessly and doesn't have a problem staying at home when I go out for several hours at a time and gets along great with other dogs and humans alike! Most importantly, he doesn't "harm" anything when left alone, but does get jealous when company comes over and has on occasion chewed on my shoe straps and one time chewed my expensive I-phone headphones which I had to replace!

One of my favorite pastimes is travelling and it's not possible to take him everywhere with me although I would like. The main problem is that most hotels are not "animal friendly". So, I initially solved this problem when I traveled abroad by having him stay at his aunt's house. When I traveled to the south of Turkey, I did find a hotel that is animal friendly, so he travels me during the summer.

Then... last year in August Luka became a dad and had two daughters and my sister decided to take one of the girls and Chloe has been a member of our family since October 2012!

Chloe (left), Luka (right)

After a vacation my sister took in late December, we realized that it was difficult for either one of us to watch two dogs and "dog sit" for each other and had to come up with an alternative plan! 

One of the problems in Istanbul is that there aren't too many "doggie" hotels and some vets do take them on, but in most cases, they are kept in large cages and taken out for their walks, etc and I didn't want to put Luka through this experience because I knew it would affect him.

So, I was so happy when one day I ran into my friend Aslan - who also has a dog and asked him if he knew anyone who did this type of work and to my luck he did and to boot she lived right in my neighborhood in Levent! 

So, that's how Tuğba Dursun became Luka's "temporary" mom!

Now, here's the thing! Tuğba doesn't run a "dog hotel" - she is a certified dog trainer, but does take on dogs once in a while in her home. But her main expertise is training all types of dogs. You can visit her website for details and her credentials are quite impressive! The website is currently only available in Turkish, but you can get the general idea and Tuğba speaks English and knows some German.

So, when my sister and I went on vacation at the end of March, we first "interviewed" Tuğba at my sister's house and knew we found the right person and with no reservations, we decided to leave Chloe and Luka with Tuğba.

Like I said, Tuğba lives in a private house with a huge garden in Levent...

So, she has lots of room to train the dogs that come to her home (she also goes to the dog's home if requested) and the high wired gated garden is a great place for the dogs staying with her to roam!

The most important thing for me is that Luka (or any other dog she takes on), lives in the house with her! They are not caged and have free run of the house except for her bedroom and kitchen...

So, the doggies staying with her hang out together.... eat together and have a truly great experience!

The other thing I love is that throughout our vacation, Tuğba sent me pictures on a daily basis with updates on my Luka! 

Luka has already stayed with Tuğba twice since we "discovered" this fantastic animal lover/certified dog trainer. In fact, Luka will be going to Tuğba's this weekend once again as I am travelling once again!

Luka is a very important part of my life and his well-being is of utmost importance to me and I'm so lucky that I can travel with a clear conscious knowing that he is being well cared for!

Tuğba's prices for lodging are higher than what you might pay for at other facilities around town, but every penny is worth it! On top of it, she is a dog trainer so if you need special training for your dog - and I believe everyone does - she's the person to go too!

I want to sign off with one final picture... this is my Luka with his little friend Kirpik.. who Luka met on his first stay and this picture was from his second stay several weeks ago! Since they spend lots of time in the yard, be prepared to pick up a dog that needs a good long bath afterwards - or do what I'm doing this time - I've asked her to bring a groomer that she knows and who is said to be very good to her house to wash and cut Luka the day before I pick him up!

Luka (left), Kirpik (right)

Tuğba Dursun
GSM: (0532) 611 41 31

Stay well,

Note: Although I have set up a blog for Luka, unfortunately I haven't had any time in the last year to prepare posts for his blog and thought it more suitable to post in my "main" blog - this too is about "life in Istanbul"!

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Dear readers,

The countdown has begun! About two weeks ago I wrote my first post about Gastro Istanbul where I gave you an overview of the gastronomy event that will take place for the very first time between May 9-12, 2013 at Küçükçiftlik Park in Istanbul. In this post, I will give you more detailed information on the restaurants, cafes, clubs, catering companies and culinary schools that will be participating as well as some other interesting tidbits to entice you to attend! 

Also, note that approximately 200 TURYID (Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association) member restaurants will be offering special festival menus as their venues between May 7-12, 2013 to show their support of this important festival. Admission to the Festival is 10 TL for adults and 5 TL for students and children under the age of 12. Tickets can be purchased at the door or from Biletix ( 

If you are visiting my blog for the first time, maybe before reading this post, you might want to check out my previous post for the Festival's overview info.

As of today, 37 venues will be participating at the Festival. Each will have their own stand and offer visitors a variety of their dishes which will be priced between 5 TL and 20 TL/each.

It will be impossible for me to write detailed information on each and every venue, in fact, although I am familiar with all by name, there are some places on this list that I haven't gone too... 

Bebek Balıkçısı... is my favorite seafood restaurant in Istanbul! Located right on the Bosphorus in Bebek (hence it's name), the food and service at this modestly sized restaurant is truly top notch (and of course, so are the prices, but well worth it!)!

Bebek Balıkçısı
Always, always make a reservation before going and don't make the mistake I do... don't overload on the delicious starters and make sure to leave room for the catch of the day!

Park Fora is another seafood restaurant participating at the Festival and is also located along the Bosphorus waterfront in Kuruçeşme (a few blocks from  Reina Night Club). I've heard wonderful reviews about this place, but unfortunately have not yet had a chance to try it out for myself...

Park Fora/Kuruçeşme
I don't know what more I can say about Lucca that I haven't said already in my previous posts!

Lucca is always on the top of my list of places to go and is my "home away from home"... you can say I'm a "regular" and I love their food, service (the wait staff has been around for years!) is excellent, the crowd and ambiance is always great - not to mention the perfectly prepared cocktails and extensive moderately priced wine list! No matter what time of day/night you go, the energy is always high and once again, I do recommend making reservations - especially for the evenings and finding a table outside is nearly impossible, but not out of reach! In fact, as soon as I finish writing this post and walk my dog Luka, I will be going to Lucca this afternoon for a few hours to relax and spend time with my friends listening to DJ Salih Saka who will be spinning between 4:00pm - 8:00pm this evening!

For a fine dining experience, Frankie Istanbul, Mikla, Raika, Sunset Grill & Bar, Ulus 29/Food Bar 29 and Vogue should definitely be on your list of restaurants to visit in Istanbul...

Frankie Istanbul is one of the "newbies" among the rest on this list. Open since 2012, it is located on the terrace of the Sofa Hotel in Nişantaşı, but independently operated and managed. Besides having a good selection of International/Mediterranean style dishes, you can also visit their bar/lounge for drinks and there is live music (jazz, contemporary, etc) several nights every week...

Frankie Istanbul (restaurant section)
Frankie Istanbul (lounge/bar)
Mikla also offers a superb view of the old city from it's perch on the top floor of the Marmara Pera Hotel in Tepebaşı (independently operated and managed) and also has a terrace where you can have cocktails before dinner during the summer months. The owner/chef Mehmet Gürs is a wizard in the kitchen and weeps up delectable Mediterranean/International dishes with a twist and only with the freshest and best ingredients purchased from the different regions in Turkey! 
Mikla Restaurant (from their website)
Mikla Terrace (from their website)
Raika opened a few short months ago and is located on the top floor of the Marmara Hotel in Taksim. Once again, this restaurant is also independently operated and managed from the hotel and specializes in Turkish cuisine. Besides the main dining room, there is a bar/lounge with live music on Friday nights. You can read my blog post on Raika for more detailed information.

Raika Restaurant
Sunset Grill & Bar and Ulus 29/Food Bar 29 are steps from each other on adjacent hilltops in Ulus offering magnificent views of the Bosphorus and places I enjoy to frequent as well. Both restaurants specialize in Turkish and International cuisine, but Sunset also has sushi/sashimi selections as well as Japanese cuisine. Also, Food Bar 29 is the more casual section of Ulus 29 and is adjacent to the main dining room and has a separate menu. 

Sunset Grill & Bar (from my photo archives)
Ulus 29/Food Bar 29
Vogue has been around for over 10 years (and I have been a customer since the opening night party I attended!) and also offers a lovely view of the Bosphorus from the top floor of the BJK Plaza Building in Akaretler. Their menu includes Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine as well as excellent sushi/sashimi selections. Besides the main dining room, the L-shaped terrace is open during the summer for dining as well as for "clubbing" after dinner.
Vogue Restaurant
Man of the popular cafes/bistros in town are also participating at the festival. They are: Big Chefs, Carlotta, Kırıntı, Kitchenette, Masa, Midpoint, Numnum and Sosa. The Ankara based Big Chefs has numerous branches around the city and their most impressive branch is on the waterfront in Tarabya very close to the newly re-opened Tarabya Hotel. Carlotta and Kitchenette are my two favorite cafes (once again with many branches throughout the city) and I love the different salads at Carlotta and especially the "Fit for you" section on Kitchenette's menu. Kırıntı, Midpoint and Numnum mainly attract the younger crowd. The only single location cafes on this list are Sosa (at Kanyon Shopping Mall) and Masa (IstinyePark shopping mall). Masa is especially a meeting point during the summer with a huge garden/terrace right in the center of the chichi shops (Louis Vuitton, Armani, Gucci, Dior, etc) in the outdoor square of the mall.

Big Chefs/Tarabya
Sosa and Numnum at Kanyon (from my photo archives)

Masa/IstinyePark (from my photo archives)
A potpourri of other restaurants are also represented at Gastro Istanbul. For excellent traditional Turkish cuisine, Borsa and Divan also have stands. Both have been around for many many years and Divan is part of the Divan Hotel Group and is known for offering a refined dining experience. Borsa has several branches in the city and has an excellent selection of  all types of Turkish dishes. Köşebaşı is very well-known among meat/kebab lovers and Edirne Kırkpınar Lokantası is a casual style restaurant (numerous branches throughout the city) and popular among "köfte" and fried liver lovers... Located in Baltalimanı, Portaxe is a very large restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating and quite popular with the Sunday brunch crowd and offers a superb view of the Bosphorus from it's hilltop location overlooking Baltalimanı on the Bosphorus shoreline... Let's not forget sushi lovers! Sushico (several branches) is one of Istanbul's popular sushi restaurants but includes Chinese and Thai selections as well!

Edirne Kırpınar Köfte
Da Mario and Cento per Cento specialize in Italian cuisine. The food at Da Mario is always exceptional and is one of the longest standing Italian restaurants in Istanbul and is located in a lovely 2-story villa with a garden on a secluded street in Etiler. On the other hand, Cento per Cento, a fairly newcomer is located on the posh Abdi Ipekçi Street in Nişantaşı with indoor and outdoor seating areas.

Da Mario's garden
Cento per Cento
Ca'd'Oro, Leb-i Derya, Maria'nın Bahçesi, Suada and Yalı Hatun Restaurant at the Les Ottomans Hotel round out the other venues that serve Mediterranean/International cuisine. Ca'd'Oro is located in Karaköy on the terrace of the Salt Museum with a view of the old city (refer to my blog post for additional info), while Leb-i Derya has two branches in the heart of Beyoğlu, both with lovely panoramic views of the city. Maria'nın Bahçesi has two branches in Istanbul: one in Küçükyalı on the Asian side of the city and the other in Etiler on the European side. Both are located in lovely villas with indoor and outdoor dining areas and specializes in Aegean/Greek cuisine. The chef/owner is Maria and she runs her restaurants with her two sons. Suada, which means "water island" is literally on the water in Kuruçeşme! It's an incredible spot with numerous restaurants and a swimming pool very popular during the summer! Some of the venues are open year round! Also, Suada is owned and managed by the owners of Reina Night Club, so you know you are in for a treat! Finally, Yalı Hatun is located on the deluxe boutique  Les Ottomans Hotel right on the Bosphorus in Kuruçeşme.

Leb-i Derya/Richmond Hotel (from their website)  
Les Ottomans Hotel
There are also 2 popular live music clubs participating at Gastro Istanbul too: Babylon and Hayal Kahvesi - both located in Beyoğlu. Although known more so for their lively concerts (Turkish & Internationally known musicians), they also serve food.

Hayal Kahvesi
Okay folks! We're almost done! There are 37 participating venues, so I just didn't want to list their names, but also wanted to give you brief info on all the spots too - especially useful for first time visitors!

The last participants at Gastro Istanbul are Istanbul Gourmet and Yemekhane, catering companies and the following Culinary Schools: Doors Akademi, Muftak Sanatlar Akademisi (Culinary Arts Academy of Istanbul) and USLA (International Hospitality Academy).

As you can see, the list is quite impressive and very diverse! Although this is still a drop in the bucket when it comes to the choices and selections of restaurants in Istanbul, it is a start for a "first time" every organized Gastronomy Festival!

I highly recommend that you visit Gastro Istanbul if you live or are visiting Istanbul. The Festival is open from 10:00am to 10:00pm. I'm sure you won't be disappointed and besides what I wrote about in my two blog posts, there will be so many other activities going on - from DJ and live music performances to most importantly a tent organized by the Turkish Culinary Association where there will be many panel discussions, seminars, cooking demos and more! Let's not forget the "market tent" where you can pick up fruits and vegetables to take home!

Hope to see you there!

Stay well,