Monday, December 23, 2013

Frankie Istanbul: First Class "One Stop" for Wining/Dining and Live Music!

Dear readers,

Unfortunately, the major part of this month has been a blur for me! Tis' the season and month for holiday cheer, but it is also the time for colds and flu and I have been battling a cold that just doesn't want to go away since December 8th. In fact, Luka, my adorable 3 year-old Maltese also got a bad cold/flu and now is on antibiotics for the next two more days!

Just as I was lying on my couch, sniffling/sneezing and feeling downright sorry for myself, I received a call from my upstairs neighbor a couple of weeks ago asking for advice on where to go for an "early" New Year's dinner with a few of her friends and with "no reservations" (sorry Anthony B. - stole your line!) I immediately thought of Frankie Istanbul! 

Now, if you are wondering how Frankie Istanbul just "popped" into my head,I was fortunate enough to have been invited to an intimate "tasting" dinner (just four of us) on Thursday, December 5th so the "experience" was still very fresh in my memory!

Like I said in my heading, Frankie Istanbul is truly a first class "one stop" venue for wining/dining and live music. To cut to the chase: Frankie is sophisticated and chic with great food, service and ambiance. Normally when you visit places wearing a few "hats", something always suffers - but not at Frankie! The terrace lounge is spacious, dimly lit, cozy and a place where you can have all sorts of wines,cocktails, etc. with excellent bar food (or just pre-dinner drinks) from its perch high atop the boutique Sofa Hotel in trendy and chic Nişantaşı on Teşvikiye Street right across the street from City's Nişantaşı shopping mall... 
Beef Satay (left), Falafel & Bulgur Sheathed Meat Balls (mini içli Köfte) right
Or, if you prefer, you can also hang out at their spacious indoor bar...(especially on evenings when there is live music)

Frankie Istanbul (indoor bar)
Just to backtrack a bit before I continue... 

Frankie Istanbul opened in April 2012 and before my latest visit, I was there to celebrate my sister's birthday in May 2012! So, as you can see it has been quite a while since I had a chance to make a return visit (although I loved it!) for all sorts of reasons (all personal of course!) until very recently. I received a call from Frankie's PR firm and they invited me to try out some of the goodies on their updated menu for the season: Frankie's menu changes a few times a year according to availability of seasonal ingredients. 

So, after a long absence I had an opportunity to enjoy a lovely dinner and evening with Ayşem Saraçoğlu (partners with Kaya Demirer at Frankie Istanbul and Kaya is also the Turkish partner of Jamie's Italian), Serdar Kombe, Frankie's highly gifted and knowledgeable sommelier and İlknur Selimoğlu, their PR rep from Kiraz PR Company... The other great thing is that I know Ayşem and Serdar for years and much before their Frankie Istanbul days from the other Istanbul venues they were affiliated with... the same goes for İlknur who I met via Kiraz PR and some of the other clients she handles for her company.   

We started out with some bar snacks and prosecco at the terrace lounge and I absolutely loved the bar snacks Serdar selected for me to try, but there are others like "Mini Beef Burgers", "Almond Crusted Shrimp", "Homemade Crab Cakes", "Beef Cold Cut Platter", "Cheese Platter", etc and prices range in price from 28 TL to 52 TL.

We moved over to our table for dinner at around 8:30pm and the place was beginning to fill up pretty quickly by this time and I noticed that the majority of the diners were the 30+ crowd and a mix of Turkish and international clientele. 

Frankie Istanbul

Frankie Istanbul
Frankie Istanbul has two beautifully decorated dining areas with the bar and live music stage in the center and can seat up to 120 diners.

One of the great things about being invited to a "tasting" is that you get a chance to try a lot more dishes than you would normally get a chance too in one seating!

So, I left the selection of the starters to my hosts and selected by main course, which I naturally had a difficult time finishing.

Our fine dining meal started with an amuse-bouche (little complementary starter given at fine dining restaurants): "Chardonnay wine leaves soup with rice dolma and yogurt mousse", which was absolutely incredible. A full portion of this soup is available on the menu.

Chardonnay wine leaves soup with rice dolma and yogurt mousse
  Next up... our starters:

One of the things that impressed me so much about the dishes that were selected was that everything was so "fresh", "light", with just the right amount of spices and herbs. Also, the the portions were just right... We had "Crispy Prawn Salad" (with quinoa, edamame, tomato and spicy aioli); "Burrata" (on a bed of tomato salsa and topped with arugula); "Artichoke & Goat Cheese Gratin"; "Crab Salad" and "Risotto" (with octopus and peas). A few of the appetizers above are not on the menu, so you should definitely ask to find out what the "daily specials" are.

I opted to have the "Steak Tartar" (with foie gras butter, crispy potatoes and arugula salad) as this is a dish I rarely find at restaurants in Istanbul. I really enjoy finding a "good" Steak Tartar in Istanbul and I definitely was not disappointed!

On the other hand, my dinner companions had "Lamb Tenderloin" (with aubergine puree, zahter-tomatoes and yogurt sauce); "Grilled Beef Tenderloin" (with baby vegetables, crunch truffle-potato cake & mushroom sauce); and "Hake"(with fresh herb lettuce 'dolma', tobiko, wakame and fennel-mastic sauce)...

Of course, I have to mention the excellent Turkish wines that Serdar selected that were great pairings for our starters and main courses!

At this point, I would also like to mention that Frankie Istanbul has a very wide selection of excellent Turkish and International wines normally not served by the glass at other venues and an even bigger selection of wines by the bottle! 

The buzz in the air and the crowd at Frankie Istanbul had steadily risen as we were having dinner and the lounge terrace, dining areas and bar area were full of diners and music lovers as it was nearly time for the live music to begin!

Frankie Istanbul has live music 3 times a week (Tuesday-Thursday) and we were treated to the lovely tunes (English and Turkish) sung by Evrim Özkaynak... Also, on the 2nd Sunday of each month, a prominent and established Turkish singer takes center stage at Frankie Istanbul. On all other evenings there are DJ performances with guest DJs performing from time to time.

Evrim Özkaynak (left) at Frankie Istanbul
The live music performances start at around 10-10:30pm and end at around 1:00am. İlknur and I moved over to the seating in front of the stage to have our coffee and dessert while Ayşem and Serdar went "back to work"! I was so full and really didn't have room for anything else, but I'm so glad that İlknur ordered an absolutely fantastic dessert for me to try which I highly recommend to everyone!
Pistachio-Yogurt Cheesecake topped with crunchy pumpkin
I cannot begin to explain how light, fluffy and delicious this dessert was and I believe I finished the whole thing on an incredibly full stomach!

Evrim has great stage presence with a wonderful voice. She is a favorite at Frankie's and performs every Thursday night. Also, there is a music charge to sit at the tables in front of the stage... 

What can I say? I had a lovely lovely evening with great food, friends, music and cheer and left with a big smile on my face knowing I would not be waiting another year to go back to Frankie's! 

Once again, many thanks to Ayşem for inviting me and Serdar for the selection of wonderful wines!

Ayşem Saraçoğlu, Serdar Kombe & me (left to right)
I highly suggest you make reservations for dinner and if you live in Istanbul, sign up for their e-Newsletter so that you can get weekly info on the live music performances and more!

Frankie Istanbul
Teşvikiye Caddesi No. 41-41/A Nişantaşı, Istanbul
Tel: +90 (212) 230 66 66

Just a final note: I can't end this post without saying a few words about Frankie Istanbul's highly talented Executive Chef! The 33 year-old Symeon Triantafyllou has been at Frankie's from the beginning and was born in Greece. He began his journey into the culinary world in 1999 and worked at numerous restaurants in Greece (mainly Athens and Mykonos) and Barcelona Spain in different capacities honing his trade before moving to Istanbul and Frankie's in 2012. He received a degree in Administration and Economy of Tourism at the Technological Educational Institute of Athens in 2003 and attended numerous seminars and cooking courses in Athens and Barcelona. He is fluent in Greek, Turkish, Italian, Spanish and Catalan with basic knowledge of French and Turkish. Besides everything else... he is a very inspirational chef with very good technical skills!  

Stay well,

Friday, December 6, 2013

Morini Istanbul: Newcomer to Istanbul at Zorlu Center

Dear readers,

I don't know about you, but until a couple of months ago, I never would have thought that I would go to a shopping mall for the sole purpose of dining out! Sure, I would usually have a meal when I went to a mall, but it was never my sole purpose.

My attitude changed with the opening of Zorlu Center, which to my utter delight  is a mere 4-5 minute walk from my apartment! Somewhat similar to Kanyon (the totally 'open' air mall in Levent), all the restaurants (fast food eateries on the lower level enclosed area) are located on the 'outdoor' section of Zorlu and are surrounded by the poshest shops (Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Dior, Stella McCartney and so on) and run the gambit from "casual/family style (Jamie's Italian), comfort food (Tom's Kitchen), and fine-dining (Morini Istanbul, Parle) to meats and kebabs (Günaydın Steakhouse, Köşebaşı) and seafood (Balıkev) to Chinese (Dragon - to open soon) and a combo gourmet market/multi-eateries (Eataly - to open 2nd week of December), not to mention a "still secret" totally new concept restaurant that will open in January by the owner of the ever-popular Lucca in Bebek. So, now do you see why I changed my attitude?   

Zorlu "officially" opened on October 10, 2013, however there are still a few restaurants and some retailers (i.e. Apple Store) that have yet to open up shop, but I can say that the majority of retailers and restaurants are now open. 

On the opening day, I went to have a meal that the first and only restaurant open on opening day - Morini Istanbul!

Morini Istanbul is located at Beymen Department Store with indoor and outdoor dining areas. Compared to the other restaurants at Zorlu, Morini is smaller. The indoor area is smartly designed (couldn't take pics as I didn't want to bother diners) and the outdoor area is a bit more casual.

Just some background.... Osteria Morini opened in NYC in 2010 and is part of the Altamarea Group with the highly talented, award winning mid-western chef Michael White at the helm... His current Turkish partners were so impressed with his cuisine that they persuaded Chef White to open a branch in Istanbul. The story of Morini and the other restaurants in the group are quite interesting and I advise you visit their website for more information ( 

Back to Morini Istanbul... as you can imagine, the first day of the opening of the mall was pretty chaotic and I was surprised I was even able to get a table at Morini (outside), but then again I went late in the afternoon...

The opening day of a restaurant is not the best time to make judgments about the food and service. Although there was some confusion with the service and extra waiting time to be served, I can on the other hand say that it was definitely worth the wait! In fact, they didn't even have a wine list yet... Of course all this has changed and I think they have one of the better wine lists of all the restaurants currently open at Zorlu.

So, what did I have? Well, when you go to Morini - you have to first try their signature dishes which are the pasta dishes! I ordered Garganelli...

This simple and mouthwatering pasta dish is prepared with homemade (all pastas are homemade) pasta quills, ragu di carne and Parmesan cheese. The sauce was incredibly delicious and the pasta al dente (just the way it should be)... In fact, NY Times food critic Sam Sifton listed this dish from Osteria Morini in his list of "Best Dishes in 2010". The menu includes 7 pasta/risotto dishes ranging in price from 32 TL to 40 TL. 

Since my first visit, I stopped by several times for a glass of wine or coffee...

Like I mentioned earlier... Morini's wine list is very impressive with many local and international wines available by the glass as well (starting at around 22 TL/glass).

I finally had a chance to eat at Morini Istanbul again on November 26th... a Tuesday and once again I stopped by for a late lunch... 

This time I was in the mood for soup and ordered pumpkin soup and a "small plate"... roasted peppers; and a glass of Chateau Bellevue red wine.

Both dishes were very good and the pumpkin soup had a nice "kick" to it, but I was totally enthralled by the roasted peppers which were prepared with shishito peppers stuffed with chicken and Parmesan cheese with salmoriglio dressing. I have no idea what this dressing is, but it really added an extra texture to the dish! The soup was 18 TL and the roasted peppers 23 TL. 

Overall... Morini Istanbul is definitely on my list of places to go to for a meal and/or just cocktails or wine. The menu isn't very big: there are 4 "Small Plates", 6 "Appetizers", 4 "Salads", 7 "Pasta and Risotto" 3 "Sides" and 4 "Main Dishes" along with desserts. I didn't get a chance to try their desserts yet or peruse the dessert menu, but I just spoke to a friend who ate at Morini at the beginning of this week and she said the panna cotta and tiramisu are excellent (22 TL and 24 TL)

I highly suggest you make reservations for lunch or dinner.


Stay well,

Zorlu Center
Tel: (0212) 353 67 67