Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spot News: 3 Restaurants (Antica Locanda; Mama Shelter; P.F. Chang's)

Dear readers,

Unfortunately I have not been able to prepare a post for nearly two months and have been off the grid far longer than I expected! Sorry about that, but I've had my mind on the "political" issues in Turkey and although I have quite a repertoire of places to share with you, I had (and to an extent still do) a major case of "writer's block" and was totally pre-occupied! 

I am hoping I'll get back on track and write more often as I truly do enjoy writing and sharing my experiences with you. However, I have 3 trips (1 domestics and 2 international) coming up between now and the middle of May, so I'll just have to see what happens! But, I definitely do want to write about the 3rd Alaçatı Herb Festival which will take place from April 11-13, 2014 after I return to Istanbul from my trip to Alaçatı. 

This issue of "Spot News" includes restaurants I visited recently; two of which for the first time! I will prepare this post in alphabetical order.

Antica Locanda, obviously an Italian restaurant, opened about 3 years ago in a tri-level renovated once a bakery on the grounds of the oldest Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul. It is located on a quite side street steps from the Bosphorus in Arnavutköy which is basically infiltrated with side by side seafood restaurants. 

Owned and managed by a husband-wife team (chef Gian Carlo Talerico and his Turkish wife), the casual and cozy eatery (with indoor seating for 65 with a small terrace) has been getting very good reviews since its opening. I finally I had a chance to try it out when Zeyno Gürses Dolay (my good friend), owner of the website Iyi Yemek (www.iyiyemek.com) organized a dinner for foodies on March 25th. Briefly, Iyi Yemek organizes monthly dinners in Istanbul as well as gourmet tours from time to time (like to Alaçatı for the Herb Festival) and the website includes all sorts of articles on gastronomy. However, the website is currently only available in Turkish.

Zeyno Gürses Dolay (left) and me; Antica Locanda outdoor terrace
I'm not going to specifically talk about the set menu dinner (paired with wines from New Zealand and Argentine) we had because the theme of the dinner was inspired by Fellini and included his favorite dishes which are not on the menu. But, I can say, the food and service was very good!

Antica Locanda
But, I can give you some info on their menu. I noticed that there are 5 starters (Seafood Risotto; Ricotta cheese balls with prosciutto; etc.) and 4 main courses (Roasted Grouper; Roasted Chicken Wings; Sauteed Veal Scalopini and Roasted Lamb Chop). I didn't get a chance to look at their dessert menu or to ask if they offered daily specials.

Although I have only been to Antica Locanda once, I still feel comfortable recommending this Italian restaurant, so buono appetito if you decide to go! (Satış Meydan Sokak No. 12, Arnavutköy; Tel: (0212) 287 9745; www.anticalocanda.com.tr) 

The France-based chi-chi & trendy Philllipe Starck designed Mama Shelter Hotel opened a branch in Istanbul last year. Like its sister properties in Paris, Marseilles, Lyon and Bordeaux Mama Shelter Restaurant is a "fun" place for cocktails or casual dining... For example, you can play one of the instruments (guitar, etc.) on display or try a hand at one of the game stations situated around the restaurant.

Located in the heart of Beyoğlu, a few steps from Istiklal Street and attached to a shopping mall, I finally had a chance to visit and have lunch at Mama Shelter with the hotel's Guest Relations Manager Inci Ogan and Gamze Raday, their rep at Kiraz PR firm.

I was invited to the opening and then a couple of times after then to try it out, but for a variety of reasons I only had a chance to go for the first time on February 27th!

The hotel/restaurant occupies 3 floors in the building it shares with the shopping mall with a separate entrance on a side street off of Istiklal Street. The hotel has 81 rooms ranging in size from 17 m2 to 42 m2 at affordable prices with minimalistic designs. Unfortunately, although I was invited to see some of the rooms, I was running behind schedule and didn't have time. 

Mama Shelter restaurant is very spacious and has an indoor and outdoor seating areas on one floor and I'm told a terrace (not open during the winter) one flight up with a 360 degree panoramic view. 

I loved Phillipe Starck's inspired decor and especially loved the ceiling designs which were hand etched over a period of one week!

Mama Shelter has an open kitchen and the menu was prepared by Alain Senderens (I've been to his restaurant in Paris and love it), a noted and popular French chef and includes starters, pizza, mains and desserts. There is a separate lunch and dinner menu (although some of the items are the same, but portions and prices vary). Also, the lunch menu includes a different starter/main dish combo for 29 TL and available Monday-Friday.

We shared the starters: "Green lentil salad with soft boiled egg & mustard vinaigrette"; "Poached Eggs" and "Eggplant Salad" and I had "Mama's Yogurt Kebab" while Inci had "Chicken Skewers with lemon potato purée", and Gamze chose "Salmon Fillet with spinach".

The starters were good but I would have preferred the green lentil salad more if it wasn't prepared with a heavy meat stock. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with my main course because a "typical" kebab is served on a bed of pita bread with either döner or sliced meat and topped with yogurt & tomato sauce. Since the yogurt and pita bread were served on the side, the bread was very dry as it hadn't had a chance to soak up the juices of the meat. Moreover, since the kebab was prepared with köfte (Turkish style meatballs), it really wasn't a kebab - but rather a typical köfte dish.  

I don't like to make a very positive or negative decision based on a "first" visit because I believe this is not fair and can be misleading at times unless I was totally "blown away" by my meal. 

I think Mama Shelter is worth a visit (and I plan on going again once the 2nd floor terrace opens) and I'm looking forward to trying different dishes on my next visit. I also hear they prepare special cocktails which are highly recommended. (Istiklal Caddesi No. 50-54, Beyoğlu; Tel: (0212) 252 01 01; www.mamashelter.com) 

A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from Fatoş Ertaş (Marketing Director ) at P.F. Chang's to inform me that they've introduced a new "set lunch menu" and invited me to try it out. Of course, I didn't say no! I've written about P.F. Chang's (refer to my previous post for detailed information) before and I also mentioned that it's my favorite Chinese restaurant in Istanbul... 

Fatoş and I met for lunch on a rainy Friday (for some reason it ALWAYS rains when I go to P.F. Chang's) - March 28th to be precise. 

Available between noon and 5:00pm on weekdays, P.F. Chang's set lunch menu is 35 TL (vat included) and includes soup, main course and soft drink. All of the items available are directly from their main menu and the sizes of the portions are the same.

The soups include a choice of "Hot & Sour Soup" and "Egg Drop Soup" while the mains available are "Mongolian Beef", "Beef with Broccoli", "Sesame Chicken", "Sweet & Sour Chicken", "Almond & Cashew Chicken" and "Salmon Steamed with ginger". All the mains are served with a side of steamed white or brown rice.

There is no "end date" for this special lunch menu and will continue throughout the summer, but Fatoş has informed me that once the weather starts warming up, the soups will be replaced with starters. Enjoy! (Nispetiye Caddesi No. 94, Etiler; Tel: (0212) 358 60 60; www.pfchangs.com.tr) 

Stay well,