Monday, June 30, 2014

First Impressions: Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Bottura

Update: Unfortunately Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Boturra closed at the end of November 2015 in Istanbul. 

Dear readers,

I believe that "first impressions" are very important in the dining and wining scene (of course in other areas of life too)... it can make it or break it for you! Whether you have a good or bad experience will determine whether you will go back or whether you will recommend the venue to your family or friends... Although I prefer to right about places after visiting them a few times and I find them worthy of a write-up, sometimes I also like to rely on my "first impressions" and my "gut feelings" haven't proven me wrong yet! 

As a big fan of Eataly since it opened at Zorlu Center in Istanbul late last year (see my post on Eataly), I had been hearing the buzz that a "fine dining" restaurant was going to open just like at the other Eataly's around the world...

We learned that the "who" was going to be Massimo Bottura, the internationally acclaimed chef and owner of the 3 Michelin Star 12-table Osteria Francescana open since 1995 in Modena, Italy. Moreover, this restaurant is the "3rd Best Restaurant" and "Best Italian Restaurant" on 'The World's 50 Best Restaurants' list! The "when" was very recently - Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Bottura, his first restaurant outside of Italy, officially opened at Eataly at Zorlu Center on May 27, 2014 after a week or two of "pre-opening" tastings for the media and social circuit.

I wasn't invited to one of the pre-tastings and thought I would try this new fine dining Italian restaurant after it had been open for a while. A fine dining restaurant is not the type of place you go to on a "whim" or at the "last minute" for a quick bite to eat: you have to plan a special evening as far as I'm concerned.  

However, plans do change! Last week Wednesday (June 25), I received a call from my friend Burçak Desombre (a wine consultant and certified sommelier) who asked if I would be her "+"1" (her husband couldn't make it) that evening for an event organized at the restaurant by the Ministry of Economic Development, Embassy of Italy and Italian Trade Agency, to which I said "sure" as I didn't have other plans.

So, I made a mad dash home, quickly changed and got into the "fine dining" mode! Cocktails were at 7:30pm, followed by a "Chef Table" dinner.

Located on the 2nd floor at Eataly, the restaurant also has a separate entrance accessible from the parking lot via an elevator...

Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Bottura
The entrance is very impressive as you can see and is also adorned with lovely paintings, floral arrangements, parquet floors and elegant wood-paneled walls.

Since it is now the summer, the indoor dining area is closed and the restaurant has moved outdoors to the terrace which offers a magnificent view of the Bosphorus strait and Bosphorus Bridge from some of the tables...

With our glasses of prosecco in hand, Burçak and I started socializing with the other guests while the elegantly dressed (in black) waiters and waitresses walked around serving appetizers to tide us over until dinner.

I realized afterwards that most of the appetizers we had were miniature versions of some of the starters from the restaurant's menu and included "Beef tartar seasoned with capers, olives, hazelnuts and Villa Manodori Essenziale black pepper oil (absolutely delicious and very flavorful) ...

 "36-month aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese served with Villa Manodori Artiginale Balsamic Vinegar (the tartness of the vinegar and cheese was a great combo), "mozzarella cheese", "zucchini tempura" and "black cod fillet" were just some of the other delicacies we tasted. I unfortunately was too busy eating to take photographs!

After a speech by our hosts to welcome us, dinner service began...Once again, all the dishes were from the menu and not specially prepared for the evening's event. But, most importantly, chef Massimo Bottura dubbed one of the "foremost ambassadors of modern Italian cuisine" was "in the house" and in the kitchen having made a trip to Istanbul for this event! 

Our dinner included 4 courses... and all were paired with white and red Italian wines.

A specialty from the Lazio region, this was by far my favorite dish of the night because I do prefer seafood to most meat dishes. The full explanation of this dish is "Grilled octopus served with artichokes, confit cherry tomatoes, purée of peas and fresh ricotta cheese".  The octopus was moist and cooked to perfection and the vegetables were very fresh and properly seasoned and complemented the dish just right.

Our second course:

This is definitely a very "rich" dish because it includes saffron, chopped beef and bone marrow sauce, but I did notice that most of the guests wiped their plates clean although it was a nice sized portion! This dish is a specialty from the Lombardia region.

Our main course...

Don't let the "small" size of this dish fool you... it is more than satisfying because the slow cooked (48 hours) and fork tender beef tongue, a specialty from the Piemonte region, is very robust and is an acquired taste. It was served with sauteed greens. 


This is not the typical tiramisu you might be used to in appearance, but it was absolutely yummy and light! I particularly liked the side of coffee ice cream and tons of whipped cream!

At the end of our meal, Chef Bottura made a very nice speech and we applauded his entire team. I had the opportunity to chat with him at the end of the evening when a small group of us had a final drink before calling it a night... and of course, we took a picture as a remembrance of the evening.

Burçak Desombre, Massimo Bottura, me (Left to right)
For all his fame and recognition in the culinary world, Chef Bottura is very down to earth, friendly and it's very apparent that he loves what he is doing! It was a pleasure meeting him. 

So, my "first impression" of Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Bottura? I thoroughly enjoyed it! The service was impeccable; the food divine and the atmosphere of course elegant and sublime! The benefits of being invited to an event is that you get a chance to taste a lot more dishes than you would normally try if you went on your own. But, I would like to remind you that this is a "fine dining" Italian restaurant, so of course, it is more formal and expensive. Starters and pasta dishes range from 40 TL to 70 TL and main courses between 60 TL and 150 TL. There is also a 5 course tasting menu for 190 TL/person. So, if you are looking for very "typical" Italian dishes and are not a bit "adventurous" in trying new tastes, you might be disappointed! But, on the other hand, if you want to taste delicacies from the Piemonte, Lazio, Puglia, Lombardia, Liguria, Campania, Abruzzo, Veneto, etc. regions of Italy, this is the place to try them in Istanbul! 

Ristorante Italia d'Massimo Bottura is open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner. Reservations are highly recommended.  Tel: (0212) 336 66 66

Buon Appetito!

Stay well,

Sushi "a la" P.F.Chang's; Yum, yum and yummier!

Dear readers,

I don't know about you...but I am a huge fan of sushi! So, when I found out a couple of months ago that P.F.Chang's, my favorite Chinese restaurant was planning on adding sushi to their menu I got very excited...

Sushi service began at P.F. Chang's at the beginning of June and I had a lovely lunch with Fatoş Ertaş Doğan (PR & Marketing Director) to sample some of the goodies this past Friday (June 27) .

I at first thought it was odd that a Chinese restaurant would add sushi to their menu, but there are a few examples of these types of restaurants in Istanbul, but I'm not sure if this is a common practice in other cities around the world, but heck, who cares as long as it is good!

I arrived at the restaurant a little early, so I had time to take a look at the colorful menu with lovely pictures of the sushi and sashimi dishes available.

Compared to a regular Japanese restaurant, the selections are limited - for now, but Fatoş has informed me that the menu will most probably include other selections in the Fall.

Since I am more a fan of sushi versus sashimi and there is just so much you can eat in one seating, I opted to try the sushi maki rolls...

Most importantly, I was very impressed with the quality of all the ingredients (fish, vegetables, rice) and the sauces used. Surprisingly, in some Japanese restaurant the rice is either very spongy or soggy, but here it was just right.

P.F. Chang's sushi menu includes 8 types of maki rolls and each is prepared "a la" P.F. Chang's so the flavors are a little different... but oh so good! I tried 5 of them!

You won't find this maki roll at any other restaurant besides P.F. Chang's because it is prepared with their signature "Dynamite Shrimp" from their Chinese food menu! The roll is stuffed with tuna and hot dynamite sauce and topped with warm dynamite shrimp - heavenly

The Dragon Roll at P.F. Chang's with spicy tuna, avocado, cucumbers and topped with kanikama (surimi) and slivers of very very hot red chili peppers! I cannot begin to tell you how exquisite the combination of flavors are! 

The crunchy ebi is also very tasty and is prepared with shrimp tempura, cucumbers and dynamite sauce - very simple, yet the sauce adds that extra "kick" to the roll.

I always have to have a California roll when I eat sushi which is prepared with kanikama, avocado, cucumbers and sesame seeds... very fresh and delectable!

Last, but not least...

The rainbow roll was absolutely divine as well! It is prepared with tuna, salmon and wrapped with seabass, rice and coated with avocado!

As you can imagine, I thought I would bust after our sushi feast which I had with hot sake (best accompaniment as far as I'm concerned!). The maki rolls are available in portions of 4 or 8 pieces (versus the classic 6) and range in prices from 10 TL to 38 TL for 4-8 pieces. However, the rainbow roll is only available as 8 rolls.

Although I didn't have room to taste the sashimi dishes, I wanted to share a photo from their menu to give you an idea of the selections available...

Also nigiri sashimi and P.F. Chang's style sashimi (salmon, tuna and seabass) are also served and are very thinly sliced pieces of raw fish in a special sauce.

What can I say? I can't wait to go back for more and I'm sure I'll go again in a few days before I go on an extended vacation to the Aegean coast of Turkey next week... I have to have my "fix" of these delectable morsels!

Moreover, P.F. Chang's has a take-away service... but for now, you can call in your order and then have to pick it up yourself, but I'm happy to report that this too will also change starting in the Fall season and delivery service will begin!

Enjoy your meal! Thanks P.F. Chang's I have one more reason to visit your restaurant (not that I need one!)

Nispetiye Caddesi No. 94 Etiler
Tel: (0212) 358 60 60

Stay well,

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Cantinery: Welcome to Zorlu Center!

Dear readers,

When Lucca opened,more than a few people probably thought first time restaurateur and owner Cem Mirap had a few screws loose for opening a restaurant/cafe/bar on an obscure corner (and with new view no less!) in Bebek in a space that once occupied a bank!

10 years later, Cem (I can call him that because we've become friends through the years) proved everyone wrong because he didn't have a few screws loose and Lucca is still one of the most popular venues in Istanbul! I've lost count on the number of times I've been to Lucca and can also remember the first meal I had there 10 years ago!  

For years, Cem has been asked "why don't you open a branch of Lucca in another part of town?" The smart person that he is, his answer has always been "no, I don't plan on opening a branch of Lucca, however, I might at some point open a totally new eatery with a different concept".

Well... that day is now, or rather it was May 8, 2014 when Cantinery opened its doors to the public at the 8 month-old Zorlu Center in Levazım, Istanbul.
It took a little longer than expected for the "Coming Soon from the owner of Lucca" sign to come down, but it was definitely worth the wait!

About a week from the official opening, Cem Mirap started organizing "tasting" lunches and dinners at Cantinery to test the dishes, service, etc... and I was happy when I was invited to one of these events... I attended the final "tasting" dinner the night before the official opening.

I arrived at Cantinery at about 8:00pm with lots of anticipation and of course high hopes because I know how hard the team from Lucca and Cantinery worked together to make this happen and of course everyone had the "pre-opening" jitters!

The kitchen was abuzz with activity prepping for the arrival of about 50-60 guests under the leadership of Willy Moya, one of Seville's most prestigious chefs and Chef Pelin Çakar at the helm. Pelin also oversees the kitchen at Lucca and is an excellent, creative and innovative chef. Unfortunately, there aren't too many woman chefs in Istanbul. For the past few years, Willy Moya has joined the team and is responsible for planning the dishes at Lucca (and now Cantinery). I had the chance to meet and chat with Willy that night and like everyone, he was excited about this new venture and had been in Istanbul for a couple of months working on the menu; from this point on he will be coming back to Istanbul on a monthly basis to oversee the operations. 
Pelin Çakar and her team at Cantinery/Zorlu Center
The tables were set and the waiters were working on the final touches... and we had a wonderful feast that night... we started off with a selection of cheeses and continued with the most amazing prawn carpaccio; absolutely delicious lobster burger (served with a tall shot of beer - exquisite!); tasty pizza, delectable tomato salad and for the main course either a lovely beef ragu pappardelle or perfectly oven braised sea bass served with a side of risotto...  

The piece de résistance of the evening of course was the dessert... I'll let the video do the talking!

Since my first visit to Cantinery a month ago, I have been back many times with friends, but mainly for cocktails, but did have another lovely lovely meal with Ebru Eke, the Editor-in-Chief of Food & Travel and La Cucina magazines Turkish versions last week Thursday.

Let me start off by talking by the menu...

Cantinery's lunch and dinner menu is changed daily. Yup... you read right! This is of course not the easiest thing to do, but Cem and his team wanted to create a menu that includes only dishes according to the fresh produce they are able to obtain daily. This doesn't mean you won't see some of your favorites over and over again, but don't be surprised if it is not included on the menu either.

The menu is straightforward and includes "Starters", "Salads", "Pasta/Pizza", Meat/Fish" and "Desserts" and each category includes at most 8 dishes. Only the "Meat/Fish" dishes change on the dinner menu. Prices are moderate and start at 12 TL for starters; 25 TL for salads; 30 TL for pizza/pasta; 25 TL for meat/fish and 14 TL for desserts.

The wine list is also quite extensive with also a large selection of Turkish and International wines starting at 17 TL/glass and cocktails are 30 TL. Beverages available include lemonades, homemade ice teas, smoothies/milkshakes, healthy juices, ice and hot coffee. 

I had another excellent meal at Cantinery as you can see from below...

I would like to mention that the portions you see here are just "tasting" sizes and are not the regular portions served.

We started off with my personal favorite... "Prawn Carpaccio", which is so fresh and the the kicker here is the hot red peppers, so if you are not into spicy food, I don't recommend you eat them, because they are hot! Then we had the "Organic Farm's Market Salad", which I totally flipped for because the greens were so fresh that you'd think they were just picked from the garden and the salad dressing was just right requiring no additional seasoning, proving once again that "a salad is not just a salad"! The ingredients and dressing must be on par! Next up... "Buffalo Burrata on a bed of sun-dried tomatoes & pink tomato paste topped with roasted almonds". I don't need to add that the almonds and tomato sauce was a very nice touch to the burrata which was very fresh,creamy & soft. We continued with a "White Cheese Pizza" topped with zucchini blossoms and fresh basil. Loved it! Our main course was "Oven Braised Wild Sea Bass" served on a bed of slightly under cooked (on purpose & delicious) artichoke and potato with turmeric fish sauce. Once again, the fish was cooked to perfection.

This time, I passed on dessert because I'm on the Dukan Diet and I had already eaten everything that is NOT on the diet plan! Oh well, you gotta cheat once in a while or life can be unbearable!

Let me end my post with some general photos of the interior... 

Cantinery/Zorlu Center
Cantinery/Zorlu Center
Although Cantinery is only a month old, it has already become quite popular and getting a table is not an easy feat. Reservations are not accepted for lunch but I recommend you make reservations for dinner. Cantinery is open daily from 10:00am (breakfast is served) to 1:00am. (Tel: (0212) 353 63 65)

Happy dining!

Stay well,