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,

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