Monday, September 29, 2014

Atelier Real Food: "Back to Basics" at The Ritz Carlton, Istanbul

Dear readers,

During the latter part of the first week of this month, I received an email from Yasemin Uygurmen who is the Director of Public Relations at The Ritz Carlton, Istanbul Hotel. Although we know each other for years and "keep in touch" via Instagram, too my total amazement, she reminded me in her email that the last time we got together was nearly two years ago when I attended an event called "Basta Bad Pasta" (you can read my blog post on this subject) where we were taught how to make homemade pasta at Çintemani Restaurant!

She was now writing to inform me that Atelier Real Food had just opened (soft opening) in place of Çintemani lunch and wanted to invite me to lunch on September 12th...
I was of course intrigued and happily accepted her invitation ... I was just getting over a 10-day bout with the flu & had been home bound too long and looked forward to trying something new and seeing old friends at the same time!

We were a small group - Yasemin, Max Zanardi General Manager of the Ritz Carlton Istanbul (and someone I've been friends with for over 15 years) and Ebru Eke, the Editor-in-Chief of the Turkish versions of La Cucina and Travel Magazines, also a good friend.

Atelier Real Food or the old Çintemani restaurant is located on the lobby level of the posh 5-star hotel which overlooks the magnificent Bosphorus strait. And, I was surprised at the major changes that were made to the space once occupied by Çintemani. In other words, the changes were much more than just a "name change"!

First, Çintemani used to cover a vast area of space next to the bar/lounge: now, the bar/lounge was expanded and the decor totally changed and the new Atelier Real Food Restaurant is separated with a partition, at the very end of the corridor and is much smaller and cozier with seating for about 50 people...

Atelier Real Food/The Ritz Carlton, Istanbul 
I admired the new minimalist and contemporary decor which I found out was designed by popular Portuguese architect Patricia Pina and that the furniture was designed and produced solely for the restaurant.

I especially loved the open kitchen! More and more restaurants are designing their venues with open kitchens and as a major "foodie" and amateur "cook", it's great and exciting to be able to observe the professionals in action!

Besides the standard elegant table settings affording a lovely view of the Bosphorus with huge almost floor to ceiling windows, there is a Chef's Table seating up to 12 with a very well-stocked wine cabinet adding to the elegant yet casual ambiance of the space.

After we all greeted each other... my first question was "what do you mean by 'real food'?".  Answer? "back to basics!"

Quite simply, 'real food' at Atelier is contemporary Mediterranean cuisine that is prepared with fresh, local and seasonal ingredients and that at an "Atelier", chefs create "unique special dishes". Also, "back to basics" means that heavy sauces, foams (creams, mousses, etc) and other "attractions" are also "no-nos". What a refreshing thought for a change! I was really getting tired of visiting restaurants where I couldn't even figure out what the food was from all the "additional" attractions! In fact, seasonings are also sparingly used not to mask the genuine taste of the food. 

So, before we got down to trying some of the dishes on the menu (which was still a "work-in-progress" and being finalized), we met Andre Piednoir, the French Executive Chef, who I also captured on camera while he was putting the final touches on our meals! 

Executive Chef Andre Piednoir @ Atelier Real Food/The Ritz Carlton, Istanbul
Executive Chef Piednoir has 27 years of experience in the Culinary world. Moreover, he traveled extensively through Turkey on his motorcycle to discover and explore the flavor and ingredients of our country. He has worked in 14 countries at hotel properties (The Ritz Carlton Portugal, Mandarin Hotel Bangkok, etc.), as well as a one year stint at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Grill & Bar in NYC. Also, he was in executive positions at 3-Michelin star chef Joseph Rostang's restaurants. His real passion is pastry and he spent two years opening a pastry shop in France. So, you can say Chef Piednoir knows what he's doing!

So, we sat back and started enjoying some of the chef's dishes after he asked whether we preferred meat or fish and Ebru and I both opted for seafood!

We were all not served the same meal... so I'll start out by sharing the appetizer and main course I had...

My appetizer was grilled octopus served with greens and a vegetable salsa which was very good as the octopus was very fresh and cooked just right and not "chewy". For my main course, I was served sea bass cooked with potatoes and seasonings in an individual crock pot which was amazing! Of course, I needed a spoon to scoop up the juices!

Also, the homemade bread that you see in the background of the octopus dish is served on hot "Sile" stone purchased from the Anatolian region in Turkey, so your bread is constantly warm and delicious! And... if you would like to add salt or olive oil to your dish...

"Maldon" sea salt & extra virgin olive oil produced for Atelier Real Food
make sure to try the EVOO that has been exclusively produced for Atelier Real Food and the high quality "Maldon" brand of sea salt (also sold at Macrocenter in Turkey).

On the other hand Ebru Eke was served the following dishes (of course I tasted them too)

Her appetizer was sea bass tartar and grilled sea bass on a bed of risotto and both were very good too! The above picture also includes a "non" seafood dish and Chef Piednoir wanted us to also try the slow cooked (4,5 hrs) spareribs (prepared off the bone) which was also amazing & if it was on the bone, it would have fallen off because it was so moist and juicy.

Since Chef Piednoir is also an expert on pastries, no doubt the desserts we tried below were totally sinful, yet heavenly & simple!

I was able to choose my dessert and opted for the apple tart, but did also try the other two desserts - one prepared with figs and ice cream in a red wine sauce and the other which was the chef's version of "baklava" - also served with ice cream. Once again, the "back to basics" theme was in play and none of the desserts were masked with unnecessary ingredients which is why I believe they were so good! 

I must say... it was a pleasure meeting Chef Piednoir and it was great once again getting together with Max and Yasemin after a very long time! Ebru and I are friends and have attended many events together, so we were a very good group enjoying fantastic food in wonderful surroundings with good conversation that the 2,5 hours we spent together literally flew by!

me, Ebru Eke, Andre Piednoir, Max Zanardi, Yasemin Uygurmen (left to right)
Some final notes:

1) A winter garden will be opening the first week of October. Also offering a lovely view, it has floor heating and smoking is permitted.  

2) Open daily from 6:30 pm to 11:00 pm for dinner. Reservations are recommended. Tel: (0212) 334 41 88

3) Excellent wine menu with over 150 local and international wines. 

4) Atelier Real Food also has a traditional "French Rotisserie" and will be the highlight of the Sunday Brunch or aptly called "Sunday Roast" which will begin on October 19 at 11:30 am.

Thank you for inviting me Max and Yasemin and I'm sure I will be stopping by for dinner and/or "Sunday Roast" with my friends in the upcoming months!

Stay well,