Saturday, July 4, 2015

GEZI ISTANBUL: A refreshng and relaxing retreat in Taksim Square

Dear readers,

As a tourist in Istanbul... you will definitely wind up either visiting or even preferring to stay in the Taksim Square area. Conversely, as a resident, there's always a reason to go to Taksim!

Although Taksim Square is not a picturesque square right now (it used to look better and hopefully it will re-landscaped to attract visitors for its grandeur), it is a major hub and considered the "center of the city". Istiklal Street, the major pedestrian only (will most of the time!) street lined with cafes, retailers, art galleries, hotels, etc. and Sıraselviler Street, which links Taksim Square to Cihangir - a very hip, artsy yet bohemian neighborhood with fancy expensive apartment buildings, boutique hotels, cafes and more are parallel to Taksim Square. On the opposite end of these streets is Gezi Park with its lush gardens among all the concrete where you can sit under the trees and enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of Taksim Square. 

But, if you want to take a break and have a cup of coffee, breakfast, lunch, cocktails or a casual yet refined dinner, the choices are very minimal right around the Square. 

However... good news! This has changed since the re-opening of Gezi Istanbul which is right next door to Gezi Park and the Atatürk Culture Center (closed for renovations - long story!) in May 2015.

Gezi Istanbul is a multi-level brasserie, pastry shop, cafe, bar and restaurant. It first opened in 1987 and changed ownership in 2002. The current owners closed Gezi Istanbul in mid-2014 for renovations and although the old space was nicely decorated, obviously it not only looks better now - the menu has also been totally revised.

I went to see the new Gezi Istanbul a few weeks ago and had lunch with Fatoş Ertaş Doğan who I met a couple of years ago when she was the Marketing Manager at P.F. Chang's. Since last year, she is part of the Gezi Istanbul team as Marketing Manager and she invited me to lunch so that we can not only catch up (we see each other outside of work), but to also see the new Gezi Istanbul.

I must say I was impressed! On the ground level and to the left is a lovely new terrace for outdoor wining and dining.

Gezi Istanbul outdoor terrace

Once you walk inside, you will be totally enticed with the selection of chocolates, cakes, savory and sweet pastries that Gezi Istanbul is known for.

Gezi Istanbul 
Once you successfully pass through this area without burying your face in the delectable treats, you are confronted with another beautifully decorated hallway... 

Gezi Istanbul
Leading you to the indoor wining and dining area of Gezi Istanbul.

Gezi Istanbul
I preferred to sit in the newly designed 2nd floor restaurant, so we headed upstairs to another world all together!

Gezi Istanbul - 2nd floor restaurant
While the downstairs is casual elegant, the upstairs is refined elegant with seating for about 40 people, overlooks a portion of Taksim Square and has a fully-stocked elegant bar.

Gezi Istanbul - 2nd floor restaurant
me with Fatoş Ertaş Doğan at Gezi Istanbul
While the Brasserie menu at Gezi Istanbul is quite extensive with a wide choice of Turkish and international selections (starters, sandwiches, salads, burgers, pasta, mains, etc.); the restaurant menu is smaller and doesn't include most "cafe fare". I don't need to mention the delectable desserts do I? The prices vary but are comparable to other venues of the same  quality. I was also impressed that Gezi Istanbul had a modestly priced wine list with a good choice of Turkish & International wines and most are also available by the glass.

After reviewing the menus, I suggested we order dishes from both menus, but those that are "different" and not very "typical".

We started our meal with two appetizers: Spicy Shrimp (26 TL) and Yellow Fin Tuna Tartar with avocado puree, soy sauce and topped with crunchy fried onion bits (35 TL). Both are available on the restaurant menu, but the Spicy Shrimp is only available on brasserie menu. 

Spicy Shrimp @ Gezi Istanbul
Yellow Fin Tuna Tartar @ Gezi Istanbul
The Spicy Shrimp might look familiar to those who have dined at P.F. Chang's but not quite. The spicy mayonnaise based sauce was delicious and served on a bed of raw cabbage. I do love shrimp and could have eaten a second serving very easily (can't you tell when you look at my pictures... I'm no Twiggy that's for sure!)

The Yellow Fin Tuna Tartar was "out of this world" to say the least. The dish had perfectly balanced tastes and the crunch that the fried onion bits added to the flavor of the dish was an excellent touch! 

Our next course is listed as Gezi Dumplings (24 TL) on their brasserie menu but called "mantı" in Turkish.

Mantı are bit-sized dumplings stuffed with chopped meat that are normally boiled (fried version available too) like pasta, strained and then served with plain yogurt sauce and drizzled with a spicy paprika based melted butter sauce. The version at Gezi Istanbul is more like a "soup" which I absolutely loved because I'm part Crimean Tartar (on mother's side) and we make a version of this but the dumplings are a little bigger. I couldn't get enough of this dish either.

The last dish we had was also from the Brasserie Menu and listed under the heading Pita.

Browned Lamb Meat "calzone style" @ Gezi Istanbul
Called "pide" in Turkish, it is a savory open-faced or closed savory pastry prepared with fresh dough and then stuffed with a wide selection of fillings but usually cheese, meat or different vegetables - mainly spinach. We had the pide stuffed with mini bite-sized lamb flavored with spices and green bell peppers (19 TL). Pide is an integral and traditional part of Turkish cuisine and I personally believe it is a risk to include it on a "cafe" menu as it takes a certain expertise to prepare it properly. You definitely will not find it on most Turkish cafe menus: they are mainly available at kebab/meat restaurants. Kudos to the chefs at Gezi Istanbul because the pide tasted much better than some I've previously tasted and supposedly prepared by "experts". The thickness of the savory pastry dough was just right; and the balance of the spices and quality of the meat were perfect. 

Although I was totally stuffed by this point, Fatoş said I must try the "specialty of the house" dessert... listed as Ice Cream Profiterole stuffed with vanilla ice cream and topped with Swiss chocolate sauce (14 TL).

Ice Cream Profiterole @Gezi Istanbul
I was definitely in chocolate heaven! I normally do not like profiterole because they are usually stuffed with chocolate cream in Turkey - I prefer white cream. But, the cool vanilla ice cream coupled with the warm chocolate sauce was just divine!

The next time I find myself in the Taksim area, I know I will definitely stop by Gezi Istanbul - even if to just have a cup of coffee, since I'm perpetually battling the bulge - with very little success I might say!

I highly recommend you try Gezi Istanbul too!

Stay well,

Gezi Istanbul
Inönü Caddesi No. 5
Taksim, Istanbul
Tel: (0212) 444 76 39 

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