Monday, May 9, 2016

CENTRAL NIŞANTAŞI: Better Food... Better Mood... Better Music

Update: Unfortunately although Central Nişantaşı was a very nice restaurant, it closed in December, 2016. 

May 9, 2016

Dear readers:

The weather was absolutely gorgeous this past weekend in Istanbul - just in time for Mother's Day!

As my 91 year-old aunt and 86 year-old uncle were coming over to my house on Sunday, with my sister Meltem, nephew Arman and my honey Luka (maltese dog) we decided to go to Nişantaşı, a trendy and hip neighborhood on Saturday. In fact, we couldn't remember the last time we gone there. While the majority of Istanbulites were hanging out on the Bosphorus shoreline creating  massive crowds, we decided to have a more relaxing day, but not totally to our surprise, Nişantaşı was quite crowded too, but sis had no problem finding a parking space.

We first walked up Mim Kemal Öke Street which is parallel to the more trendy Abdi İpekçi Street which is lined with name brand retailers and all types of modest to expensive cafes and restaurants trying to decide where to eat. My idea was to go to Central Nişantaşı which opened on January 1, 2016, but since it was full, we continued our walk up and headed to Abdi İpekçi Street before returning to my first choice about an hour later when we were lucky to find a table on the outdoor terrace.

As you can notice Central Nişantaşı's slogan is bold and confident, so did they live up to it? Read on to find out...

First, let me add that the Chef/partner of this new eatery is Arda Türkmen, a very successful, experienced, creative and popular chef in Istanbul (his CV is at the end of blog) and who I met about 6-7 years ago and have had the pleasure of being in his company many times.

While my sister and nephew were perusing the menu under the watchful eye of my Luka....

Sis Meltem, nephew Arman and Luka
I went inside to take pictures of the indoor section of Central Nişantaşı...

Let me add that we got to this eatery at about 3:30pm for a late lunch and as you can see the indoor section was quite empty... there are two reasons for this: it was late afternoon but more importantly, when the weather is so gorgeous outside, Istanbulites do not prefer to sit indoors! But, I'm sure later on in the evening as the weather is still cool, more diners will opt to be indoors.

It appears that Central Nişantaşı will be updating its menu periodically (according to season) because the menu cover indicated that the selections listed were available in May & June. I'm sure not all dishes will change in the next menu, but will only be updated according to seasonal ingredients available. 

The menu consists of French, Italian and International cuisines. While the prices aren't cheap, they are not super expensive either and include 1 soup (18 TL); Salads (24-32 TL); Mini meals (22-47 TL); Pasta (38-49 TL); Pizza (32-39 TL); Mains (35-69 TL), Kid's menu (25-35 TL), Sides (7-21 TL); and Desserts (15-21 TL). The eatery also has a nice-sized wine menu, but I do wish there were many selections by the glass... I also found out that breakfast was served (typical Turkish breakfast, eggs, pancakes, quiches and cereal) but forgot to look at the menu.

We gave our orders and started waiting for our meal by munching on warm homemade grain bread and the best extra virgin olive oil drizzled with high quality balsamic vinegar... however, we did wait a little longer than expected for our meal to arrive and realized it had to do with the dish I had ordered. 

My sis ordered...

Beef Carpaccio/Central Nişantaşı
My 15 year-old nephew had (surprise! surprise!) ...

Cheeseburger & Fries/Central Nişantaşı 
And.. I ordered (and the dish that delayed service)

Quiche w/Ricotta cheese, baked cherry tomatoes & spinach/Central Nişantaşı
When I was taking the photo above, I didn't realize that the "french fry" I stole from my nephew was on the plate... so "no", the dish is not served with a single french fry! And... I really should have removed the bun from the burger to give you a better idea of the dish, but I was a little too hungry and wasn't thinking straight!

The dishes we had were excellent and of course, we all tasted each others meals. The beef carpaccio was prepared with lean and very tasty beef ; my nephew found the burger's bun a little too oily (but he ate the whole thing) but enjoyed the cheeseburger so much that he was very skimpy and only gave us a teeny tiny bite to try... My quiche was so yummy, I could have eaten a second one! It was definitely worth the delay because it was prepared to order and not microwaved (I hate that!) and the quality of the cheese and all other ingredients were delicious and fresh.

There's always room for dessert, but if it hadn't been for my nephew, I'm sure my sis and I wouldn't have had any! But my nephew wanted the "Death by Chocolate Cheesecake"...

Death by Chocolate Cheesecake/Central Nişantaşı  
Normally, this dessert is served with 1 oreo cookie set vertically next to the fruit... but they had just run out and we didn't want to wait for a new supply to arrive. Once again, my sis and I were only given a very small piece to try, but that was enough to make our eyes roll with delight and invigorate our taste buds! Long live chocolate!! Once again, it was clearly apparent that the ingredients were of the best quality. 

Most of my readers know that I do not like to write about a new eatery after only 1 visit, but there are exceptions when I am confident in the chef/owners and Arda Türkmen fits the bill! The service staff is congenial, the casual yet chic setting is inviting - but most importantly the food is absolutely delightful so kudos to Arda and his kitchen staff! Can't wait to go again and again and again so that I can try the Falafel... Steak Tartare... Grilled Salmon... Duck Confit and maybe the Pavlova for dessert!!!

Turkish Coffee/Central Nişantaşı
Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No. 11 Nişantaşı
Tel: (212) 296-92 86

Stay well,

Arda Türkmen founded Roka Davet Catering in 2003. In 2007, he opened Leblon Restaurant in Asmalımescit, Beyoğlu (highly popular in its day but now closed)... Forneria Restaurant in 2013 and Mükellef in 2015, both at the Haze Hotel in Karaköy, which has become a very trendy neighborhood with lively cafes and newly opened boutique hotels. While Forneria is on the street level, Mükellef, a "meyhane" or tavern style restaurant is on the hotel's rooftop terrace with a lovely view of the Bosphorus and Old City. Additionally, since 2010 he has a cooking show on TV (first at CNN Turk and now at TV 8) called "Arda'nın Mufağı" (Arda's Kitchen). I stole Arda's photo from his website for Central Nişantaşı - I'm sure he won't mind! 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

TOI ISTANBUL: Delicious Food, Good Cheer!

May 4, 2016

Update: TOI has closed up shop at its current location a couple of months ago and will be re-opening at a different location by the end of October 2016... I will share more info once TOI reopens. (October 20, 2016)

Update (January 13, 2016) TOI has re-opened at a new location in Kuruçeşme about a month ago, but I haven't had a chance to go yet so I do not yet have new info to share with you... but TOI is already getting very good reviews at its new home. 

Dear Readers,

Several weeks ago, specifically on April 13th, I attended a fantastic dinner at TOI Restaurant & Lounge organized by the Istanbul chapter of the France based Chaine de Rotisseurs (International Gastronomy Association),which I have been a member of since 2009.

I had every intention of writing about this excellent new modestly sized fine dining restaurant earlier but I had an unfortunate accident during a trip I made to Prague in early March and fractured my left elbow (didn't realize I had done this until 3 weeks after returning home!) and have recently mostly regained the use of my left arm after being in a cast for 3 weeks and sling for a week! In fact, I almost cancelled attending the dinner at TOI (which I had previously paid for) because I was still in a cast, but I'm so happy I didn't because I would have missed a lovely evening of delicious food & good cheer in the company of about 40 Chaine members!

TOI Restaurant & Lounge/Istanbul
TOI, which opened about 5 months ago, is located on the terrace of a suite hotel in Akaretler (as a point of reference, it is about 4-5 blocks from the posh W Hotel) with seating for about 38 people, a small bar and open kitchen with a Chef's Table seating area for 4 people. TOI has a sliding roof, so depending on weather conditions can be opened or closed.
TOI Restaurant & Lounge/Istanbul
TOI Restaurant & Lounge/Istanbul
We sat down for our 7 course dinner (with wine pairing) at around 8:30pm after mingling with our fellow members during the cocktail hour. During this time, I had a chance to catch up with Ismet Saz/owner & chef who I had met about 3 years ago when he and Chef Carlo Bernardini were in charge of Alavya and Fogo Restaurants at the then newly opened exclusive Alavya Hotel in the popular summer resort town of Alaçatı/Çeşme on the Aegean Coast in Turkey and a 45 minute drive from Izmir.

I already knew Ismet was a great chef having spent a lot of evenings dining at Fogo. Throughout his extensive culinary career in Turkey and abroad, he has worked with some of the best chefs in the world to include Gordon Ramsay, Julio Velaquez and Franco Paterno among others, so I knew we were in the treat this evening!

The theme for our special dinner was "cress" - in other words "plants cultivated for their edible leaves" and all our meals included different cress which really added to the flavors of the dishes! After this dinner, I have definitely become a "cress" fan!

So, let's begin... also all of these dishes are included in TOI's menu, but may vary slightly depending on whether the ingredients are in season.

TOI Restaurant & Lounge
Our delightful and delicious dinner started with "Artichoke Volute with Truffle Chips & Purple Amaranth Cress" (bottom left); "Foie Gras Terrine, Madagascar Black Pepper Bread, Berry Compot & Cilantro Cress" (bottom right); and "Homemade Duck Prosciutto, Golden Beets and Aci with Broccoli Cress". 

I totally enjoyed these 3 dishes, however, the one that I can still taste and want seconds and thirds of is the Duck Prosciutto - every bite was amazing!

Our 4th course was "Risotto with Grilled Scallop and Lemon with Watercress"...

I must admit I am not a fan of risotto - I usually find it too salty and heavy with lots of butter, etc. However, I can honestly say this is the best risotto I have tasted and kudos to Chef Saz! It was very light, not salty at all and the lemon zest added a wonderful kick to the dish, not to mention the scallops!

Although we had already had 4 courses, I couldn't believe that I didn't feel stuffed at all! So, I was more than prepared for our next dish which was "Red Mullet with Tomato Bread, Romaine Heart, Saffron Aioli & Basil Cress".

This was such a delicate dish! The red mullet was moist & juicy and cooked to perfection and not overladen with unnecessary sides! Simplicity at its best!

I guess you can say the "piece de résistance" of our dinner was the "Beef Wellington with Pommes Purée, Creamy Spinach, Beef Jus and Mustard Cress"!

Beef Wellington @ TOI Istanbul
I first took a picture of the mouthwatering delectable Beef Wellington straight out of the oven and couldn't wait to try it! I also tried to remember the last time I had it because I don't know of any other restaurant in Istanbul that prepares this dish and never came across it at restaurants during my travels throughout Europe, so it must have been when I lived in NYC (over 20 years ago!). My Beef Wellington was slightly overcooked which is not surprising when you prepare so many at the same time for 40 guests, but it was still delicious and very flavorful!

Last but not least - dessert!!!! Normally, I do not prefer to eat dessert right after a meal - especially during a 7-course dinner, but how can you say no to a very original dessert - "Sweet Goat Cheese and Beets Jelly, Date Pound Cake, Spicy Soft Cream & Honey Cress"?
TOI Restaurant & Lounge/Istanbul
Yummy! Yummy! Yummy is all I can say! Who would have thought you can add beets and spices to a dessert and make it light, creamy and luscious? 

To sum up - definitely go to Toi!!! I can definitely give this new restaurant high marks on taste and quality of ingredients used not to mention the presentation of the dishes! Unfortunately I have been to many restaurants (I'm sure you have too) where the presentation is amazing, but lacking in taste which is the more important component of the meal as far as I'm concerned.

I know I will definitely be going back to TOI again... and again... but I need to recuperate more before hitting the streets again to also try new places that have opened up that I haven't had a chance to try yet.

Thank you Chef Ismet Saz... you and your entire team are energetic, efficient, knowledgeable and friendly and a special thanks to your waiters for helping me cut my food when needed as I only had use of one arm!

Chef/Owner Ismet Saz & his kitchen tam at TOI Istanbul
Stay well,

Footnote: So what does "TOI" (pronounced toy) mean? Simply, although grammatically wrong... "Trust of Ismet" and I totally trust Ismet Saz's experience and food preparation techniques!

Additional Info on TOI Istanbul

  • TOI is open daily between 5:00pm and 2:00am. From 5:00pm to 7:00pm Tapas is served and dinner service begins at 7:00pm.
  • Reservations are necessary for a table or Chef's Table (max 4 people) in open kitchen. A la carte and tasting menus available.
  • Address: Şair Nedim Caddesi No. 29 Akaretler, Istanbul Tel: (0212) 258 00 29