Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Levent Çarşı: My "Routine" Food Shopping Neighborhood

Dear readers,

We all have our routines and habits (good and bad) right? Now, since I'm a food, travel & lifestyle blogger - I want share one of my routines: I go to Levent Çarşı on a weekly basis to do food shopping ...
Levent Çarşı, Istanbul
Of course, I could go to a supermarket and pick up everything I want, but when it comes to certain foodstuffs, I'm picky! 

Çarşı means "market", "bazaar", "shopping center" in Turkish so Levent Çarşı is an "open market" of sorts...

Why Levent Çarşı? Well... in the years I lived in Istanbul (over 20 years now), I've always lived in the area. My deceased parents owned an apartment in Levent since the late 1960s, so during our visits to Istanbul as a family and after moving back to Istanbul in 1995, I lived at home. I moved to Levazım in 2010 and for the past 2,5 years I have been living in Ulus (about 1,5km from Levent) ... so, Levent is my neighborhood.

Although about only 3-4 blocks in radius, Levent Çarşı is packed with banks, fastfood eateries, pharmacies, stationery stores, pastry shops, butchers, bakeries, fishmonger, delicatessens, florists, herb shop, dry fruits & nuts shops, watch repair shop etc.. It is also a hop, skip and jump from the Levent Metro station, and Metrocity Shopping Mall. 

So, I routinely go to Levent Çarşı once a week to make my "picky" purchases! In this post, I will only mention my "routine" stops, but feel free to visit for yourself - I'm sure you will find a shop to your liking too!

My first stop is Işıklar Et ve Gıda or Şarküteri (delicatessen), where I have been purchasing beyaz peyniri (white or feta cheese) for over 20 years! I've tried buying white cheese at other stores, but for some reason, none of them live up to the cheese I buy at Işıklar. 
Işıklar Et ve Gıda, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
In the "old days" before health regulations were put in place, white cheese was sold directly out of tin cans that the deli purchased from different purveyors throughout the country. Today, the same white cheese is packaged. I like the quality of the "cow's milk" white cheese which is not too salty, soft or hard and the price is comparable to "supermarket" cheeses. 

Like most present day "deli's" in Istanbul, besides a wide selection of local cheeses, Işıklar also carries a nice selection of deli meats, olives, homemade hot & cold Turkish meze, limited amount of "supermarket"  local & international products and is also a butcher. So, they can be a "one stop" shopping haven too!

My next stop (but not every week as I have to watch my waistline), is the simit stand a few steps from Işıklar Şarküteri.
Simit stand, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Although there are now many shops where you can purchase simit at Levent Çarşı, I prefer buying mine from this stand. I'm sure it has changed hands,but this simit stand has been on this corner for the past 20+ years! I don't know where they purchase the simit they sell, but it's always delicious & crunchy - just the way I like it!  

Merkez Şarküteri is also another longstanding deli in the neighborhood. 
Merkez Şarküteri, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Merkez has been around since 1966... it's a little pricier than Işıklar, but their array of goods also include international cheeses, pork products (deli meats only), dried fruits & nuts and alcohol. Their hot & cold meze are absolutely delicious and top-notch, but since I'm always trying to watch my weight... I only routinely stop by to purchase black olives. Although the price is higher, the quality is very good and definitely worth it.

For the past year, I added a new store to my "routine": 
Onur Et Galerisi, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Onur Et, or butcher is not a newcomer to the neighborhood but it is now on my "path". Previously, they used to be at another location at Levent Çarşı and not really on my radar. But, I'm happy I discovered this butcher. I'm a big fan of tenderloin of beef (which I purchase in Ulus at Gourmet Garage), but I do stop by Onur Et to pick up other cuts of more modestly priced quality meat such as schnitzel, sirloin steak and ground meat (but not prepackaged).

I love bread! Although I have gone through periods where I haven't put a morsel in my mouth - I can't (and won't) do it forever! So, Komşufırın is an excellent bakery for bread lovers!
Komşufırın, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Komşufırın has branches all over the city and in fact, opened a 2nd branch in Levent. My favorites are Komşufırın's rye bread (they slice too), buckwheat bread and whole wheat or sour dough sandwich breads which are all baked on premises daily, and run out quickly. Other goodies which I purchase from time to time is their homemade pound cakes (apple, chocolate, etc.) and savory pastries - but only when I have company coming over! 

Last, but definitely not least I stop by New Pet Market to pick up goodies for my honey Luka before heading to the local major supermarket to pick up other basic goods before returning home. 
New Pet Market, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Luka, a Maltese, will be 7 years old in October and he is super spoiled! He came into my life when he was 7 months old on May 10, 2011 and is the best thing that happened to me! He lives on treats and "people" food (rarely eats his dog food unfortunately), so I stop by New Pet Market every week to replenish his supply. However, this shop also has a very good selection of other doggie products like clothing, collars, leashes, shampoos etc and the prices are not very very expensive. I also like the fact that they deliver and the guys that run the shop have met Luka and are major animal lovers. For example, they sell lower priced dried cat & dog food which you can purchase to feed strays and dogs and most importantly - they do not sell pets! I've been a customer since they opened over 8 years ago and will continue to be one! 

I hope you liked my mini "routine" tour of Levent Çarşı... but once again, I say visit for yourself and make your "own routines"! Feel free to share your experiences with me!

Happy shopping!

Stay well,

Levent Çarşı - Istanbul



Monday, May 22, 2017

Emaar Square Mall opens on Asian Side of the city in Istanbul

Dear readers,

Since no one really talks anymore, I received a WhatsApp message from my sis on the morning the day before Mother's Day to say she received an email that Galeries Lafayatte had opened on said day at newcomer Emaar Square Mall & should we go to check it out. Since GL (as I call it for short) is my favorite department store on this side of the Atlantic (Bloomies on the other side), I said definitely!

She came to pick me up a couple of hours after our 'conversation' and we turned on google maps to show us how to get to this new shopping mall on the Asian side of the city.

Now... let's hit the pause button for a moment! Living on the European side of the city with shopping malls galore, a shopping mall on the Asian side of the city has to really tempt me to cross a bridge and deal with traffic when I have about 5 shopping malls within a 1-mile radius to my house!

Of course, the "trigger" for me was Galeries Lafayatte!
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Now, let me remind you... the department store had just opened on the morning of our visit. So, you can imagine that it was not "fully-stocked" yet, but at least we had a preview of what to expect. The 4-story 9,500 square meter department store is airy and very inviting that's for sure!  
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
I was happy to see that a couple of retail brands I personally like and not before sold in Istanbul were on display, but of course, this branch cannot compare to their flagship shop in Paris, but will definitely help to appease my shopping needs in between visits to Paris! So, welcome to Istanbul Galeries Lafayatte!

Just a general comment about shopping malls in Istanbul before I share some more info about Emaar Square.

A "shopping mall" in Istanbul is not a shopping mall if the complex doesn't include million-dollar luxurious residences, state-of-the-art "smart" office building(s) and a five-star hotel thrown in for good measure!

Emaar Square fits and exceeds these expectations! First, the shopping mall has 150,000 square meters of rentable space, a family entertainment center, ice rink, aquarium & underwater zoo, 2,400 seat 4D movie-theater and a 4,500 vehicle parking lot! 

Surrounding the complex are 1,000 homes, 180-room Address Hotel and 40,000 square meters of rentable office space! 

Open since April 28, 2017 and owned by Dubai-based Emaar Properties (The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, etc), some of the other attractions at Emaar Square that impressed me were:

Although, I cannot afford it... but, I still like to look... Harry Winston is opening its first shop in Istanbul...
@ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Cartier has a few branches in Istanbul and is opening at Emaar Square too...
Cartier @ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four, a newcomer at Akmerkez Shopping Mall on the European side of the city is also opening a branch here! You can read all about this heavenly pastry shop in my blog. 
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Since Emaar Square is so new, except for the "classic" shopping mall retailers, the majority of the major players have not opened yet. This also includes the more upscale eateries that I'm sure will open soon so I don't have information to share with you about them. Currently, the Food Court is open with many fast food eateries, some with private seating areas, where you can grab a quick bite. While most are inexpensive, some are a little pricier.

From the indoor Food Court area, you can go outside to the terrace which is surrounded by several coffee houses and a nicely sized stage in the center where there will be live performances on weekends...

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
One final area I would like to mention and had time to visit is the Turkish Village located on Level 3 of the mall.
Turkish Village @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
There are two Turkish food restaurants in the village, but more importantly and more interesting are the stands that will be open only on weekends where you can taste or buy and take home a variety of regional Turkish delights from around the country. 

Finally, Emaar Square Mall will be organizing Atelier Workshops on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and will also host Art Exhibitions.

So, welcome to Istanbul Emaar Square! It will take a while for you to "settle in" but the major portion of your journey is complete and now it's time to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s!

Stay well,

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul

Emaar Square Mall
Ünalan Mahallesi, Ayazma Caddesi No. 78
Çamlıca, Istanbul
Open daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chamlija & Arcadia: Vineyards in Kırklareli in the Thrace Region

Dear readers,

The weather was absolutely gorgeous the weekend of April 29th so I'm so happy that I had signed up to attend an event on this weekend organized by the Chaine des Rotisseurs. I have been a member of the France based International Association of Gastronomy's Turkey chapter since 2009. Basically, the purpose of the association is to organize dinners at fine dining restaurants where members can get together to socialize and enjoy good food & wine. As members, we are invited to functions & events not only in our own country, but we can also attend events in other countries (80) with Chaine des Rotisseurs chapters. 

This time, the Chaine des Rotisseurs in Istanbul organized a weekend getaway to the Thrace or Trakya region where we would visit two vineyards to develop our knowledge of viniculture and taste some great wines & local delights in the process!

Our group was about 30 people and we hopped on our private bus at 8:45am in Levent and arrived at our first stop - the Chamlija Vineyards in the Kırklareli province at around 11:15am to begin our tour.
Chamlija Vineyards @Kırklareli, Thrace Region - Turkey
We were greeted by Mustafa Çamlıca (the Turkish spelling of the brand), the 3rd generation of the family that has been farming in the region since 1936 after immigrating here from the town of Kubadin, Razgrad in northeastern Bulgaria. 
Mustafa Çamlıca, owner of Chamlija Vineyards
Chamlija has a total of 85 hectares of vineyards throughout the Kırklareli province and their plantings range from 5,000 to 6,666 vines per hectare. In fact, some vineyards have around 10,000 vines and are some of the most dense vineyards in the Balkans and Turkey.Mr. Çamlıca explained that the reason for the high-density plantings was to enhance the quality of the wines and to encourage deep root systems to define the full potential of the terroir. We only had a chance to visit 3 of Chamlija's vineyards, but this was more than sufficient to give us an idea of the land, soil, etc. 

We had built up quite an appetite at this point, so we headed to our next stop: lunch at Çamlıca Restaurant (not owned by the vineyard) in Büyükkarıştıran, Lüleburgaz.
Çamlıca Restaurant during @Chamlija Vineyards tour 
As we ate our modest lunch consisting of salad, absolutely delicious buffalo milk yogurt and grilled köfte, Mr. Çamlıca and his staff gave us more information about the wines produced at Chamlija Vineyards.
Chamlija Wines
Chamlija Vineyards produces 7 white wines: Narince (Turkish), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Albarino and Narince-Chardonnay grapes. We had an opportunity to taste a few of the choices available and although not a major white wine lover, I was very impressed!

Red wine lovers are familiar with the majority of the common grapes used like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir but I had never before heard of or tasted Caladoc (French grape) or Papazkarası (indigenous to the region). While some of the reds were blends, more than a few were not. Once again, the wines we tasted were more than impressive! Not surprisingly, Chamlija Vineyards has won many local and international awards for their wines! Moreover, I love the labels which were designed by Mr. Çamlıca's daughter Irem.

Fully fed in more ways than one, we took a group photo and departed the restaurant to head to our next stop...
Chaine des Rottiseurs Chamlija Vineyards tour
Also in the Kırklareli province, our next and final stop was Arcadia Vineyard & Bakucha Hotel & Spa around 25 km from where we were, but because of the final dirt road we had to pass to reach the vineyards, it took us over an hour to get there, but it was definitely worth it!
Bakucha Hotel & Spa @Arcadia Vineyards 
We arrived in time to check into our rooms and relax for an hour or so before the fine dining dinner that awaited us with a view of a portion of the sprawling vineyards from our rooms & hotel restaurant!

Overlooking the Istranca mountains, Arcadia with its vineyards, production facility and hotel (26 junior suites with balcony or terrace) is a total of 200 hectares and so so inviting!  

Like I said earlier, a lovely dinner awaited us with a full moon and a crackling fire in the garden as the nights are definitely chilly here although it was in the high 20's (centigrade) during the day.
Bakucha Hotel & Spa Restaurant @Arcadia Vineyards
The food was definitely topnotch! We started with chicken liver paté; "loznik" caramelized leek slices in cornbread wrapped in vine leaf; deep fried grated squash patties with strained yogurt. Then, we were served handmade spaghetti with porcini mushrooms. Our main course was "Lamb Mutancana" Edirne Palace style with a side of arugula salad with roasted pine nuts and dried blueberry & honey dressing. Dessert was baba au rhum (small yeast cake saturated with syrup) and flaked pastry with Anatolian blue cheese cream. All our our meals were paired with the appropriate Arcadia wine. So, we definitely ended our day on a high note!

I woke up early Sunday morning to a sunny day with the "silence" of chirping birds and crystal clear skies! I had a light breakfast (ate too much the night before) although the open buffet selections were very tempting and included a variety of Turkish cheeses, homemade jams, mini pancakes, grain breads, savory and sweet pastries, greens from their garden, cereals, eggs, etc.! 

After breakfast and some time for soaking up some rays, we were given a presentation about Arcadia Vineyards by owner Zeynep Arca...
Zeynep Arca, owner Arcadia Vineyards 
Arcadia Vineyards was established 10 years ago by father-daughter team Özcan and Zeynep Arca. They were both amateurs to viticulture and viniculture but knew they wanted to get into the wine-making business and did their homework: from deciding where to buy land to the wine specialists they worked with! They wanted to produce wines that were natural and unique with a minimum amount of intervention to reflect the unique terroir of the region. 

I must admit I was not familiar with Arcadia wines. but I'm so happy I had the chance to meet Ms. Arca and listen to her story while tasting her wines. 

Afterwards, we were taken for a tour of Arcadia's production facilities, cellar and surroundings. 
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia's vineyards are a total of 35 hectares and produce approximately 100,000 bottle of wine annually. The grapes harvested are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris and Turkish grapes Öküzgözü (red) and Narince (white). Arcadia's wines are very good - especially their white selections.

So, why the name Arcadia? Simply, Ms. Arca told us that Lüleburgaz used to be called Arcadapolis which means "heaven on earth", so it made perfect sense!

It was an absolutely wonderful action packed two days! We visited a couple of the Kırklareli province's vineyards, had fantastic wines and food and I made some new friends!

Our bus trip back home took about 3,5 hours due to heavy traffic, but every minute was worth it and I would like to thank the Chaine des Rotisseurs team for organizing this trip!

If you too would like to visit the vineyards in this region, I suggest you contact them directly and they can assist you with individual or group visits. 

Cheers... şefere... a votre santé

Stay well,

Bakucha Hotel & Spa, Lüleburgaz -Turkey



Monday, May 8, 2017

Aila Restaurant: Yummy Turkish Meze and Grills Galore!

Dear readers,

Socially, it has been an active and enjoyable several weeks for me. I've had the opportunity to visit a few newcomers around town that are worth writing about and recommending to my readers on my blog. 

The last event I attended was on April 27th when I was invited to the pre-opening dinner organized for food writers, journalists and bloggers by the newly opened Fairmont Quasar Istanbul Hotel for their restaurant Aila, specializing in Turkish meze (or appetizers) and grills. 
Fairmont Quasar Istanbul in Mecidiyeköy
Part of the worldwide Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the 5-star Fairmont Quasar Istanbul opened in Mecidiyeköy in the latter part of the 1st quarter of 2017. The hotel is surrounded by the sprawling Quasar Residences & Offices, but it's entrance is on a quiet side street off of the main Büyükdere Street.

With anticipation and not knowing exactly what to expect, I entered Aila from its separate entrance versus from inside the hotel. Upon getting off the elevator, a lovely high-ceiling marble-floored entrance leads you to the restaurant's modest sized elegantly decorated bar, overlooking a portion of the restaurant's outdoor seating area.
Aila Restaurant Bar @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Both sides of the bar's walls were lined with all sorts of herbs and spices in attractive decanters purchased from the famous Egyptian Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı) located in the old part of the city in Istanbul.

After socializing with the guests in attendance as well as meeting the hotel's General Manager Kai Winkler ... and wondering where the entrance to the restaurant itself was, shazam... the walls of the bar lined with the herbs & spices opened to reveal the 2 separately decorated Aila Restaurant!

Aila Restaurant (Grills section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Aila Restaurant (Grills section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
First, we were given a tour of the Aila Restaurant's "Grills" section. The decor was contemporary and minimalist with an open kitchen and grill counter on the left hand side of the restaurant. At the end of the hall, there is a private room for special events or just privacy (for up to 20 people).

Then, we walked back through the bar to the left side of the restaurant...
Alia Restaurant (Meze section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
A live musical group playing traditional Turkish music called fasıl greeted us as we entered the restaurant. You see, a typical night of "Meze/Rakı" (appetizers & the Turkish national drink rakı similar to ouzo in Greek or arak in Arabic) sets the mood with this type of music.

This section of the restaurant was decorated in warmer colors and lighting and adjacent was the open "Meze" counter where the delectable appetizers are prepared by the chefs and on display for all to view and drool over I should say!
Meze selections at Aila Restaurant @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
One wall was lined with a display of wonderful homemade pickled vegetables and fresh vegetables were also on display on the counter definitely enticing diners!
Aila Restaurant (Meze section) @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Finally it was time to eat and taste an array of meze and grills!
Aila Restaurant @Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
A "meze and grill" restaurant is all about sharing. Sharing good food, conversation and cheer with good friends, family and/or associates! And... that's exactly what we did! Besides the meze photos above, the following are just a sample of some of the other goodies we had.
Purslane Salad w/radishes, apple, goat cheese & red beets @Aila Restaurant

Grilled octopus w/tabbouleh & red onions @Aila Restaurant

"Adana Kebab" (left) & Tenderloin of Beef (Dana Torpido) @ Aila Restaurant
We tasted 12 cold appetizers, 1 salad, 2 hot appetizers, 3 grills and 2 desserts (unfortunately I didn't have room left for dessert). 

I must admit, I was very impressed with the flavors of the "typical" yet prepared with a "twist" meze by the chef. Recipient of the Le Cordon Bleu Le Grand Diploma, noted chef Umut Karakuş is very experienced having worked at many prominent restaurants around Istanbul and definitely added his own touch to the traditional dishes. For example, he served "humus" with chestnut mushrooms and instead of "circassian chicken", he prepared "circassian duck". In other words, almost each meze has an ingredient(s) normally not used, but it works very well and gives a fresh adaptation to the flavors.

It was a lovely lovely evening! We ate... we drank... had great conversation... caught up with old friends... made some new friends... like I said, that's the idea and concept behind a "meze and grills" restaurant and Aila definitely makes the grade!

Aila Restaurant opened on May 2nd and is open daily for dinner between 6:00pm and 1:00am. There is live music a few nights during the week (check with restaurant for details) and you can also dine in their nicely decorated outdoor dining area. Most importantly, no matter which side of the restaurant you choose to sit, you can order from both menus!

Afiyet olsun! Bon apetit!

Stay well

Aila Restaurant
Fairmont Quasar Istanbul
Büyükdere Caddesi No. 76
Mecidiyeköy, Istanbul
Tel: +90 (0212) 403 85 00
Reservations are recommended

Thursday, May 4, 2017

ISKENDER: Döner Kebap "at its best" opens in Istanbul!

Dear readers,

I don't know about you, but I am a major meat lover and I doubt that will ever change! Sure, we all have to watch our weight, health and eat more nutritionally, but from time to time we have to say "what the hell!" but as long as it's not a daily habit, I say indulge yourself!

And... that's exactly what I did after Aslı Aksoy from Inhouse İletişim PR sent me a press release announcing the opening of the highly popular Bursa based Iskender in Nişantaşı, Istanbul! 
Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı - Istanbul
She invited me to lunch and we got together on a lovely sunny day on April 25th to indulge our meat or should I rather say "döner kebab" cravings!

Simply called Iskender after its founding father Iskender Iskenderoğlu, the restaurant was founded in Kayhan, Bursa in 1867 - a whopping 150 years ago! The Iskenderoğlu family were experts in preparing meat dishes and the creative & innovative Iskender Bey (instead of saying Mr. Iskenderoğlu, Turks prefer to use the first name and add bey (man) or hanım (woman)) looked for ways to prepare lamb dishes in a different way. To quote his grandson (named after his grandfather) in an article written in the Herald Tribune on September 11, 1996: 

"He was the first person to turn the traditional cooking spit on its end and stack the charcoal vertically, it was a technological revolution at the time."

And.. Voila! Iskender döner kebab or at the time called Iskender dönen kebab was born! The word "dönen" in Turkish means "revolving" and "döner" means "rotating". Today, it is simply called or should be called Döner Kebap (more on this later).
Döner Kebab @ Iskender
Grandfather Iskenderoğlu's invention is slices of döner (primarily lamb) and beef tenderloin strips on a bed of pide bread & tomato sauce with a side of plain yogurt, sliced tomatoes and grilled green chili peppers. When served, hot melted butter is drizzled over the dish. You can opt not to do this, but I highly suggest you try their version with the melted butter!

Grandfather Iskenderoğlu had 3 sons. His son Cevat Iskenderoğlu took over the helm and in the 1930s moved the restaurant to Atatürk Street next door to the Tayyare Culture Center also in Bursa...

Iskender @Atatürk Street, Bursa
It still stands today and the decor has been maintained reminiscent of its first days and nothing has changed. Anyone and everyone who has traveled to Bursa or to the nearby Uludag Mountains stops by to sample the extremely delicious döner kebab served. In fact, I too have eaten at this location about 15 years ago! Unfortunately it was the first and last time as I haven't been back in the area since! After opening 2 branches in Bursa, finally we have an Iskender in Istanbul!

Opened about 1,5 months ago, Iskender has a minimalist decor and the walls have been decorated with historical pictures, documents, etc. about this longstanding restaurant.
Iskender @Şakayık Street Nişantaşı

Iskender @Şakayık Street Nişantaşı
Iskender is handicap accessible and after climbing a few steps, the entrance of the restaurant has a few tables and after making a left and passing the chefs area where the döner kebab is prepared, you enter the main dining room and  winter garden. 
Iskender @Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı

Iskender @Şakayık Street, Nişantaşı
Surprisingly, their is no overpowering döner smells in the restaurant because of the excellent ventilation.

Iskender plain and simply serves Döner Kebab since it opened in 1867! There are no other main dishes on the menu and different sized portions are available. Originally, there were no sides but now you can order a mixed salad, french fries, roasted eggplant or yogurt. Two desserts are also available and non-alcoholic hot & cold beverages. I highly recommend you drink ayran (yogurt drink prepared with water, plain yogurt and salt) or try the homemade şıra (partially fermented grape juice).

Cevat Iskenderoğlu turned over the helm of Iskender to his two daughters Neslihan, Ilgihan and son Iskender. The 3rd generation Iskenderoğlu family is completely dedicated and devoted to maintaining their grandfather's  and father's heritage and are very hands on. I was fortunate to meet Ilgihan and Iskender Iskenderoğlu during my lunch. Each is responsible for a different part of the smooth running organization. 

Quality & safety is of the utmost importance at Iskender. Recipient of the ISO:22000 Food Safety Management System certification, Iskender has its own Meat Packing Plant with a veterinarian and food engineer and conforms to internationally accepted food quality standards.  

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, born as "Iskender Döner Kebab", today it is simply called or should be called "Döner Kebab". Iskender is a trademark, registered name of the Iskenderoğlu family so it cannot be used by other establishments when naming their restaurants and they cannot list "Iskender Kebab"on their menus. The family has been fighting this battle for years and will continue to do so.
If you would like to enjoy a truly exceptional, delicious the way it should be prepared döner kebab, I say run, don't walk to Iskender and indulge your cravings for meat!

Bon apetit! Afiyet olsun!  

Stay well,

Şakayık Sokak No. 67
Tel: +90 (0212) 241 0 241
www.iskender.com.tr (only in Turkish)

Open daily between 11:30am and 9:30pm

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Mikla Restaurant & Bar: Pioneer of "The New Anatolian Kitchen"

Dear readers,

Sometimes the easiest reviews are the hardest to write! What can I say about the "51st Best Restaurant in the World" that hasn't already been said?  

But, of course... as always... I will add my two cents! 

Open since October 2005, Mikla is a fine dining, white tablecloth contemporary restaurant & bar located on the top floor and terrace of The Marmara Pera Hotel in Tepebaşı, an area in Beyoğlu, Istanbul. The 360 panoramic view of the old & new city is truly amazing with a small terrace on the restaurant floor which is open for dining during the summer. Only open during the summer months, the top floor terrace is a fantastic spot  for light fare and cocktails with friends or colleagues at the beginning or end of your evening.   
 Old city view from Mikla Restaurant & Bar

View from Mikla Restaurant & Bar
Not surprisingly, Mikla was an immediate hit as soon as it opened and I'm proud to say that I was one of the few people who visited Mikla right after chef/owner Mehmet Gürs signed a contract with the hotel to open his restaurant. "A nail had not yet even been hammered" and I really had to use my imagination to visualize what it would look like after the renovations were completed. 

Mikla Restaurant & Bar

Mikla Restaurant & Bar
In those years, I visited Mikla in my old capacity as the General Manager & Editor-in-Chief of The Guide Istanbul. After the restaurant opened and I had an opportunity to dine there a few times, I prepared an article about the venue in the November/December 2005 issue of the magazine.
Mikla Restaurant & Bar
Nearly 12 years have past since Mikla opened and it is stronger than ever! It has consistently been a popular venue for its gastronomic delights by a discerning Turkish and International clientele. 
Mikla Restaurant & Bar 
Never sitting still, the highly creative and innovative Turkish-Scandinavian chef Mehmet Gürs is the pioneer behind "The New Anatolian Kitchen" concept. To quote Mehmet from Mikla's website:  

"I believe the time has come to rethink the Anatolian kitchen. A new perspective is needed to allow the rich food cultures from the past to survive and evolve. The New Anatolian Kitchen has no boundaries; it is a way of perceiving food, it is a philosophy that can and should be interpreted in many ways."

I highly recommend that you read all about "The New Anatolian Kitchen Manifest" on his website. Also, all the dishes prepared at Mikla are in season Turkish products from different regions around the country. 

This new thinking and concept paved the way for Mikla to quickly move up in the international restaurant ranks! So much so that in 2015, Mikla was ranked 96th by the prestigious "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" Academy... moving up to 56th place in 2016 and to 51st place in 2017!
Mikla Restaurant & Bar 
At the helm of Mikla's success is obviously Mehmet Gürs, but his longstanding, professional & devoted kitchen and restaurant staff definitely plays a key & crucial role! Add to this his regional purveyors and you have the right mix for success!
Chefs "at work" in the open kitchen @Mikla
I met Mehmet Gürs about 14 years ago and this exceptional chef's success dates back to 1996 when he returned to Istanbul from the U.S. and opened Downtown. Under his company The Food & Beverage Group, then came Nu Teras, Lokanta and numnum, a casual restaurant & cafe chain. Today, besides Mikla and numnum, Mehmet's other restaurants include the casual Italian eatery Trattoria Enzo, Terra Kitchen, a casual self-service restaurant and the groundbreaking Kronotop Coffee Bar & Roastery.

After a well-deserved plug for Mehmet, who I immensely admire for his tenacity, determination, positive attitude and above all, his skills & knowledge ... let's get to the lovely dinner I had a Mikla on March 30th after a very very long time! Unfortunately, Mehmet was abroad and I didn't get a chance to see him... hopefully the next time!
Sommelier's Table dinner @Mikla Restaurant & Bar
My dear friend Burçak Desombre, a CMS Certified Sommelier organized her monthly "Sommelier's Table" wine pairing tasting dinner at Mikla and the minute I received her email, I made my reservation which is limited to a maximum of 20 people.
Mikla Restaurant & Bar/Sommelier's Table Dinner
Our 7-course menu was truly amazing and I believe I ate everything that was served without leaving a morsel on my plate! 
Amuse-bouche @Mikla 
Homemade sour dough bread, butter & olive oil @ Mikla
North Aegean Octopus w/tarhana, pickled cabbage & leek @Mikla
Whole wheat vegetable ravioli on a bed of buffalo milk yogurt & baked tomato-garlic sauce @Mikla
Slow-cooked braised lamb w/sea kale, yogurt & walnuts @Mikla

Anatolian raw milk cheeses, honey & prune jam @Mikla
Black mulberries soup w/honey-clotted cream ice cream & cinnamon crumbs @Mikla
As I mentioned above, all the dishes were incredibly delicious, satisfying & innovative. Just to point out some highlights:

1) I could have eaten a whole loaf of the homemade sour dough bread!

2) Tarhana is made with cracked wheat, yogurt and vegetables which is then fermented and dried and is used to make soup. Adding tarhana soup to the octopus dish was an excellent and very different idea.

3) After eating homemade buffalo milk yogurt, you won't want to go back to eating regular yogurt!

4) Until now, I only thought I didn't like lamb... this slow-cooked braised lamb dish changed my mind!

5) I am now a major fan of black mulberries! 

I was SO HAPPY to be back at Mikla Restaurant & Bar after a very long absence and sadly realized what I was missing and hope to go back more frequently - especially after they open their terrace for the summer! Hope to see you there!!!!

Bon apetit!

Stay well,

A "happy" me @ Mikla

Mikla Restaurant & Bar
Mikla's kitchen is open between 6:00pm and 11:30pm and the bar from 6:00pm on Monday-Saturday.

The restaurant offers a 3 course prix fixe a la carte menu or a 7 course tasting menu with or without 6 glass wine pairing. Please check the prices on their website. 

Reservations are highly recommended. Tel: +90 (0212) 293 56 56; www.miklarestaurant.com