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Jan 5, 2004 02:09 PM

Cafe Istanbul--Columbus Ohio

  • b

I did a search here and didn't find anything on Cafe Istanbul in Columbus Ohio. It is located in a huge shopping-complex/mall/outdoor walking-mall/entertainment center called Easton, and is an oasis of good ethnic food amid the mostly corporate chain offerings.

Cafe Istanbul serves well-prepared Turkish foods with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and minimal fuss in cooking and presentation. The restaurant itself is lovely on the inside with decor based on Turkish-style tiles with stylized floral motifs, etched silver amphora, woven carpets as wall-hangings and truly impressive wrought iron chandeliers with dangling glass candle-cups. (They are electrified, alas, so no candles flickering from the cups.)

The service is impeccable, with all of the wait staff being well-trained, friendly, and conversant with the cuisine. They are very good at helping diners select a dish, and they are happy to answer questions about the preparation of the food.

It is the food that is the best reason to visit, however. The mainstays of the restaurant are kebab--and so far, all of the selections we have had are cleanly seasoned and grilled to perfection. Lamb is always flavorful and extremely tender--no expense is spared in getting top quality meat here. Their bread is always hot and fresh, and they make their own yogurt. I assumed that had to be the case, because it was so thick and tangy and good, that there was no way it was from a carton. I was happy to know I was right.

Their eggplant dishes are to die for. My favorite appetizer is Imam Bayildi, which I am told translates to, "the Imam fainted," which refers to a folktale about an Imam who was so overwhelmed by the goodness of an eggplant dish he was given to taste, he fainted dead away. I think the dish is well named: it is half a small eggplant, grilled over a wood fire, brushed with buttery olive oil and served with a sauteed mixture of peppers, onions, garlic, tomato and pine nuts with a bit of lemon juice spooned over top. The whole thing is served chilled, and it is luscious. The eggplant is rich, the olive oil is pure in flavor, and the vegetable melange over it all is perfectly balanced.

They also have a wonderful eggplant stuffed with meat, raisins, pinenuts, onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers as an entree that is not to be missed.

The desserts are gorgeous as well. They have the least sweet and most buttery baklava I have ever tasted, and they have a sweetened goat cheese wrapped in shredded phyllo that is a revelation in flavor and texture. And of course, they have Turkish coffee--one of my favorite redactions of coffee ever. Be warned, the very fine grounds are still in the tiny cup, so if you have never had such a thing before--it is there. But somehow, though the grounds are there, they are not bitter or noxious, they just add body to the drink.

The prices are a bit on the high side, probably owing to the upscale nature of the place and its location, but for a really nice dinner in a great atmosphere that isn't just continental European or corporate stuff, I cannot recommend Cafe Istanbul highly enough.

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  1. Thank you for the report. My grown kids live in Columbus. I will make sure they take me to Cafe Instanbul the next time I visit. It sounds wonderful.

    1. d
      Dave in Columbus

      I agree wholeheartedly with the review of Cafe Istanbul. It's a real gem among the cookie cutter restaurants in the Easton Towne Center. Fresh, well-run, and fairly unique for central Ohio. Plus, the decor is totally cool . . .

      1. the style of your post, for example the novelty of imam bayildi and turkish coffee to you, makes me think turkish or middle eastern food is new to you? if not true then just wondering how does CAFE ISTANBUL's food compare to other middle easterners like the new FIRDOUS in polaris or ANTOLIA? certainly the fresh yogurt sounds great. thanks.

        9 Replies
        1. re: mrnyc

          You mistake my enthusiasm for novelty--I grew up with an aunt who is half-Syrian and who was always feeding me Greek, Syrian and Lebanese foods when I was growing up.

          The Turkish coffee--now, I have only had that at a friend's house and at Cafe Istanbul--and Cafe Istanbul makes it better. But my friend was treating it more like an experiment--these folks have been making it for years.

          I just ate at Firdous in Polaris today, in fact.

          There is no comparison. Firdous is okay--but not nearly as good. The ingredients aren't as fresh--the baklava, for example is nowhere near as good, and the foods of course, are prepared and sitting on a steam table instead of being made to order. Really, it isn't fair to compare the two--Firdous is good for what it is--cheap Middle Eastern food in a mall--which makes it a damned sight more interesting to eat than most mall food, but it isn't as good as Cafe Istanbul.

          I haven't been to Anatolia, but intend to try it out at some point. When I do, I shall report back.

          1. re: BarbaraF

            thanks barbara, i do miss the old FIRDOUS a former favorite of mine and many others as you probably well know. glad there is more in columbus--funny and cute to me that both ISTANBUL and FIRDOUS are in malls--how columbus of them!

            ps--i saw the somali places while googling those, but i've been wondering about columbus somali restaurants for awhile now so i was so glad to find them.

            1. re: mrnyc

              Yes, Columbus is mall heaven. Though, we moved from Columbia, Maryland, which is also rather mall-laden, so it wasn't too weird.

              But the step down in food possibilities for eating out was a hard one for us.

              It means I cook in a lot--but that is okay, too.

              There is another Firdous in the North Market; I am going to try them sometime. I will say that thier food looked better to me than what was at Polaris--the pastries in particular at the North Market looked really nice. I was just there, today, getting meat from Bluescreek Farms and from the Game and Poultry place. I love the North Market--I consider it to be Chowhound Central of Central Ohio.

              My friend is very interested in keeping strictly halal, so she may well be very interested in the Somali restaurant. I know next to nothing about Somalian food (my knowledge of African food is limited to Ethiopian, which is wonderful, and Moroccan, which is also wonderful, but in a completely different way).

              What is it like? Have you had any?

              1. re: BarbaraF

                no i've nver had somali food, there is lots of various african but no somali in the nyc area. i'm looking forward to someone reporting on it, surely you or someone will before i get back thru columbus this summer?

                btw, agree about the north market. however, i always laughed at the rebuild it lost something for me. they went from gritty to the "pike place market-lifestyle market" look-ugh. however, you gotta love big bear!

                i'd seriously suggest you have a visit to cleveland's historic westside market, its beautiful, a real working person's market, no catering to upscale at all. better than the downtown baltimore market too imo! they also have a slew of long running farmer's markets up there to seek out. also, cinci has a market and jungle jim's. try those too. enjoy.

                1. re: mrnyc

                  Well, when we go up to Cleveland for my Mom's surgery, I will see if we can go visit the Westside Market. If not then, maybe we will take a daytrip or a weekend up there in the spring or summer, just for fun. I lived for a very short time in Kent, and loved to visit Cleveland.

                  I have heard of Jungle Jim's but haven't gone yet. That is the cool thing about being in the Columbus vicinity--we are in the middle of the state and can get to nearly anywhere else in a few hours.

                  I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but Big Bear is going out of business. We do most of our groceries at Wild Oats and Kroger's and we get our meats from the North Market. In the summer, we do farmer's markets and we grow some of our own vegetables. We are also really close to the largest orchard in the state, so we get our apples and cider from there.

                  1. re: BarbaraF
                    Michael Hoffman

                    I can understand getting lamb at the North Market, but you might want to try Carfagna's on 161 just east of I-71 for your other meat needs. Another excellent place for meats, including lamb, is Riife's Market at 5th and Grandview.

                    1. re: Michael Hoffman

                      Thanks for the suggestion. I will look into those, but I will probably continue to get my beef, lamb and pork from Bluescreek Farms at the North Market, because I like buying directly from a small local farmer who uses good techniques in raising their animals. Besides, thier meat is really good, and if I pay a bit more, that's okay. I can eat less meat if it is really, really good.

                      I grew up with my mother's family owning a farm, so I am biased towards supporing small local agriculture ventures as opposed to buying from larger agribusiness conglomerates. So, we buy vegetables in the spring, summer and fall from local farmers markets and farmstands. We also live right near the largest orchard in the state, so we buy our apples and cider from them.

                      Which means, we go around to a bazillion places while on the prowl for food, but that is the life of a chowhound, is it not? ;-)

                      I will still check out your suggestions, though, Michael...I am always up to try something new.

                      1. re: BarbaraF
                        Michael Hoffman

                        Oh, I often buy my lamb from Bluescreek, and I used to buy virtually all of my produce at the North Market. Unfortunately, the produce stand I preferred went out of business a couple of years ago.

                        1. re: Michael Hoffman

                          I only get some of my produce at the North Market. The vegetable stall there carries wonderful fingerling potatoes. They charge too much for the darned things, but since I haven't put in my own large vegetable garden, and thus have not started growing potatoes, I get them now and again as a treat.

                          Have you tried the focaccia from the new bread bakery in the NM? It is really, really good, and if you don't gobble up all that you buy, you can make outstanding croutons or breadcrumbs from it. I made breadcrumbs with a piece of it and used it to top my au gratin potatoes and they really added a punch to the dish.

                          I also like the granola made by the Benevolence Bakery folks--again, expensive, but a nice treat now and again.

                          Have you bought from the fish market there? Any tips? Is that the place to get good fish in Columbus or is there another place?

        2. Is Istanbul still open and to be recommended? If not, are there other good turkish or mideastern choices in Cols. area (North preferred)

          1. The place in Easton is still there, in the same location, but I think the name might have changed. My friend went there last month and reported it is still good, though. Cafe Shish Kebab on Bethel Road in Bethel Centre (I think that's the name, same one as Texas Roadhouse) is very good and has shish kebabs and the best fresh bread ever. It has mostly lamb on the menu, but they have one chicken kebab. They didn't have a liquor license last time I was there, but you could BYOB and they would just charge a minimal corkage fee. It is very good.