We had a really excellent meal at a restaurant called Tugra which is right in the Ciragan Palace (now run by the Kempinski hotel). This place was massively expensive, though (I think about $350 for two apps, two entrees, cheese course as dessert, 6 glasses of wine. Note that you can get plenty of great meals for a LOT less than $350, but since Tugra was good, I’ve included it here.) If you go, definitely get the ancient-style mezze appetizer and the new-style mezze appetizer. I also thought my sea bass was the best example of a plain sea bass I ever had. It wasn’t gussied up with sauces and whatnot—you could just taste a perfect example of fresh fish. The service here was REALLY good, and you feel like you’re dining inside a museum. And they permit you to walk the grounds after dinner, which is worth doing. http://www.kempinski.com/en/istanbul/Restaurants%20and%20Bars/Restaurants/Pages/TugraRestaurant.aspx
(Note that imported wine in Istanbul is massively expensive – Tugra charged $35 for a glass of champagne, so you’re better off going with Turkish wines. All the Turkish wine we tried was very good. The national drink is something called Raki, which my husband says is like Ouzo – anise/licorice tasting. They pour you about a shot’s worth, and mix it with water and ice. This seems to be very popular with mezze.)
A great place for Lamacun was Tatbak, Akkavak Sokak 28/A Nisantasi. Lamacun (super-flat pizza on a crispy flatbread crust) is everywhere, and worth a try. It has ground lamb and some kind of red sauce on it. I think you’re supposed to put some parsley/arugula on it, squeeze lemon on it, then roll it up and eat it that wayWe also ordered Pide there (like a thicker crust pizza), and it was also excellent. I think Tatbak is only opened until 8 or 9 p.m. – they are more of a lunch place. I watched what everyone else was ordering, and nearly every person in the place got the lentil soup (including me). There are two little pots of sumac and dried pepper on the table. MAKE SURE to add some of that to your lentil soup – it’s delicious. Everything coming out of the kitchen looked delicious. This place was cheap. At lunch time, Turks seem to drink this sour yogurt drink called Aryan. You can try it at Tatbak. http://www.tatbak.com/
Another thing you should try on the street are the things that look like soggy hamburgers. They taste like a very-thin-patty hamburger with Turkish spices.
A lot of the restaurants are kebab places. One of the two best we tried was Sofyali 9 (off Istikal Cadessi). http://www.sofyali.com.tr/eng/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1 I generally am not a fan of chard, but make sure to get the stuffed chard on the warm mezze menu. It’s delicious. They bring a whole tray full of mezze out, so you can just point to what you want. You might try the little Black Sea sardines on the cold mezze tray. I’m not a fan of sardines, but these were good and worth trying. (Right now, it is sardine season—you will see fishermen lining up on both sides of the bridge to catch “hamsi”. ) The kebab there was also excellent. http://www.sofyali.com.tr/eng/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
The other great kabab place was Tike. There are a number of locations. http://www.tike.com.tr/eng_index.asp
We went to this one little hole-in-the-wall place that reminded me of something you’d find in Brooklyn, Antiochia. http://antiochiaconcept.com/ Minare Sokek 21. They had great mezze. You can also try Durum there. Here’s the NYTimes review: http://travel.nytimes.com/travel/guid...
For fresh fish, we went to Mavi Balik. When you walk in, they have a display of fish, and you choose what you want. Red Snapper for two was somewhere around $80 - $90. Yikes. It was only ok. We went there because they have hamsi done the traditional way – coated in cornmeal and sautéed. I wasn’t wild about their hamsi, but my husband liked it. (Given the price of this place and my ho-hum review, I’d find traditional hamsi somewhere else.)
Since Zubeyir has gotten raves on Chowhound, we also checked them out. Bekar Sokak 28. They had good kebab.
By the last night, we’d had enough kebab, so we went to the Chalet at the Swissotel for fondue. It was great. So was the wurstsalat (salad of sausages and cheeses) and the gluwein (hot mulled wine, which was something like $15 per cup, but it WAS good.) It’s almost worth the trip just to see the chalet, which is built separately from the hotel…it’s really a chalet.
Speaking of HAMSI>>>>
Tomorrow I will be trying a new Laz spot opened by one of the partners of Pera Sisore. It is called Hayvore and it is right off of Istiklal near Balo Sokak near the chocolate fountain.
There will surely be plenty of Black Sea specialties including hamsi ekmek (cornbread laced with sardines), hamsi pilav (savory rice cakes topped with sardines), fried hamsi (in cornmeal) and maybe even the elusive hamsi tatlisi (hamsi dessert).
I will report back on this hamsi trove soon.
I had an excellent hamsi feast there yesterday. Plump, fresh and lightly fried in cornmeal.
Hayvore's Address is:
Turnacibasi Sokak 4
It is just off of Istiklal on the street that leads to Galatasaray Hamam, on the right in the same building as British Time.
Enjoy and save some room for Laz borek.
I consider hamsi, plump and unctuous, to be my sentimental favorite in this all too brief visit to your fair city. Thanks to your wonderful blog I've eaten exceptionally well in a short time 'tho I've barely left Beyoğlu - save for today's trip to Ciya.
Ciya deserves entire posts, blogs, books and devotional songs written about it. The food I experienced there was somehow ancient yet modern, masterful yet unpretentious, familiar yet utterly surprising. How'd they do that?
I'm off to Mumbai tomorrow and missing Istanbul already. Can't wait to get back. Until then, I'll be avidly reading your blog.
For you and the all hamsi lovers around:
Pass the hayvore,and turn the first street on the right,you will see the tiny basement meyhane on the left called Cukur.This place just serve the best grilled hamsi you could ever find in istanbul,you can also have your raki/vine!
Address: Kartal sok. 1/A, Beyoglu, Istanbul
check istanbuleats review