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Aug 3, 2011 01:04 AM

Chef Vahit Besir Returns to San Francisco Next Week

Get ready for the next chapter in the Chef Vahit Besir story . . . he’s opening a new place in San Francisco next week. No name yet, although he’s considering Istanbul Grill. No phone number either, the address coordinates are Geary and Jones. We had a bad connection so I couldn’t catch every detail. At first I thought he was moving back into his old place. But he said the owner of Salama Halal Meat owns his new space, so it must be a different address.

I’m away from the City for 10 days or I’d head over there myself to see what’s happening. Hope some of his chowhound fans can fill us in on the details.

Some background on one of my favorite Turkish chefs here -
“SF: Eden's Restaurant - Chef Vahit Besir found ... heavenly Halal lamb and beef gyros “, March 2009

Salama Halal Meat
604 Geary St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. Well, that was premature.

    My time away from the City stretched to four weeks. When I returned on Monday, I headed over to Jones and Geary and walked a block in each direction to try to find the place. No luck. I had parked in front of Shalimar, and when I got back to the car noticed the covered up windows across the street next to the garage.

    With no signage, the arch motif in the fresh paint job was my clue that 533 Jones St might be a Middle Eastern place. Previously this had been a locksmith.

    I went back Wednesday morning before leaving town again to see if anyone might be around. Chef Vahit Besir was standing in front and I asked him if I could see the work in progress. He said that he'd passed the inspections and should be able to open this weekend, maybe today. He was waiting for his cold case to be delivered that would display the salads. Here's the interior of the main dining room looking toward the entrance from the kitchen counter.

    There's more seating than one would expect from the narrow street facade, including this cute nook near the entrance.
    And there's a side dining room with colorful upholstered benches and stairs to a private dining area upstairs for events.

    His kitchen has two döner spits. Orders will be taken at the counter and then brought to the customers' table.

    He said he'd be opening as soon as he gets his sign, "Istanbul Grill House", completed and up.
    Meats will be halal.

    More photos before opening

    Istanbul Grill House
    533 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

    1 Reply
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Any updates? Open yet?

      Also, will he allow one to bring wine or not?


    2. I checked Saturday. Not open yet. Tried to look while driving by on Geary Monday. Couldn't tell for sure but didn't appear to be open.

      11 Replies
      1. re: bigwheel042

        Thanks for keeping an eye out. I'm out of town still.

          1. re: Cynsa

            My other mission yesterday besides buying Hatch chiles in Petaluma was to have a late lunch at Afendi's owned by Chef Vahit's brother. Chef Joe asked whether I knew about the the new place in San Francisco. I nodded and said, "Yes, i saw him there two weeks ago and he said it would open any day now." Chef Joe said, "It opens tomorrow." I replied, "He's been saying that for a month, are you sure?" Then he explained, "He was here this morning and told me he's opening on Monday." So that's the latest word.


            Afendi's Turkish Grill
            299 N McDowell Blvd, Petaluma, CA 94954

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Not today - opening Tuesday for lunch - tomorrow - says the smiling Chef Vahit.

              1. re: Cynsa

                Hope you're still smiling too, Cynsa. Thanks for following through. Was the sign up?

                  1. re: Cynsa

                    I called. The restaurant is OPEN!!!

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Great news. Any idea if they're open on Sundays?

                      I'm going to a Fringe show around the corner and could stop in for lunch.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        Confirmed. Name is "Grill House Mediterranean". Too bad I already had lunch as they were giving a 50% discount for the first day. I tried the Lahmajun, a flat bread with a meat topping. It was good. They also gave me a little taste of the chicken shawerma, which brought back some memories of Aleppo...

                        Neighborhood is dicey...

                        Photos of menu and sign attached.

                        1. re: Thomas Nash

                          Thank you so much, Thomas. And I'm so glad to see that lahmajun and the other baked pies are back on the menu. He didn't have enough space to make them when he was located across the street. His fans are used to the neighborhood, and his new spot is a step up.

                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                          Welcome back, Chef Besir; we savored every delicious bite of our dinner and and were welcomed by your generous hospitality in this lovely new space. The side room for Private Dining is an added comfort - for a future chowdown.
                          Opening Day treats and temptations included a small savory tasting plate of humus, olives, pepper, pickle, falafel, and sigara feta rolls - each a singular adventure. The humus is creamy, the falafel is crisp and souffle-like, the sigara feta rolls are richly melt-in-the-mouth crunchy goodness.
                          We enjoyed the excellent beef pie, zatar pie, lamb shish kebab at 6 pm, and returned after the SF Fringe performance of 'Submarine' for a take-out order of lahmajun, spinach pie, and the feta cheese pie at 8:30 pm. Chef Besir also added a comped baklava of both the walnut and pistachio - to our take-out order.
                          Spanakopita came out of the kitchen just as we were leaving, I know we'll be back soon. I love the salads and DH is the pie guy. Each of the 45 items on the menu beckons with a tantalizing promise.

                          Grill House Mediterranean hours: 11 am to 1 am

                          Grill House Mediterranean
                          533 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

          2. We had a spectacular lunch today, every bit as good as promised. You know this is a different kind of schwerma and kabob place by the quality of meat--pink inside, crisp outside--dripping on the spits.

            Mixed appetizer platter was refreshing, but it is the meats where Istanbul Grill House Méditerranean really shines. Pickled cabbage, red onions, and a great rice pilaf with traces of cloves and fried onions/shallots accompanied the meat.

            Bread was only okay; Tajine makes a better bread. We also shared a semolina cake for dessert.

            Inexpensive, fresh, and healthy. Free tea, friendly service, and a pretty back room. Now to remember this is open late and head downtown next time I'm hungry after 10.

            Check it out.

            As Thomas points out, the neighborhood is more unpleasant than ever. Take Geary west and walk down Taylor to avoid the worst of it.

            Istanbul Grill House
            533 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102

            1 Reply
            1. re: Windy

              My first stop when I returned to the City last night was to make a beeline here. At 10pm, there was a mini traffic jam in front of the restaurant with people dashing in and out, picking up takeout orders presumably. I circled a few times and a parking space materialized on the block so I had a chance to go in.

              Alas, no Chef Vahit. The cashier said that Chef's days off will likely continue to be Sundays, so keep that in mind. I asked for Oktay, chef's son-in-law, and was told that he'd worked there two days and then moved on.

              This was my first chance to study the menu, and it has Arabic dishes and not just Turkish. The meat on the spits are not called döner but rather shwarma. I decided to postpone getting something from the grill and instead got an order of spanokopita to-go. Not good. Underbaked dough in the middle was soggy and raw, and not very buttery. The spinach-cheese-onion filling was very wet.

            2. I started a new thread now that it's open and has a name.

              1. Still regret that I didn't get to taste Chef Vahit's cooking before he left Grill House.

                Some second-hand information:

                Chef Vahit's former assistant and (current) son-in-law, Oktay, is working at Real Doner in Petaluma.

                Chef Vahit is in discussion with some backers for a restaurant "near a military base between Los Angeles and San Diego".

                Real Doner (Gyro)
                307 F St, Petaluma, CA 94952