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The End July 11, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in News.

After two great years in Ankara, my time in Turkey has come to an end. I’m returning to America at the end of the summer to pursue a new career, and this unfortunately means that Eating Ankara must come to an end.

Since September, I’ve written about 44 different eateries, covering all aspects of Turkish and foreign cuisine, from the cheapest street food to some of the most expensive restaurants in the city. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m sure that I’ll find myself missing this place and its food once I’m back home. Thanks to everyone for reading and for the suggestions and feedback along the way.

My efforts on this blog, although substantial, have by no means been exhaustive. There are still many more great restaurants in Ankara worth reviewing. The following is a list (in no particular order) of the ones I wanted to try, but didn’t have the time to do so. Check them out for yourself:

  • Balıkçıköy
  • Quente
  • Altınpark Çin Restorant
  • Gar Lokantası
  • Hacı Arif Bey
  • Yakamoz
  • Mangal Dünyası
  • Ankara Ocakbaşı
  • Günaydın
  • Num Num
  • Tike
  • Butcha
  • Wine House
  • Dafne
  • Kale Washington
  • Lanterna
  • Sushi Co.

Gurusunuz, Türkiye!

Trilye July 11, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Desserts, Foreign Cuisine, Turkish Cuisine.

As my time in Ankara comes to a close, it’s fitting that I finally got around to visiting one of the restaurants often cited as the best in the city: Trilye. Like Kalbur, it specializes in fish, which continues to strike me as amusing since we are in the middle of Anatolia. If you told me before I came here that Ankara’s best dining would come in the form of seafood, I would have never believed you. Nevertheless, Trilye is the real deal, a gastronomic delight worthy of  acclaim.

Trilye departs from the norms of Ankara dining as soon as you climb the steps into the indoor-outdoor dining room. The ambience is eclectic yet refined. Centered around a tree draped in blue lights under a large canopy, the decor manages to strike a strange balance between fine dining and New England beach cottage. Ceramic fish and nondescript ocean scenes adorn the walls, while dark-wood paneling and dim lights set the mood. The eccentricity extends to the clientele. On a packed Saturday night, the crowd represents a fascinating cross-section of upper-class Turkish society. Dapperly dressed gentry bump elbows with tee-shirt-wearing, chain-smoking young hipster types who are seated next to whole families complete with boisterous children. There are exceedingly attractive women daintily picking at their food with their less-than-comparably attractive male companions. The man sitting next to us last night was either dining with prostitutes or happens to have two beautiful blond-haired daughters who dress as if they are always in a nightclub or cocktail lounge. All in all, Trilye offers personality, something that is all too rare in the Ankara dining scene.

Early in the night, Süreyya Üzmez, the owner and head chef, mingles with the diners. Dressed in a bespoke tan blazer and crisp shirt, he effortlessly chats up regular customers and first-time visitors alike. Üzmez walks with the grace and confidence of a man who knows he’s about to impress a room full of people with his food. As business picks up, he retreats to the kitchen and dons the white chef’s garb, leaving his capable wait staff to tend to the full house.

Starters at Trilye are selected in typical Turkish fashion from a tray of cellophane-wrapped samples. Although effective in its presentation, I find this approach to be less than elegant, unnecessarily cheapening the appearance of the food.

From the 25 or so options, my friend and I select three. The best of these was the zucchini in yogurt. Topped with pine and walnuts and seasoned with dill, the taste was smooth and creamy, as complex in flavor as it was simple. The smoked salmon wrapped around another yogurt-zucchini mix and the stuffed pumpkin blossom were also quite good. All three exhibited a sophisticated approach to cooking that just isn’t common in Ankara.

Both of our main courses were more traditional takes on seafood. The octopus, often a difficult item to prepare, was deftly grilled and avoided the gamy taste that tends to come from less-skillful kitchens. Although the portion was a bit small and the presentation lackluster, it was still a very tasty dish.

The best of the two was the swordfish. Also grilled to perfection, it was everything you’d expect from a top-caliber fish restaurant.

Our only complaint about these entrées was the price. At 20TL for the octopus and 50TL for the swordfish ($12.90 and $32.20 at 1.55TL/$), both felt overpriced. Without question, they were delicious and a testament to Trilye’s quality. But I probably wouldn’t order them again at such a high cost relative to the creativity that was put into them.

Our dinner was concluded with two excellent desserts. The markonat pie, consisting of ice cream layers drenched with copious amount of melted chocolate, was simple but tasty.

The chocolate soufflé, though, was most impressive. It displayed near perfect fluffiness, and the flavor was superb. This was a dessert that could confidently be served in almost any restaurant in the world.

When I eat out, usually the best sign of a place’s quality is if I want to go back again. Not too many places achieve this status, but Trilye is definitely one of them. The menu is large, and throughout our dinner my friend and I saw many items go by that stirred up that ‘I-want-it’ feeling. And beyond the food, I ask you this: how many places in Ankara (or maybe even Turkey) can you see a waiter move from table to table cooking strawberries in liquid nitrogen?

Trilye is located on Hafta Sk. off Reşit Galip Cad. in Gaziosmanpaşa. It goes without saying that you should come prepared to spend a lot of money, although the starters and desserts are quite reasonably priced, usually between 5TL and 15TL ($3.20 and $9.70). Alcohol is served, and reservations are required in advance (Telephone #: 0312 447 12 00).

P.S. Exterior shot of the restaurant was nicked from the web. I forgot to take one of my own.

“The East Campus Köfte Man” July 11, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Street Food, Turkish Cuisine.
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Street food in Ankara has this interesting tendency to be prepared in the back of modified vans. Earlier in the year I profiled two of these vehicular eateries that dish out some exceptional köfte. Little did I know, though, that another great option is located almost within eyeshot of my lojman window.

Just before the gate to the east campus of Bilkent University (my employer), Abi Esat parks his van and on most nights cooks up a variety of quick eats that are renown throughout Ankara. People drive from all over the city to sample his goods, and it is without a doubt worth the trip.

Like the other vehicles I wrote about, Esat’s köfte is particularly good. The seasoning and toppings strike a near-perfect mix that provoke groans of satisfaction after the first bite. Combined with the option for melted kaşar on top, it might be the best I’ve encountered.

However, Esat’s star attraction is his antrikot. Dervied from the French word entrecôte, meaning ‘between the ribs’, this premium cut of beef is an uncommon offering in the form of street food and makes for a highly delectable treat. Be sure to ask for it with cheese for some added flavor.

To reach Esat’s van, take Bilkent 1. Cad. to 9. Cad. and look to the right shortly before the campus entrance (Google Maps). He’s usually around most nights after 20:00 or 21:00 and stays open until late. Köfte is priced at 5TL ($3.20 at 1.55TL/$), while the antrikot is a bit more pricy at 10TL ($6.45). There is also self-service midye available for 0.50TL ($0.30) each.

Boğaziçi Lokantası July 6, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Many people are unaware that Ottoman cuisine is distinct what from we typically associate with Turkish cooking today. In the days of the sultans, food was a serious endeavor. Legions of chefs were employed in the palaces of İstanbul, preparing intricate meals for thousands of people at a time. These chefs were influenced by the different regional cuisines brought into the empire over the years of conquest. They incorporated diverse ingredients and developed new cooking techniques, producing unique creations like restiyye, mahmudiyye and kavun dolma.

Such efforts displayed the importance of the culinary arts during the Ottoman period. Food was so important that it even featured prominently in structure of the Janissaries, the military elite of the empire. In From the Caucasus to the Roof of the World: a culinary adventure, Bert Fragner writes:

The commanders of the main divisions were known as the Soupmen, other high ranking officers were the Chief Cook, Scullion, Baker, and Pancake Maker. The huge cauldron used to make pilaf had a special symbolic significance for the Janissaries, as the central focus of each division. The kitchen was also the center of politics, for whenever the Janissaries demanded a change in the Sultan’s Cabinet, or the head of a grand vizier, they would overturn their pilaf cauldron. “Overturning the cauldron,” is an expression still used today to indicate a rebellion in the ranks.

Although its influence endures, Ottoman-style restaurant are rather uncommon in most Turkish cities, including Ankara. Through a recommendation from the chef at Akdeniz Mutfağı in the Bilkent Hotel, I found Boğaziçi Lokantası in Ulus. It has received many accoldades, including a feature on NTV by Vedat Milor, one of the most respected Turkish gourmets. Surprisingly, though, my friends and I found our dinner to be quite bad, unremarkable at best. We failed to see anything in the food that was worthy of the laudatory newspaper clippings affixed to the walls.

Part of me wants to say that my palate isn’t sufficiently tuned to the intricacies of Ottoman cuisine. I’m never been one to claim any particular culinary expertise. But I don’t think my taste is the problem in case of Boğaziçi Lokantası; I think it just isn’t that good of a restaurant.

The food at Boğaziçi is pre-prepared and kept simmering on a stove top in a manner similar to the famed and very excellent Çiya Sofrası in İstanbul. In order to sample the breadth of the restaurant, I asked the manager to bring a mix of the best selections for the table to share. What we each received was a single large plate filled with what I would estimate to be six items or so. I’m not completely sure since they all sort of bled together, yielding something that I can’t help but describe as a blob of Ottoman food. The arrangement made it impossible to differentiate between flavors. But to be honest, I don’t think there were actually many worth distinguishing.

The meal became even worse when the check arrived. Our mixed selection with a few waters, ayrans and salads for the table came to 30TL ($19.25 at 1.56TL/$) per person, an absurd amount of money for a restaurant in this section of the city and, in general, for food of this quality. We initially thought that we had been scammed (since we were a group of six yabancıs), but after consultation with Deniz from Yemek Lazım, a great authority on Ankara dining, I learned that Boğaziçi is indeed this expensive.

Boğaziçi Lokantası is located on Denizciler Cad. in Ulus (Google Maps). There is another branch is Gaziosmanpaşa on Vedat Dalokay Cad.

Galga Moğol Izgara July 6, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Some Turks, particularly those of a more nationalistic persuasion, like to emphasize the Turkic roots of Genghis Khan, which would ostensibly connect Mongolian barbecue to Turkish cuisine if was not, in fact, a product of Taiwan. Yes, it’s true: inspired by the Japanese-style teppanyaki that was popular at the time, Mongolian barbecue was started in Tapei in 1976 and is only loosely related to its namesake. And if you really want to get specific, most present-day Mongolians are descended the Kahalkas, a Tungusic/Chinese people who adopted the Turkic nomadic lifestyle, so the culinary connection to Turkey becomes even more distant. But this is not a blog about central Asia, so I digress.

The point of all this is that there is a Mongolian barbecue in Ankara, and it’s pretty good. Galga Moğol Izgara, as it is called, is located in the CEPA AVM and delivers the typical Mongolian-barbecue experience.

At Galga, you first select your protein: beef, lamb, chicken or seafood. Next, you assemble one bowl of vegetables from the buffet, and then in another you add the noodles of your choice topped with a variety of sauces and spices. Both are passed over to the grill where they are mixed and cooked. The final product is brought to your table when ready.

Dinner at Galga is particularly satisfying because it offers flavors that you don’t find in Turkish food. Ingredients like ginger, curry, sesame oil, soy and sweet-and-sour sauces can be very refreshing to the palate. Sometimes you just need respite from kebabs, and after the disappointment at Köşebaşı earlier last week, this was certainly the case for me.

You can find Galga Moğol Izgara on the top floor of CEPA in the food court (Google Maps). Malls are never the most elegant setting for dinner, but trust me, you won’t be disappointed in this case. Prices are reasonable: a typical meal comes to around 15TL ($9.50 at 1.57TL/$) including a drink.

Köşebaşı June 30, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
Tags: ,

When evaluating restaurants, I often like to separate them into those that offer life-changing experiences and those that don’t. I like this categorization because it reflects the transformative potential of a good meal. At its pinnacle, food has the capacity to push our senses to places they’ve never been before. Such experiences are rare; I can think of only a handful during my time in Turkey. But when they do occur, these moments of gastronomic brilliance, your world slows down, turned only by each bite you take.

I’ve evoked this life-changing language in several posts over the past few weeks to convey what several places did not offer. This is not a mark of disappointment; it’s unreasonable to go into every meal expecting an earth-shaking culinary experience. Most times, in fact, I’m quite content with good food at a good price. However, there are times when I want to be wowed and money is not a concern. One such time was last weekend.

Köşebaşı makes bold claims about itself on its website. To quote the ‘About Us’ page:

Kosebasi was voted as one of “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” by the 14,000 members of Conde Nast Traveler magazine and was awarded with “International Tourism, Hotel and Catering Industries Prize” as the best representative of the traditional Turkish cuisine. Kosebasi was also cited as “the best kebab restaurant in Istanbul” by Time magazine.

Kosebasi’s global fame has received numerous bookings from all over the world and continues to attract many celebrities including Jack Nicholson, Chelsea Clinton, Warren Beatty, Sting, Tim Zagat and Donna Karan.

Köşebaşı has several branches in the more chi-chi sections of İstanbul as well as in Ankara and İzmir. It also has expanded internationally to Athens, São Paulo, Bahrain and Dubai. Given this reputation and global reach, I had to venture up to Gaziosmanpaşa on Sunday for a potentially life-changing dinner. Did Köşebaşı offer this superlative experience? The answer, I’m sorry to report, was a resounding no.

You might think it takes some hubris on my part to proclaim that Köşebaşı is a decidedly mediocre restaurant in the face of accolades from fabled magazines like Condé Nast Traveler and Time. But I can do so in this case without reservation. The food was simply not good enough to match the acclaim it advertises.

Köşebaşı features the ‘traditional recipes of South Anatolia’. Popular offerings like beyti, çöp şiş, kanat, patlıcanlı kebap and lahmacun are all on the menu. Köşebaşı also makes some specialties, such as şaşlık kebabı and terbiyeli şiş, both of which I had not previously seen in other restaurants. Per the recommendation of the waiter, my friend and I ordered these dishes in addition to the spinach salad and spicy bulgar ezme for starters.

The food at Köşebaşı is not bad, but it’s far from remarkable. The spicy bulgar ezme is exactly what you’d expect: typical ezme with some bulgar and extra spice in it. The spinach salad diverged from expectations only by the inclusion of a few raisins for a bit of sweetness and texture. Our entrées, the most expensive items on the menu, were overcooked and served with a lackluster side of seasoned onions, peppers and roasted tomatoes as well as some generic, straight-from-the-bag lavaş. Simply put, these are not the trappings of one of the world’s ‘top 50 restaurants’.

Köşebaşı highlights a long-standing grievance that I have with Turkish cuisine: the insistence on cooking meat well done. No one (except Turks, it seems) wants to eat leather, especially at a purportedly top-quality restaurant. Far too often I regret forgetting to ask the chef for ‘çok kanlı‘ when I ordering beef or certain cuts of lamb. I’m the first person to recognize that there are differences in taste across cultures and these are usually something to be celebrated. But in the case of meat there is no going around it: well done is not acceptable.

To end an already sub-par meal, my friend and I ordered the künefe for dessert, which has been recommended to me by several readers. I have long maintained, somewhat snobbishly I’ll admit, that there is no good künefe in Turkey outside of Hatay, the southern city most renown for this dish. To date, everything I have had in Ankara has proven this theory to be correct. Köşebaşı further added to my credibility. This particular offering was terrible. There was an almost negligible amount of cheese in it, accentuating the taste and consistency of the kadayif. How can any respectable establishment serve künefe with such an egregious oversight?

I suspect that the original Köşebaşı in İstanbul was (or maybe still is) a very good restaurant. The Condé Nast top 50 ranking (at least the one framed on the wall in the Ankara branch) is from 1999, four years after Köşebaşı was founded. It was likely based on early work by a talented chef that attracted some deserved attention from the press. But in the eleven years since then, my guess is that Köşebaşı’s owners decided to use the notoriety as a basis for an ambitious expansion, first around Turkey then abroad, which ultimately compromised the quality of the food in the name of profit. Now Köşebaşı is best suited for duping rich Turks and foreigners out of their money under the guise of being world-class Turkish cuisine. There is far better elsewhere in Ankara for far less money.

Köşebaşı is located on Kuleli Sk. in Gaziosmanpaşa (Google Maps). Prices are upmarket: starters cost around 8TL each while entrées average at 18TL. Alcohol is served.

Köz Köfte June 27, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Köfte, like döner, is another ubiquitous favorite of Turkish cuisine around the city, and also like döner, it comes in varying degrees of quality. In the early days of this blog, I wrote about Roka, a köfte joint in Bahçelievler that puts a twist on the norm with a large, table-top salad. Through an email from Başask, I learned that there are more places in Ankara that offer this option. She recommended Köz Köfte in Ulus for an even better version of the offerings at Roka. Yesterday, I finally got around to making to the trip across town and would agree with Başak: it’s definitely better.

The formula at Köz Köfte is familiar: a collection of greens and other veggies are spread over the table, doused with lemon juice and topped with roasted garlic and tomatoes. Köz Köfte, though, makes a nice addition with several pieces of çiğ köfte. While I will admit that this particular batch was very much on the average side, it was still a great complement to the lettuce and lemon.

You are given three options for your köfte: acılı (spicy), sade (plain) and kaşarlı (with cheese). Given my preference for spice, I went with the acılı. It was fresh and nicely prepared. In particular, I appreciated that it was not inundated with salt. The meal is finished with a serving of delicious helva, which compares favorably to that of Recep Usta and Çukurağa Sofrası.

The sentiment that I expressed back in September about Roka and last week about the döner at Süha’nın Yeri is also applicable with Köz Köfte: this is not a life-changing meal. The köfte is very tasty and I like the addition of the salad to the meal, but I still tend to find that the best köfte in Ankara comes from the mobile eateries that I wrote about in January.

Although novel compared to the norm, the salad-köfte model remains in need of innovation. It’s not enough to spread a bunch of greens on top of a table. Köz Köfte is on the right track with the çiğ köfte, but why not include some ezme and maybe hummus as well? Without a few additions, the salad will always feel somewhat underutilized.

Köz Köfte is on Kazım Karabekir Cad. (Google Maps). A portion of köfte with drink comes to around 14TL ($8.90 at 1.58TL/$).

Süha’nın Yeri June 24, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.

Döner kebab is everywhere in Ankara, but the honest truth of the matter is that most are pretty average. Dryness and poor-quality meat unfortunately tend to be all-too-common features in the majority of offerings. For the tiny amount you pay, though, it’s usually bearable and still a sufficiently tasty bite to eat.

Some döner, of course, is better than others. In a previous post, I profiled Gülsoy, my favorite quick-and-cheap eatery on Sakarya Cad. They tend to make a good product that is consistent and avoids the pitfalls mentioned above. But in the end it’s still fairly conventional.

Süha’nın Yeri is a different story. Their döner is made from veal, an uncommon meat to find in Turkey and certainly a surprise to see in this particular form. The result is delicious and puts a new spin on one of the world’s fast-food favorites.

The veal at Süha’nın Yeri is special (or so the manager told me). It is sourced from a particular butcher, and all of the tendons are meticulously removed before it is marinated for a day. The meat is then stacked and rotated in front of charcoal instead of the typical gas flame found in most döner places. And rather than serving it in the standard yarım ekmek, the final product is inserted into a hallowed-out piece of toasted bread. Onion and tomatoes come on the side to be added according to your taste.

This is not a change-your-life sort of meal, but the döner at Süha’nın Yeri is undoubtedly very good. I appreciate the innovation on a classic item that, as I said earlier, can be quite average at times. If you ever find yourself tiring of the options prevalent on the streets of Kızılay, I’d give this one a try.

Süha’nın Yeri is located on Bestekar Sk. in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). It is only open for lunch each day, starting at 11:00 and closing usually around 14:00. There was a steady stream of people coming in and out while I was there today, always a good sign in any restaurant.

The döner at Süha’nın Yeri, being made of high-quality veal, is much more expensive than normal. One portion costs 10TL ($6.30 at 1.58TL/$). If you’re have a big appetite, you should probably get the bir bucuk size for 15TL ($9.50). Köfte is also served, but I can’t comment on the quality as I have not tried it yet.

Doğata June 20, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Breakfast, Turkish Cuisine.
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When I visited Atatürk Orman Çiftliği two week ago, I was reminded that in addition to having very good kokoreç, Doğata is also renown for its Sunday brunch buffet. I have previously profiled the morning offerings of Liva and Big Chefs on this blog, so I thought it would be appropriate to make the trip and see what Doğata has to offer.

In general, the buffet is good. The spread is traditional and features the staples of a Turkish breakfast. Cheese, vegetables, fruits, jams, börek, poğaça, simit and dolma are all in attendance. That is also a station where omelets and other egg dishes are made to order. I sampled the karşık omlet and sucuklu yumurta, and both were very tasty.

Doğata’s main selling point is that many of the ingredients are sourced directly from the A.O.Ç. This fresh difference is quite evident in the food. While there is nothing revolutionary about the buffet, there is certainly a lot to enjoy about a Turkish breakfast done simply and well.

Doğata doesn’t offer the elegance or sophistication of Liva or Big Chefs, although the simple garden setting is a pleasant place to spend a Sunday morning. It doesn’t have the magnificent pastries and desserts, either. But Doğata does have the edge when it comes to price: 16TL ($10.30 at 1.56TL/$) is an amazing bargain compared to the 30TL ($19.25) you will spend at the other, more upscale places.

Doğata is certainly worth a visit. It won’t change your life, but you’re unlikely to walk away from the brunch feeling unsatisfied. Some of my friends even suggested that the smaller selection and lower price made Doğata more attractive than Liva or Big Chefs because you don’t feel the need to overeat, a common pitfall at buffets when a cornucopia of food is placed before you..

Doğata is located on Silahtar Cad. in the A.O.Ç. (Google Maps). In addition to the 16TL Sunday brunch, it also offers a 11TL ($7) breakfast plate every other day of the week.

Pikolet June 17, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.

In my never-ending quest to find the best kokoreç in Ankara, I followed a recommendation from the comments section of an earlier post and checked out Pikolet. At this point in the contest, the competition is fierce: Kıtır and Profesör have been impressive, but the lead is currently being held by Doğata Satış Mağazası in Atatürk Orman Çiftliği. Pikolet performs well against these competitors with some very good sebzeli kokoreç. In the end, though, it falls a bit short of beating them.

I tend to judge kokoreç based on the balance displayed between flavor and consistency. Good kokoreç will exhibit enough spicing to bring out and complement the natural flavors of the lamb and vegetables without becoming overwhelming. It will also maintain a consistency that is fine enough to avoid being overly chewy while still able to provide sufficient texture in each bite. This balance is not something quantifiable; I can’t say that this kokoreç is 21 percent better than that kokoreç. But it’s the basis I use when judging these places, something I’ve honed by consuming dozens and dozens of portions.

I enjoyed the kokoreç at Pikolet. Particularly for the vegetable variety (I tend to prefer the izgara ones), it’s very tasty. However, I’d probably go to the other places mentioned above before returning here. There’s not a drastic different; it’s simply a matter of preference, which ultimately is the final arbiter in taste. You can’t go wrong with any of them, so try each of these places and decide on the best for yourself.

In the upcoming weeks, I’m going to be checking out the kokoreç at Rumeli. Although known more for its işkembe, several readers have recommended it to me for consideration in my rankings.

Pikolet is located on Gençlik Cad., not far from Düveroǧlu (Google Maps). The other branch of Profesör is also nearby if you want to check out the competition. A yarım portion of kokoreç costs 7TL ($4.50 at 1.57TL/$). Köfte and midye dolması are sold at Pikolet as well.