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The End July 11, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in News.
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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!

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Trilye July 11, 2010

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