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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.

Düveroǧlu Kebap ve Baklava Salonu May 5, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Desserts, Turkish Cuisine.
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I’ve eaten in more than twenty cities during my travels around Turkey, and I can say with confidence that Gaziantep stands out as one of the best. Located about 50 kilometers from the Syrian border, the Arabic influence is evident in Gaziantep’s cuisine and separates it from other Turkish cities through a distinctive use of local ingredients and spicing. Gaziantep is also particularly well known for its baklava, Turkey’s beloved layered dessert. Rumor has it that P.M. Erdoğan gets his baklava flown in each week from İmam Çağdaş, the most famous restaurant and baklavaci in the city. I can understand his preference: I would make the trip to Gaziantep just for another meal at that place.

Gaziantep-style restaurants are prevalent all over Turkey, but few replicate the quality of their inspiration. In Ankara, several people have recommended Düveroǧlu Kebap ve Baklava Salonu as a place worth trying for a taste of southern cooking in central Anatolia. So I did, three times, and was generally underwhelmed.

The food at Düveroǧlu is good, but unexceptional. The kebabs are similar in quality to most other places in Ankara, although I did appreciate seeing some Haleb-inspired offerings on the menu. The lahmacun is also a bit better than most. But in general I didn’t taste anything at Düveroǧlu that evoked the culinary superiority of Gaziantep.

Düveroǧlu’s saving grace is its baklava, which is admittedly quite good. It’s probably the best I’ve had in Ankara. However, this isn’t saying much since most baklava is disappointing after you’ve sampled the real thing in Gaziantep. Güllüoglu in İstanbul might be the only exception I’ve encountered to this rule.

Düveroǧlu has two locations in Ankara: the main restaurant is in Anıttepe and another branch is in Kızılay (Google Maps). The prices are very reasonable. Most kebabs are priced around 10TL ($6.60 at 1.51TL/$); four pieces of baklava cost about 5TL ($3.30).

Spice Curry House December 3, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Desserts, Foreign Cuisine.
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For the curry-loving expat in Ankara, Spice is an indispensable resource. This Australian-Algerian-Turkish-run establishment offers excellent subcontinental cuisine to a dining scene sorely lacking in variety.

One should not go to Spice expecting a traditional Indian meal. As the diversity of the ownership would suggest, the cooks bring a number of distinct culinary influences to their food. And this is a very good thing. They manage to balance a healthy creative license with a strong appreciation for authenticity, delivering what I have found to be one of the most satisfying dining experiences in the city.

Vegetarians, often the victims of carnivorous onslaughts in Turkish restaurants, will be happy to know that Spice maintains meatless options for their respite. My partner and I were quite pleased with the mushroom curry, a rich blend with zucchini and paneer. The spicing stuck me as something decidedly different from what I have experienced in the US or UK, but it was an innovation that clearly reflected a sort of respectful irreverence for subcontinental style.

Spice also pleases those looking for the internationally beloved classics of Indian cooking. Chicken korma, lamb vindaloo and chicken tikka masala are all represented. I went with the korma and found it quite tasty, although the pieces of chicken were a bit too large for the amount curry sauce.

Possibly the highlight of the meal, though, was the dessert. The sticky toffee pudding is simply amazing. If you live in Ankara, you need to try it immediately. Enough said.

Spice Curry House is located on Çayhane Sk. in Gaziosmanpaşa (Google Maps). The pricing reflects its location in one of the wealthier neighborhoods of the city. Starters and desserts average about 8TL ($5.30 at 1.50TL/$), while meat and meatless entreés cost around 19TL and 12TL ($12.60 and $8), respectively.

Ambrosia Cafe November 13, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Desserts, Foreign Cuisine, Turkish Cuisine.
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In my culinary explorations around Ankara, I’m in constant search for restaurants that successfully combine Turkish and foreign cuisines. The fusion of different cooking cultures is the basis of dynamic flavors in my experience, but far too few places in this city undertake such an effort. Ambrosia Cafe is one such establishment that breaks the mold, offering a wide array of sandwiches, salads, specials and desserts that tastefully deviate from the norms of Turkish dining.

(Full Disclosure: The owners, Sinan and Beyhan, are on my darts team at the British Embassy’s Red Lion Club.)

Ambrosia’s menu changes frequently to keep the offerings fresh, so check their website to view the weekly specials. For lunch this past Wednesday, I had the zucchini soup and curry-chicken börek. Both were excellent. My partner and I also tried the chili, which was average and a bit overpriced at 14.50TL ($9.75 at 1.48TL/$).

The real draw of Ambrosia is the desserts. The cheesecake, in particular, is superb and without question the best I’ve had in Turkey. It’s worth making a trip to Ankara just to try it. The chocolate brownies, apple pie and tiramisu looked delicious as well, but the confines of a reasonable lunch required them to wait for another visit.

Ambrosia Cafe is located on the corner of Şairler Sk. and Nenehatun Cad. (just above Filistin Sk.) in Gaziosmanpaşa (Google Maps). Most items are priced between 6TL and 12TL ($4 and $8). Note: The cafe is open 9:00-19:00, Monday through Saturday.