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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.

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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.

New York Pizza Delivery June 14, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Over many years and waves of immigration, the United States has transformed pizza into a food that is almost as much American as it is Italian. From deep dish in Chicago to the wide, thin and floppy style in New York City, regional variations reflect the impressive diversity of our nation’s people and their cooking.

This culture of pizza-making might come as a surprise to many outside of the U.S., where Domino’s and Pizza Hut have become ubiquitous in promoting their mediocre product. This is certainly the case in Ankara. My friends and I have consumed far too much of this junk-food pizza simply as a matter of connivence and cheapness. Recently, though, our lives have been greatly improved by the discovery of New York Pizza Delivery (NYPD).

As the name suggests, NYPD takes its inspiration from the famed slices of the Big Apple. It does proper justice to the original, indicative, I think, of some experience making pizza outside of Turkey. After eating at NYPD this weekend, one of my friends quite aptly stated that they are doing too many things correctly to have learned how to make New York-style pizza in this country.

The menu at NYPD is large and features an assortment of pizzas. I’ve sampled the Chinese (topped with mozzarella, curry chicken, bean sprouts, spring onion, garlic, mushroom, carrots and hot sauce), the BBQ chicken (mozzarella, NYPD BBQ sauce, chicken marinated with special sauce, olive oil, garlic and parsley) and the Manhattan (mozzarella, labne, tomatoes, garlic and basil). All are excellent.

NYPD also offers pastas, salads, sandwiches and some other Italian favorites. My friends and I tried the Philly cheese steak and the calzone (which is amusingly classified as İtalyan Börekleri, I might add). Both were decent, but the pizza remains the star attraction at NYPD. Definitely try an order of garlic bread, though.

In Ankara, both Mezzaluna and Paper Moon make good pizza as well, albeit of a more gourmet, expensive variety. Their pies are examples of a more traditional, Italian style. I certainly enjoy this type, but at the end of the day I’m find myself more inclined to desire the greasy, floppy goodness of a New York City slice at NYPD.

New York Pizza Delivery has locations on Gençlik Cad. in Anıtepe and Turan Güneş Bulvarı in Yıldız (Google Maps). Prices are very reasonable. A small pizza, enough for one person, costs around 11TL ($7 at 1.57TL/$), while the larger two- and three-to-four-person sizes come in at about 25TL and 29TL ($16 and $18.50), respectively. The other items on the menu are generally priced at 10TL ($6.40) or under. It’s also worth noting that NYPD (obviously) delivers; call or check Yemeksepeti to see if they come to your neighborhood.

Mickey’s by Las Chicas May 17, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Mexican food outside of North America generally comes in varying levels of mediocrity, and Ankara is no exception. The options for satisfying your south-of-the-border craving are limited to the one and only Mexican place in town, Las Chicas.

It’s actually not as bad as you would think. I’ve always left Las Chicas feeling quite content. It’s a welcome change from the monotony of kebabs and other staples of Turkish cuisine. Is it authentic Mexican food? No. But without question Las Chicas plays a necessary role in the life of any expat living in Ankara, even if it does serve Doritos with its salsa.

This weekend I found that Las Chicas has been rebranded as ‘Mickey’s by Las Chicas’. As the Americanized name suggests (evoking Disney, I suppose), the restaurant has taken on the style and tone of the ‘casual dining’ establishments popularized by my native land. The menu still contains Mexican favorites, but now includes items very much at home in an Applebee’s or Chili’s.

The burritos at Mickey’s remain pleasing; I was quite happy with my ‘Hot BBQ’. The ‘Supreme Nachos’, while generally a standard, unimaginative appetizer in most places, were impressive because they feature homemade tortilla chips. These are not a common sight in Turkey.

The more conventional items on the menu, such as the fried chicken salad and sandwich, were about what you’d except: tasty, safe, but basically average.

The highlight of our meal at Mickey’s was the ‘Spicy Buffalo Wings’. Too often in this country the label ‘spicy’ is applied with excessive liberality, rarely appropriate in most cases. (Seriously, Turks, acılı adana is not spicy at all; you won’t convince me otherwise.) But these particular buffalo wings delivered good, strong flavor. They would be a respectable offering in America, and in Turkey they’re essentially a delicacy. I suspect my friends and I will be visiting Mickey’s again soon for some more.

Mickey’s by Las Chicas is located on Arjantin Cad. in Gaziosmanpaşa (Google Maps). There is another branch in Çayyolu. Prices are high in accordance with these more upscale locations. Appetizers range between 10 and 15TL ($6.50 and $9 at 1.54TL/$), and most main courses will run you around 20TL ($13). Alcohol is served, although it’s offensively expensive. It should be a crime to charge 7TL ($4.50) for a 33cl bottle of Efes.

Guangzhou Wuyang April 13, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Chinese food has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The mere use of the label is almost always hopelessly vague in practice. Within China itself every region possesses distinct culinary traditions, ranging from Cantonese in the south to Szechuan in the west to Shandong in the east. Outside the country each immigrant population incorporates varying levels of authenticity in its cooking combined with an equally variable amount of adaptation to local taste. Thus depending on where you live and travel, you’ll develop a personal understanding for what you call “Chinese food”.

In Ankara the options for Chinese, like most foreign cuisine, are quite limited. One such option is Guangzhou Wuyang in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). Two weeks ago I sampled its cooking and found the experience to be very satisfying. Was it the best Chinese food I’ve ever had? No. But did I leave feeling happy? You bet.

Guangzhou Wuyang takes some liberties with its menu, going beyond typical Chinese food to offer both Japanese and Korean as well. This multiethnic approach is similar to Sushi Co. and Quick China, the other popular Asian restaurants in Ankara. But on the whole Guangzhou Wuyang still strikes me as being far more authentic; its competitors feel more at home in a shopping mall than anywhere in China. Further adding to its authenticity, Guangzhou Wuyang was full of Asians during my dinner. This is always a positive sign when rating Chinese food in a foreign city.

If you dine with a friend, I’d recommend the “Menu for Two”. You’ll be able to taste the full range of the menu in a cost-effective manner. It includes soup, kim chi, egg rolls, sweet-and-sour chicken, beef and broccoli, fried rice and dessert.  At 35TL ($23 at 1.49TL/$) per person, it’s pricey by Ankara standards, but a good value for the amount of food you get. And for those desiring a beer with their dinner, alcohol is served.

Burger Story March 23, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Turks often ask me for examples of traditional American cooking. Such examples are difficult to ascertain since our cuisine is in many ways an amalgamation of the different culinary styles brought to our great country by numerous waves of immigration. One distinctly American food, though, is the hamburger. Originating in the late 1800s, the exact birthplace and inventor of this sandwich remain subjects of dispute. But through the popularity of American chain restaurants, it’s impact on dining both in the U.S. and around the world is uncontested.

There is more to a burger than the Big Mac or Whopper. Many who are used to these fast-food staples often forget that all burgers are not created equal. Restaurants across America create far more intricate, gourmet versions that incorporate top-quality meats and special ingredients, such as blue cheese, jalapeños or even lobster. In Ankara, the options for high-end burgers like this are quite limited. The recent opening of the Kentpark A.V.M bought a new place for those craving beef-laden deliciousness. Appropriately named Burger Story, this establishment delivers the goods for those seeking American-style tastes here in Turkey.

Burger Story’s menu offers about a dozen options ranging from the classic to the more complex.  The cornerstone of these burgers is the excellent meat. You’ll immediately notice the fresh-ground difference. Several burgers are also topped with some nice sauces, a welcome addition in a country where the food is too often sauce-less.

I’ve visited Burger Story twice in the past few weeks and was really impressed with the more traditional offerings. I’d highly recommend the caramelized onion and mushroom burgers. The cheese streak, rokfor soslu and “White Castle” are also quite good. However, avoid the falafel “veggie” burger; the flavor is dry and overpowering from the excessive starch.

You might be enticed by Burger Story’s milkshake selection. While better than most in Turkey, they’re sadly underwhelming if you’ve ever had a proper milkshake in America. They lack the thickness that, for example, separates a chocolate milkshake from chocolate milk. My friends reported otherwise after a different visit, but I still expect more consistency for the premium price.

Burger Story is on the ground floor of Kentpark (Google Maps). To the chagrin of my bank account, it’s on the pricey side. Burgers average between 15TL and 20TL ($10 and $13 at 1.53TL/$).

Café des Cafés February 23, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Although this blog was created to be a repository of the best places to eat in Ankara, it’s sometimes necessary to chronicle the restaurants that fail to impress as well. One such establishment is Café des Cafés in Kavaklidere. This chic, French-inspired eatery was recommended to me by several people, including the Ankara section of Lonely Planet. Despite such positive reviews, I can say without reservation that my lunch at Café des Cafés was the most disappointing of my time in this city.

At first glance, Café des Cafés looks promising based on appearances alone. The decor and ambience are charming and a welcome change from the sterile, uninspired design prevalent in most Ankara restaurants. It’s the sort of place one might envision on some side street in Paris. The menu also looks appealing. I have previously written about an expat’s need for respite from Turkish food, and Café des Cafés appears to provide such relief. It offers a sizable variety of bistro fare, ranging from sandwiches to salads to pastas. But the accolades stop at the food.

My friend and I sampled a varied selection of items for our lunch today to test the diversity of the menu. We ordered the Greek salad to start. Despite allegiances to my current country-of-residence, I will admit that Greeks make a superior salad. So naturally I was quite disappointed to see Café des Cafés slaughter such a tasty dish. An overabundance of lettuce, soggy olives and a poor excuse for feta cheese left the salad largely tasteless. Still, I tried to keep my hopes up for the rest of the meal despite the early misstep.

Per the advice of my friend Jim, better known as Eski Kanka on the football blog The Round Ball in Ankara, I ordered the sosis steak sandviç. I must have misunderstood his recommendation because it was, simply put, the most disgusting thing I’ve eaten in Turkey. A sloppy mess of ketchup, melted cheese and Turkish hot dogs (you know exactly what mean by “Turkish” if you’ve ever eaten one), I couldn’t bring myself to finish the sandwich. It might be the only time in recent memory that I wasn’t able to clean my plate at a restaurant. Indeed, I made more progress on the brain salad last week.

My dining companion did only slightly better with the margherita bruschetta. When ordering bruschetta in a typical Italian restaurant, one expects to receive something reminiscent of small toasted bread slices topped with seasoned diced tomatoes. What we got today, however, would be more at home in the frozen food section of an American gas station than anywhere in Italy. The “bruschetta” (I’ll use quotation marks to signify a blatant misnomer) was actually cheesy bread with a diluted tomato paste sauce. It’s the sort of snack I would microwave during the wee hours of the morning in college, not what I expected to see at a café in one of the trendiest areas of Ankara.

Whenever I have such a decidedly horrendous dining experience at a otherwise decent-looking place, I tend to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt and suggest that I ordered the wrong things. I don’t think I can do that with Café des Cafés. I left today with the feeling that it is the type of place that specializes in duping wealthy Turks with faux-European food. But take this review for what it’s worth, especially since I am writing this with the vitriol inspired by a terrible meal still pumping through my veins.

Café des Cafés is located on the popular Tunalı Hilmi Cad. in Kavaklidere (Google Maps). Prices are upmarket: Lunch for two people followed by coffee costed 55TL ($36 at 1.52TL/$).

LeMan Kültür January 5, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine, Turkish Cuisine.
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Named after the satirical Turkish comic book series, LeMan Kültür provides some much-needed novelty to the Ankara dining scene. This popular eatery bustles with city’s student crowd and offers a pleasing fusion of Turkish and international cuisine. Amidst the artistic décor and pulsating music, it’s a fun place to share a meal with friends before heading out for a night of revelry in the clubs and bars around Sakarya Cad.

The food at LeMan is good, but by no means life changing. It could be described as something comparable to the American “casual” dining franchises (T.G.I. Friday’s, Applebee’s, Chili’s, etc.). LeMan’s menu is large and diverse, with options ranging from pesto tortellini to Chinese egg rolls to chicken fajitas. They provide welcome alternatives to the staples of Turkish dining that pervade most Kızılay restaurants. LeMan also puts a twist on some of these favorites, a good example of which is the köfteli sandviç. Topped with an excellent eggplant-garlic-cheese sauce, this sandwich has been something of an addiction for me and many of my friends over the past year. It revitalizes the ubiquitous köfte meatballs found all over the city with a dynamic flavor that manages to satisfy both your taste and your appetite. And at 8.50TL ($5.80 at 1.47TL/$), the price cannot be beat.

LeMan Kültür is located on Konur Sk., off Meşrutiyet Cad., in Kızılay (Google Maps). There appears to be another branch in Bahçeli (Google Maps), but I can’t comment on its similarity or quality. Prices at LeMan are reasonable and range between 6TL and 14TL ($4.00 and $9.50). A good variety of alcohol is also served. For those who are tired of Efes Pilsen (i.e. every non-Turk in Turkey), there is Tuborg on tap.

Mezzaluna December 26, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Living abroad can be at its most challenging during the holiday season. In addition to the separation from friends and family, the absence of certain culinary comforts often makes the distance from home seem all the farther. Twenty-five percent of me is Italian, and as such my Christmas meals have always been laden with the fare of the old country. Although there isn’t a true replacement in Ankara, I found Mezzaluna to be an acceptable alternative for grandma’s cooking this year.

Originating in New York City, Mezzaluna came to Turkey in 1995 and currently operates eleven branches across the country. The menu and quality are very similar to that of Paper Moon, the other upmarket Italian chain in Turkey. While I would say that Mezzaluna isn’t quite as good, I prefer it because of the (slightly) lower prices and they don’t gouge you for water.

The pizza is the star attraction at Mezzaluna. Sizable and tasty, they feature unique Italian ingredients that are a delight to the pork lover living in a Muslim country. The eponymously named Mezzaluna (topped with prosciutto, mushrooms, eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce) as well as the Rossa (sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, black olives, capers, mozzarella and tomato sauce) are sure to please. The pasta dishes are also quite good, but I find the portions to be a bit too small for my appetite.

Mezzaluna has two locations in Ankara, one in Bilkent and another in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). Entreés are priced between 20TL and 30TL ($13.20 and $19.80 at 1.51TL/$). Alcohol is served.

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.