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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.

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Paper Moon November 13, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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CC PhotoAlthough Ankara lacks the cosmopolitan spender of other European capitals, the city is not devoid of fine dining. Paper Moon, with branches in Milan, New York, Moscow and Istanbul, is a decidedly upscale establishment worthy of acclaim. Offering Italian cuisine at its very best, this restaurant is sure to please those diners looking for authentic flavors, impeccable service and charming ambiance.

Paper Moon’s menu features typical Italian fare: pasta, pizza, meat and fish. It’s difficult to make a bad selection, but the pizza is renown. I sampled the valtellina, which is topped with bresaola, arugola and thinly sliced parmesan cheese. For pasta dishes, my partner was quite pleased with the penne gamberi e zucchine (shrimp and zucchini in a pink sauce).

Some words of warning: Beverages are egregiously overpriced. In my experience, up-market Turkish restaurants are notorious for an excessive markup on alcohol, and Paper Moon adheres to this trend with no shame. For example, a $200 bottle of Dom Pérignon goes for a cool 1700TL ($1150 at 1.48TL/$). Even by the standards of haute couture, a 575% premium is a bit vulgar. And sticking to water will not protect you from price gouging. The imported Italian stuff they pour will set you back 12TL ($8) a bottle, and the waiters will assume you want refills. At the end of the night, the 24TL water tab soured the taste of what was generally a very delicious meal.

Paper Moon is located on Tarhan Cad. in the posh Kavakıdere section of Ankara (Google Maps). Entreés range between 20 and 50TL ($13 to $33).

(Creative Commons photo from Flickr by Murat_S)

Masala Cafe October 26, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.
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Masala Cafe-6I love Turkish food. Really, I do. But I will admit that that lack of restaurant diversity in Ankara has been one of the most challenging aspects of my adjustment to life in Turkey. For perspective, consider Brunswick, Maine, the town where I attended college in America. Despite having a population of only 20,000, the dining scene was impressive, with dozens of options ranging from Thai to Mexican to Japanese to German. Ankara, a city of 4 million people, pales in comparison.

Although the selection is limited, Ankara does possess a few offerings of great foreign food. One of the best is the Masala Cafe, a Pakistani restaurant on Paris Cad. in Çankaya (Google Maps).

Curry is one of my favorite foods, and Masala delivers precisely in this regard. Nine options, such as madrasi, jalfarezi and korma, keep me coming back on a far too regular basis. In my experience, the karahi gosht and aloo palak are particularly noteworthy. Each curry is accompanied by basmati rice and a serving of impeccably seasoned vegetables. There is also a side of salad, which strikes me as a non-Pakistani modification intended to please Turkish patrons.

Prior to receiving your entrée, the table is served chana chat, a delectable mix of chick peas, chopped onions, potatoes, tomatoes, fresh herbs and masala chat. I also recommend ordering the vegetable samosa over the other starters. For drinks, the methi lassi is quite good, a sweet contrast to the salty ayran. But avoid the roh afzah; it has a flavor that could be described as bad fruit punch.

The prices at Masala Cafe are quite reasonable for the quality of the food and size of the portions. Appetizers costs around 4TL each ($2.70 at 1.47TL/$) and curries are priced between 10 and 12.50TL ($6.80 to $8.50).