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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).

Kıtır April 21, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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When I think about the foods I’ll miss most when I leave Turkey, kokoreç and midye rank at the top of the list. Far too often foreigners and Turks alike foolishly balk at eating these delectable dishes, fretting over their purported uncleanliness or mildly suspect preparation. So what, I say, if kokoreç is spiced lamb guts or if midye absorbs heavy metals from seawater? They’re both delicious and simply must not be missed during any trip to this country.

There is no shortage of places in Ankara to consume kokoreç and midye. I previously wrote about Şampiyon Kokoreç on this blog. But if you’re looking for something better than what is prevalent on the streets of Kızılay, I’d check out Kıtır.

With an atmosphere somewhere between a saloon and roadside diner, Kıtır departs from the Ankara norm of tiled floors, florescent lighting and Atatürk pictures. The worn-in wooden tables and blaring 80s hair metal give off a decidedly cool vibe, a feeling too often absent in this city’s restaurants. I immediately felt like Kıtır was the type of place where I’d like to spend an evening casually eating and drinking with friends.

The food at Kıtır is served cafeteria style; you order from a window by the door and give a colored token indicating your selection to the men behind the counter. Draft beer and other drinks are served at the end of the line.

Kıtır’s kokoreç struck me as having a better balance of spices than most other offerings I’ve encountered in Ankara. It also had the correct consistency: chopped finely enough to prevent the meat from being too chewy while still allowing the unique flavor to come through. A final dab of the bread in the grease on the grill didn’t hurt either.

Midye dolma lovers can get their fix at Kıtır, but definitely try the fried version as well. Served crisp and hot from the frier, these midye tava are accompanied by a tasty tartar-like sauce, something that brought me back to my summers spent on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Finally, if you find yourself craving Turkish baked potato, Kıtır makes a very respectable kumpir.

Kıtır has two locations in Ankara, one on Park Cad. in Çayyolu and the other at the end of Tunalı Hilmi Cad. in Kavaklıdere (Google Maps). My dining experience is based on the latter location.

Prices at Kıtır are a bit higher than other places offering similar fare. A portion of kokoreç is priced at 10TL ($6.75 at 1.49TL/$), while one of midye tava comes in at 8TL ($5.40). Kumpir averages around 7TL ($4.70) depending on your toppings.

Meşhur Adıyaman Çiğ Köftecisi April 2, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.

Çiğ köfte, like iskender, is another staple of Turkish cuisine that can be rather underwhelming when poorly prepared. Shortly after arriving in this country, I had several mediocre experiences that left me wondering why çiğ köfte was so popular. It wasn’t until I found Meşhur Adıyaman Çiğ Köftecisi that I grew to appreciate the flavors of this tasty dish.

Meşhur Adıyaman is a chain restaurant with branches all over Turkey and a few abroad. In Ankara alone, there are twenty-five shops. I first discovered Meşhur Adıyaman in Kavaklıdere, the more posh section of the city that suffers from a serious dearth of good, cheap food. When I’m forced to spend an evening in the overpriced bars around Tunalı Hilmi, I get some solace from knowing that delicious and inexpensive çiğ köfte is waiting before I go home.

Meşhur Adıyaman sets itself apart by preparing its dürüm with a combination of pomegranate and spicy sauces, nicely complementing the strong flavors of the çiğ köfte. The man at this location also spreads the “meat” in such way that it is thin enough to avoid overpowering the other ingredients while still giving a distinct taste to each bite. Finally, the lavaş at Meşhur Adıyaman is also thinner than most other places, allowing the çiğ köfte to be the focus of the dürüm, not the bread.

The Kavaklıdere branch of Meşhur Adıyaman is located on Bestekar Sk. under the Corvus Bar (Google Maps). A dürüm costs 3TL ($2 at 1.52TL/$), while half and full portions are priced at 5TL ($3.30) and 10TL ($6.60), respectively.

P.S. If you look at the exterior picture of this Meşhur Adıyaman branch, “etsiz” is visible at the bottom. This seems to suggest that this particular çiğ köfte is made without meat, which strikes me as odd given the name of the dish. I’d appreciate it if someone with greater expertise could fill me in with the truth of the matter. UPDATE: See the comment section for the answer.

UPDATE: I’ve found out that this particular branch is now closed, which is tragic because İbrahim, the man who ran it, truly was an usta. The other Meşhur Adıyaman’s around the city are good, but not  as good as this one.

Kalbur March 8, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.

Although last week’s attempt to find superlative dining in Ankara came up short, I continued the search this weekend with a visit to Kalbur Fish Restaurant. You might be somewhat skeptical of the potential for good seafood in a city located about as far as one can get from a body of water in Turkey. In most cases, you’d be correct. But Kalbur is something very special. By combining traditional cooking techniques with an innovatory approach to seafood, it delivers a meal like no other in Ankara or even, dare I say, Turkey. Without question, Kalbur will change the way you look at Turkish cuisine. It is deserving of the laudatory enthusiasm often heaped upon it by journalists and food aficionados alike.

Situated deep in a quiet residential area of Oran, Kalbur is unassuming from the outside. Simple place settings and unadorned decor give a decidedly understated feel to the ten-table restaurant. The owner, Mehmet, and his wife, Bilen, have been cooking magic in this humble spot since 1990. They have developed a reputation for being a bit cold to their customers, something one might expect from artists overseeing their craft, but all is forgiven once you taste the food.

Kalbur specializes in taking Turkish classics, such as börek, köfte, kokoreç and mantı, and reinventing them with the wonders of the sea. You’re not going to find the typical whole-grilled-fish-on-a-plate offering that one would get on the Kordon in İzmir. Kalbur’s approach represents the type of creative license I so often yearn to see in other Ankara restaurants. More Turkish chefs need to test the balance between respecting culinary tradition and pursuing innovation in their work.

The portions at Kalbur are small and best enjoyed mezze-style with friends. It’s impossible to choose poorly, but some dishes are better than others. It’s also worth noting that the menu changes frequently with ebb and flow of Mehmet and Bilen’s inspiration, so expect some variation on what I describe here.

On Saturday, my friends and I ordered twelve courses covering the whole range of the night’s menu. The salmon dolma, seafood köfte, shrimp börek and grilled octopus were our favorites. Two days later I still find myself imagining their taste in my mouth. We would also recommend trying the artichoke hearts stuffed with a cheese-fish paste and the mixed-seafood calamari dolma. The stuffed mussels, octopus salad and seafood kokoreç were all quite tasty as well, but less remarkable than the others and could be excluded to save on cost. The seafood mantı might have been the only bust of the night, although you should try it for yourself if you generally enjoy traditional equivalent.

Kalbur is located in Oran Şehri Çarşı Merkezi C-3 Blok (Google Maps). It’s not the easiest place to find, but most cab drivers in the area should know the address. Additionally, Kalbur is closed on Mondays and reservations are required at least a week in advance (Telephone #: 312 490 50 01).

As one might expect for a restaurant of its caliber, Kalbur is not cheap. Our bill came to 275TL ($180 at 1.53TL/$), so about 75TL ($49) each for our four-person party after tip. Alcohol is served and rakı is certainly recommend to complement your fish. Do note that credit cards are not accepted.

Çengelhan March 1, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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This weekend I sought the very best dining experience that Ankara has to offer. On most days I’m usually quite content to eat good-quality Turkish food prepared cheaply and without pretension, something one gets at my favorite eatery, Çukurağa Sofrası. But I felt the time had come to test the culinary potential of this city. To do so I visited Çengelhan, the brasserie operated by the Divan Group in the Rahmi M. Koç Museum.

Çengelhan has frequently received great praise when I have asked for dining recommendations. It has also been mentioned by the foreign press as a top place to eat when visiting Ankara. The New York Times writes in its city guide:

As yet another one of Koç’s babies (which include the Divan group of hotels, restaurants, and patisserie), the brasserie offers best in quality and creativity with a menu that gained it membership in the prestigious culinary Chaines des Rotisseurs.

With so many positive reviews in mind, three friends and I went to dinner on Saturday night with high expectations. In the end we found Çengelhan to be a mixed bag: While the dining experience is quite novel, the quality of food falls short of remarkable.

Eating aside, it’s worth dining at Çengelhan simply to take in the surroundings. The restaurant is situated in the glass-covered courtyard of the museum with the tables placed amidst the exhibits. I can safely say it’s the first time I’ve eaten with a biplane hovering above my head and an antique car parked beside me. The service at Çengelhan was impeccable as well. Prompt, courteous and accommodating, the waiters made the meal a very pleasant affair. And for my Anglophone audience, it’s also worth noting that they spoke excellent English.

To begin our meal my friends and I sampled a range of starters, including the içli köfte, artichoke hearts, a selection of dolma and the prawns rolled with kadaif. All were decidedly underwhelming. By no means were they bad, but it would be incorrect to say they were vastly superior to something from a restaurant of lesser repute (and expense). We expected something more dynamic and creative from Çengelhan.

With our expectations diminished by the mediocre starters, we braced ourselves for disappointment when our entrées arrived. Fortunately, we were pleasantly surprised with a tasty meal. The winner of the night was the Halep işi kebap, sort of an iskender-like dish with Arabic influence. The Ankara kuzu tava (lamb shank) was also skillfully prepared and very tender. Finally, the dana beǧendi (braised beef cubes in an eggplant purée) was pleasing, but way too small for anyone with a reasonable appetite.

While our entrées were all quite good, none of us left with the impression that Çengelhan offered the best meal in Ankara. The food was expertly prepared and we appreciated the emphasis on traditional Turkish cuisine. But I didn’t feel a burning desire to return the next day, as is often the case when I eat at a truly remarkable restaurant. Simply put, the menu at Çengelhan is too safe. It’s designed to appeal to a very large audience by doing classic dishes very well and without taking unnecessary risks. For many diners, this is an ideal meal. For me, however, I liked to be challenged by the chef to view food in a different light. I want to taste something more than the technical ability of the kitchen. This level of excellence is required for me to apply a superlative label to any restaurant.

The Koç Museum is located in Altındağ (near Ulus), opposite the entrance to the Citadel (Google Maps). By Ankara standards, Çengelhan is an expensive establishment: Starters average around 17TL ($11 at 1.54TL/$) and entrées are priced between 26TL and 35TL ($17 to $23).

Liva Pastaneleri February 14, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Breakfast, Turkish Cuisine.
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Liva is another strong contender in the battle for the best brunch buffet in Ankara. The famous pastane chain offers a quality spread of Turkish breakfast favorites very similar in size and scope to that of Big Chefs. While both places make for an excellent meal, Liva’s made-to-order omlet and gözleme station might give it the edge. I really liked the börek as well. However, the restaurant itself (specifically, the one in Çukurambar) lacks the charming decor and ambience found at Big Chefs, and the buffet area tends to get very congested. You will have to try both for yourself to determine which is deserving of your Sunday morning feast.

It’s also worth mentioning that Liva’s cakes and pastries are some of the best in the city. If you are looking to impress your friends or colleagues with a tasty treat, this is the place to visit. One recommendation: the Çikolatalı Dilim Pasta.

Liva has several branches around Ankara that offer brunch from 9:00 to 15:00 on Sundays. Check their website for specific information about the nearest location (Google Maps). Like Big Chefs, the price is 30TL per person ($20 at 1.51TL/$) including drinks.

Beykoz Paça and İşkembe February 7, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Human beings eat with a variety of considerations in mind. At times we seek pleasure or enjoyment. In others we require only basic satiation. But there are also instances when curiosity or a desire for adventure motivate our eating. It is this latter inclination that might best describe my recent lunch at Beykoz Paça & İşkembe.

Per the recommendation of Deniz over at Yemek Lazım, I ventured to Çankaya early this afternoon to sample some of Beykoz’s famous işkembe çorbası (tripe soup). It’s reputed to rank among the best in the city. I’ve always been a fan of intestine; the unique texture and flavoring make for a tasty combination when prepared properly. But I’ll admit it’s not for everyone. This soup, in particular, doesn’t exactly offer the best aromatic experience. So if you’re daring enough to try işkembe çorbası, do so with an open mind. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not my favorite option in this country.

While eating intestine is as repulsive as it gets for most people, I decided to up the ante today. Beykoz also offers an old Ottoman creation, beyin salatası (brain salad). Yes, I typed that correctly: brain salad. Do I have particular affinity for the taste of a lamb’s central nervous system, you might ask? No, not at all, but it’s always a good culinary philosophy to be willing to try everything at least once. And that’s just what I did.

There’s no way to avoid saying this: beyin salatası was a decidedly bad eating experience. I’m usually hesitant to be so negative about any food, but it’s really all I can say here. By itself the poached brain is disgusting: flavorless and with texture reminiscent of extra dense tofu. Together with lettuce, parsley, olives and tomatoes, dressed with vinegar and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, it’s edible, but far from delicious. I’m honestly not sure of the appeal in eating it. Sure, there’s some novelty involved, and at least one website cites special nutritional value. But there are so many better salad options in Turkish cuisine that it’s reasonable suggest this is one part of the lamb that should be allowed to go to waste.

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, you should make the trip to Hoşdere Cad. (Google Maps) to give both a try. Each item costs around 7TL ($4.50 at 1.53TL/$). For those who don’t care to be so adventurous, Beykoz also offers vast selection of other Ottoman-inspired dishes to please your more conventional palate.

Big Chefs January 17, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Breakfast, Turkish Cuisine.

Breakfast might be my favorite meal of the day. There is always something really awesome about waking up and having a very serious meal to get you going. On the weekends, a long and leisurely brunch with friends ranks among the greatest joys in life. For those seeking such a superlative experience in Ankara, I suggest you check out Big Chefs.

Big Chefs offers a massive Sunday buffet featuring all the staples of a Turkish breakfast plus a great selection of salads and pastries. You will undoubtedly get your fill of delicious cheeses, jams, fruits and vegetables. For those with a sweet tooth, the variety of cakes is daunting. My advice: try the chocolate-banana one in the middle of the dessert spread. Yes, like with most buffets you’ll probably end up eating too much. Just accept it, call it a “blinner” (breakfast-lunch-dinner), and have a good time.

There are three Big Chefs in Ankara: on Filistin Sk. in Gaziosmanpaşa, in the Minisera AVM in Çayyolu, and on 29. Cad. in Çukrambar (Google Maps). However, brunch is only served at the latter two between the hours of 10:00 and 14:00 on Sunday. The price per person is 30TL ($20 at 1.46TL/$) including drinks. Reservations are recommended.

Tavacı Recep Usta January 15, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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For much of my time in Ankara, everyone’s been telling me that I have to eat at Tavacı Recep Usta. It’s one of the best places in the city, they say. I finally got around to making the trip to Park Vadi this past weekend, and I must say it was an incredible meal. I left feeling very satisfied and impressed with the entire experience. Most importantly, it also reinvigorated Turkish cuisine in my life. On this blog I’m not shy about admitting that the food in this country can often become a bit monotonous. This was not the case at Recep Usta. It impressed with some old favorites while introducing me to dishes that I had never previously encountered. It would be a mistake to visit Ankara without enjoying a meal here.

Recep Usta gets its name from its proprietor, Recep Budak (“Usta” is a term of respect given to one who has mastered his trade). Born in Diyarbakır in 1961, he opened his first restaurant at the age of 17 and completed his military service as an officer’s chef. Budak brought his signature pan cooking to Ankara and Istanbul in 2002.

Upon being seated at Recep Usta, your table is served a large spread of mezes, including etli ciǧ and içli köfte, eşkili patlıcan dolma, çorban salata and ezme. All are very tasty.

For entreés, the menu offers a wide variety of kebabs, grills and other selections from the Diyarbakır region. The pirzola tava and kaburga dolma were recommended by the waiters as specialties. My friends and I ordered the latter, which is stuffed lamb rib served over seasoned rice, and were quite impressed by the moist, flavorful meat. We also enjoyed the ali nazik and beǧendili kebap. The beǧendili, in particular, was my favorite. Consisting of lamb in a cheese-eggplant pureé, the dish offered the sort of dynamic taste that I often find myself missing in Turkey.

The ayran at Recep Usta is worth mentioning as well. I personally didn’t care for it. But my companions, none of whom like ayran at all, found it to be quite palatable. Perhaps it’s an non-ayran drinker’s ayran? You’ll have to let me know.

Tavacı Recep Usta is located in Dikman Vadisi (Park Vadi) in Çankaya (Google Maps). Expect to spend at least 25TL ($17 at 1.46TL/$) per entreé. The mezes are free.

“The Köfte Men” January 10, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Street Food, Turkish Cuisine.

In my travels around the globe, street food is often the culinary highlight of any trip. Indeed, I’ve found “avoid walls” to be a particularly useful adage when deciding where to eat in a new city. In Ankara, this advice rings true late at night when dozens of venders set up shop and sell delicious midye dolma, pilav, kokoreç and köfte to the hungry masses.

Two of the my favorite after-dark places to eat are not street food per say, but are actually modified, somewhat-dilapidated vans. Don’t let their appearance fool you: you’ll be hard pressed to find better food at any hour of the day.

“The Köfte Men” is the label my friends and I affectionately apply to these vehicular eateries. One, run by a man named Ali, is located on Tunus Cad. by the Bilkent University bus stop (Google Maps). The other, run by Vahit, is just past the corner of Eskişehir Yolu and Bilkent Blv. near the new mosque (Google Maps). Both open at around 21:00 and close sometime around 2:00. I would rank their köfte among the best I’ve had in Turkey. Perfectly spiced and made to order, there are few greater joys to be found in the early hours of the morning.