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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.

A.O.Ç. Doğata Satış Mağazası June 8, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.
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As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of kokoreç, it’s a shame that it’s taken me so long to visit Atatürk Orman Çiftliği (A.O.Ç.). Countless Turks have sung its praises throughout my time in Ankara, but I kept putting it off since it isn’t as convenient as most downtown restaurants.

After eating at Profesör last week, I promised to make the trip to the A.O.Ç. in order to crown the city’s champion kokoreççi. Yesterday I was able to stop by with my friends on the way home from a wedding in Altınpark to sample the delectable offerings.

Let me say this first: the place is absolutely phenomenal. It’s a mecca for kokoreç lovers. About half a dozen different shops are crowded together, preparing their fare and filling the air with the delicious smells of cooking intestine. The mood is set by street lights muted by thick clouds of smoke accompanied by the murmurs of the hungry crowds below. Undoubtedly, it’s not a destination for haute cuisine, but I can think of few better places to eat in Ankara.

A Turkish friend who attended the wedding with us directed me towards Doğata Satış Mağazası, declaring that it offered the best kokoreç of the lot. I can’t disagree; it was some truly amazing stuff. From my vantage point, the man preparing the kokoreç did everything correctly: he applied the right amount of spice and chopped the meat to achieve near perfect consistency. With each bite I could taste every flavor that makes kokoreç my favorite Turkish food. It’s certainly not an unreasonable claim to suggest that this is the best in this city.

The culinary awesomeness of Doğata Satış Mağazası is not only limited to kokoreç. The köfte is excellent and worth trying. The farm also makes its own superb ayran. The freshness and quality of the ingredients are apparent in everything they make.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the A.O.Ç’s dondurma is an attraction in and of itself. One of my friends went on record stating that it was the best soft-serve ice cream she had ever tried. I would concur.

Doğata Satış Mağazası and the other venders at the A.O.Ç. are located on Silhatar Cad. (Google Maps). A large loaf of kokoreç costs a very reasonable 8.50TL ($5.30 at 1.60TL/$).

P.S. I must apologize for the sub-par pictures in this post. I didn’t have my dSLR with me at the time and was forced to use a point-and-shoot camera, not an ideal tool for photography in low-light conditions.

Profesör June 2, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Quick Eats, Turkish Cuisine.

I sometimes wonder about the distance that would be covered if I lined up all of the lamb intestine I’ve consumed as kokoreç during my time in Turkey. It might stretch for miles. This past weekend I added to this distance with a visit to Profesör.

Profesör advertises itself as one of the top ten kokoreç places in Turkey, a status that I believe is based on this 2004 ranking in Hürriyet. According to the article, founder Adnan Zengin incorporates special ingredients from Mersin into his kokoreç and prepares it in ‘hygienic conditions’. Over fourteen years in business, Zengin’s work earned him the nickname that now stands as the name of the restaurant.

I will concur with Hürriyet that Profesör offers some exceptional kokoreç. The spicing is dynamic but not overwhelming, and the consistency maintains the all-important delicate balance between substance and texture. It’s quite comparable to Kıtır, although in the end I would give Profesör the edge.

However, the title of ‘Best Kokoreç in Ankara’ cannot be awarded until I try the much-praised offerings at Atatürk Orman Çiftliği. I will do so once I figure how to get there without a car.

The menu at Profesör also contains midye tava, köfte ekmek and chicken wings. They looked tasty, but the confines of a reasonable meal prevented me from sampling them.

Profesör has four locations around Ankara: Anıtepe, Sıhıye, Kızılay and Kavaklıdere. This review is based on the latter location on Bestekar Sk. (Google Maps). Profesör is on the expensive side; a portion of kokoreç costs 7.50TL ($4.75 at 1.59TL/$). Alcohol is served.

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.

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.

Guangzhou Wuyang April 13, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.

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.

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.

Burger Story March 23, 2010

Posted by Steven Bartus in Foreign Cuisine.

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 $13 at 1.53TL/$).

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.