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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.

Çukurağa Sofrası September 7, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Çukurğa SofrasıIt’s only fitting to begin my coverage of Ankara dining with Çukurağa Sofrası, my absolute favorite place to eat in the city.  Affectionately known as the “Orange Restaurant” to its expat patrons because of its preference for the color in its décor and wait-staff wardrobe, this Emek establishment offers up Turkish food at its finest.  Its menu is basic and unpretentious, serving most of the standard grilled meats and yogurt dishes that can be found anywhere in Ankara.  The difference is that they are simply better at Çukurağa Sofrası.  My personal favorites are the ali nazik, beyti and yoğurtlu kebabs.  Meat lovers should be sure to try the karışık ızgara for a sampling of all the delicious grills that are offered.

While the entrées are enough of a reason to visit Çukurğa Sofrası, the complementary mezzes only sweeten the deal.  For most, the salata, ezme and pide are meals in themselves. For the hungrier crowd, the waiters are always willing to provide a refill before your main course arrives.  And just when you think you can’t eat anymore, you are served dessert, the warm, sweet and incredibly delicious helva topped with Turkish ice cream, known as dondurma.  This treat easily ranks as one of my favorites, both in Turkey and abroad.

The best part about this meal is that all of this will only cost you about 15TL ($10 at 1.50TL/$) with a drink.  It’s a daunting challenge to find a better value anywhere in Ankara.

Çukurağa Sofrası is located on 22 Bosna Hersek Cad. (Google Maps), a short walk from the A.Ş.T.İ bus terminal.  It’s easy to find; just look for the large crowds spilling onto the sidewalk.  Also, be warned: It’s tough to get a table when breaking the fast during Ramadan.