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Göksu October 26, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Göksu receives much praise from locals and guide books alike.  The venerable Lonely Planet writes:

Fine dining with uniformed staff and a terrace discreetly shielded from the street by glass and vines. It’s popular with besuited blokes guzzling mezes and rakı (aniseed-flavoured grape brandy).

Goksu-6With great reviews abound, I sat down at Göksu this past week expecting a memorable meal.  Surprisingly, I left very disappointed.

Göksu’s menu is huge; it offers an overwhelming number of options, spanning all aspects of Turkish cuisine.  In my experience this tends to produce mediocrity: it’s difficult to be good at anything if one tries to do everything.  Apprehensively, my partner and I ordered the çoban salatası and the humus.  Both were average.  For our entrées, we chose the patlıcan souğme kebab and the bostan kebab.  The former consists of grilled lamb in a eggplant pureé.  It was tasty, but not remarkable.  The later choice, however, was quite terrible.  Something of a lamb and eggplant casserole, the seasoning was lackluster and the overall flavoring was oddly sweet in off-putting manner.  Finally, we tried the helva for dessert.  It was decent, but far from noteworthy.  In this account the prevailing theme of my dinner at Göksu is obvious: it’s good, but not great.

I don’t consider my experience at Göksu to be an authoritative account of its potential; I haphazardly sampled only a few of the many options on the menu.  In light of my very mediocre dinner, I consulted a more seasoned veteran of the Ankara dining scene to find out where I went wrong with my selections.  He made a few suggestions for a future visit.  My friend recommended the kaygana, which is an omelet with anchovies, as well as the kuymak, which is a combination of fondue and polenta.  Watch this space for an update.

Göksu has two locations in Ankara: I tried the one on Bayındır Sk. in Kızılay (Google Maps), but there is another branch on Nenehatun Cad. in Gaziosmanpaşa.  The prices are average: mezes and salads cost around 7TL ($4.75 at 1.47TL/$) and entrées range between 12 and 23TL ($8.15 to $15.50).   Alcohol is served, and rakı is certainly recommended with any meal.

Çadır Kebap October 22, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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Çadır KebapAs I mentioned in a previous post, Turkish restaurants tend to heavily feature meat in their entrées.  This is because, I’ve been told, the average Turk does not consume much meat at home due to the high cost in this country as well as certain aspects of traditional cooking.  Thus a dinner outside of the house is something of a special occasion, and restaurants cater to the moment with very meat-centric options.

While there are countless places to eat adana kebap, tavuk şiş and et döner in Ankara, I have found most to be quite average in their preparation of the meat.  Çadır Kebap is a good alternative to these mediocre offerings.  Located on Eskişehir Yolu (Google Maps), the meat dishes at Çadır are very well prepared and complemented by a great selection of salads.  I sampled a variety of them at dinner the other night with a group of friends and found the tablacı salata to be the most flavorful.  For entrées, the kuzu şiş, beyti and acılı adana were noteworthy.  There are good meze options, such as patlıcan ezme and humus, to consider as well.  And for those with a sweet tooth, the künefe and sütlaç are not the best I’ve had, but both are above average.

Çadır Kebap is not an inexpensive establishment, but its prices are fairly reasonable.  Salads, appetizers and desserts average about 6TL each ($4 at 1.47TL/$), while main courses are priced between 12 and 15TL ($8-10).  Alcohol is also served.

Uludağ Kebapçısı September 27, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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İskender kebab is one of the most popular dishes in Turkey.  Ask a random Turk on the street about his favorite food and the answer will invariably be this combination of thinly sliced lamb basted with tomato sauce over pieces of pide, generously topped with melted butter and a side of yogurt.

İskender originated in Bursa, a city in northwestern Turkey, and is still made by the family of Yavuz İskenderoğlu, the butcher who created the eponymous dish in 1867.  Having sampled the original in its birthplace last year, I can confirm that iskender lives up to its reputation as one of the tastiest dishes in Turkish cuisine.  While it’s worth making the trip to Bursa, there is no shortage of iskender options in Ankara.  However, one must be discerning in his choice in order to taste an accurate rendition of the original.

In my experience, iskender has the potential to be the most precarious of Turkish dishes.  If any one of the ingredients is out of proportion, the harmony of the flavors is disturbed and the food is rendered unremarkable in its taste.  In such cases, the diner will be left sorely disappointed and bewildered by the ubiquitous admiration heaped upon this dish by legions of Turks.

In Ankara, one place stands above the rest as the most authentic producer of iskender.  Established in 1956 as a small, four-table restaurant in the Ulus neighborhood of the city, Uludağ Kebapçısı draws in locals and tourists alike for what is widely considered to be the best iskender outside of Bursa.  Since its inception, Uludağ has expanded into six branches in Ankara and İstanbul, but still retains the quality and consistency that made it famous.

Upon first glance at the Uludağ menu, one might be confused by the lack of anything called “iskender“.  This is because the title is trademarked by the progenitor in Bursa.  Uludağ’s version takes the name of the establishment, Uludağ kebab, and pays near perfect homage to the original.  The ingredients are fresh and properly proportioned, achieving the correct union of meat, tomato, butter and yogurt.  I recommend that you begin your meal with the çoban salatası (shepard’s salad), a refreshing mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers and parsley, topped with lemon juice and olive oil.  It provides a nice contrast to the heavy flavors of the iskender.  For your drink, the ayran is a delicious complement to the dish.

Uludağ Kebapçısı is not a cheap place.  One portion of Uludağ kebab is priced at 15TL ($10 at $1.48TL/$), and the waiter kindly recommended that men (and, I assume, those women with larger appetites) order the 1.5 portion, which costs 21TL.  This is about two to four times what you will pay on the streets of Kızılay. But those seeking the best iskender in the city will certainly find the premium to be a worthy investment.

Uludağ has locations in Ulus, Çayyolu, Armada A.V.M., Panora A.V.M. and Antares A.V.M. as well as in Florya in İstanbul. In an informal poll of my Turkish colleagues and friends, the Armada branch (Google Maps) is considered to be the best, but this is certainly a subject for debate.

Roka September 15, 2009

Posted by Steven Bartus in Turkish Cuisine.
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A friend of mine describes Roka as the union of two unlikely individuals: One who wanted to eat with his hands and another who possessed a sizable surplus of fresh produce.  Regardless of its exact origins, it’s worth making the trip to Bahçelievler to try Roka’s unique and tasty combination of greens and meats.

Turkish restaurants are known for employing copious quantities of salt and other spices in their meat-laden entrées. While often delicious, the constant onslaught of flavored protein can become tiresome to the frequent diner.  Roka provides a much-needed alternative for those looking to add some zest and crunch to their otherwise traditional meat dishes.

Upon being seated in pint-sized stools at pint-sized tables, the waiters at Roka spread a salad consisting of an array of fresh greens directly onto the table top in front of you. The mixture of romaine and iceberg lettuce, parsley, mint, cilantro, watercress and green onions is then doused with freshly squeezed lemon juice and accompanied by a skewer of grilled tomatoes and several cloves of warm roasted garlic. While flavorful enough on its own, this salad makes for the perfect topping which you artfully apply by hand to the köfte or adana kebab served to you on warm bread.  The refreshing, crisp flavors of the salad nicely complement the robust spicing and texture of the meats. As an accompaniment, be sure to try the Çamlıca ayran; it’s one of the tastiest pre-packaged variations you can find.

While delicious and fun, Roka is not a life-changing meal. However, it does revitalize old Turkish favorites with a novel twist that is sure to please those looking for a change of pace in their Anakra dining options. And at about 12TL ($8 at 1.50TL/$), it’s inexpensive as well.

The restaurant is located on 22. Sk. off the lively Aşkabat Sk. (also known as 7th Street) (Google Maps).

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.