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Apr 03
Friday
Reviews (Eats)
Abracadabra: A Culinary Wizard on the Bosphorus

There's magic coming out of Dilara's kitchen
Editor’s note: Abracadabra has closed, but its chef, Dilara Erbay, has opened a new venue that we also recommend, Datlı Maya.

One look at Abracadabra, housed in an imposing Ottoman-era mansion located smack dab on the Bosporus in the swank Arnavutköy neighborhood, might make your wallet ache. Think again. This funky, informal restaurant, serving some of Istanbul’s most creative riffs on traditional Turkish cuisine, is within reach of a backpacker’s budget (well, almost).

The four floors of the building each have a very different vibe, from bar-like to intimate. Sit on the couches in the lounge? Outside on the patio? Upstairs on the terrace with the big Bosphorus view? We suggest a table in the dine-in kitchen, up close and personal with the wizardry of Abracadabra’s spunky owner-chef Dilara Erbay, a pioneer of Turkish fusion cuisine, whose creations are visually stunning, delicious and ever changing.

Through flaming woks, kitchen hustle and shouts, something smelling at once Thai, Turkish and Lebanese rushes past you for Dilara’s final touch. There’s a lot going on in this kitchen that you won’t want to miss. When it’s time to order, we usually put ourselves at the tender mercy of Dilara, letting her guide us through the menu.

Dilara’s navigation of the appetizer menu includes her latest inspired creations, prepared with what’s fresh in the markets. Like a jazzman interpreting on an old standard, Dilara hints at classic Turkish cuisine sometimes in little more than name. The kadınbudu köfte (literally “lady’s thigh” croquettes) à la Abracadabra is made with fish and parsley (replacing the usual ground meat and rice), lightening the load significantly. Dilara tweaks the classic börek into a bouquet of matchstick-skinny, six-inch batons served upright in a shot glass of sweet and spicy sauce, which is both beautiful and fun to eat. Patties made of salmon tartar mixed with bulgur are a refreshing take on çiğ köfte, a kebab-house staple usually made with raw meat. Armenian rice with mussels is close to a traditional Turkish pilav, its sweetness amplified by currants.

After finding so many interesting temptations on the appetizer menu, one is left guessing what happened to the main course offerings, which lacked the creativity of our starters. We found solace in the catch of the day. Local sea bass is usually on offer, as is sea bream, both arriving firm and moist from the grill. Dilara’s Southeast Asian flavors find their way into Thai beef with rice noodles, leaving little need to order the duck, which was, truth be told, a bit dry. The final moment of satisfaction comes with the presentation of the bill. Presto! Dinner for two with a bottle of local wine (the good kind) for less than $100 – truly magic for a nice dinner out in Istanbul today.

Address: 50/1 Arnavutköy Cad. Arnavutköy
Telephone: 212-358-6087

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20 Responses to “ Abracadabra: A Culinary Wizard on the Bosphorus ”
  1. I just had a great dinner at Abracadabra last night. The menu has a few new items. One was a very tasty “bingol otu”. The chef recommended it and we were very happy. It is a local green from Bingol something like mustard greens that was prepared in a soy sauce. great!

  2. Abracadabra indeed has a great menu. But service has consistently been slow. I went there 6-7 times last fall, and it was slow even after they started recognizing me.

  3. Well, if you are in a hurry, you would not go to a temple of Slow Food, wouldn’t you? In that case McDo’s would cater to your needs much better…

  4. There’s a difference between slow food and bad service…

  5. OMG – the felafel! and the view! i wish i lived there…

  6. felafel? are you serious?
    i’ve been in turkey for three years and haven’t seen a single felafel…

  7. Nathan,

    I work in the Taksim area and regularly eat lunch at Felafel House. Its over in the Talimhane area where all of those cheap hotels are. It is a pretty good felafel if you ask me. The guys who run it are from Palestine and they seem to have a middle eastern clientele, if that indicates anything about the food. They also have a good ful.

  8. Cool, will have to check it out,
    I ate heaps while in Jordan,
    Syria and Lebanon but as I said have not seen a single one here
    not even in Adana

  9. The best falafel is in Falafel House in Taksim, Talimhane (opened by a Jordanian/palestinian man). Abracadabra is too expensive although the view is nice…and no Tabboule etcc.

  10. We are quite regular customers at Abracadabra since we live nearby.Since the beginning, the service has always been so-so but we kind of put up with it. Last night we went there for a special birthday meal and was really disappointed in the food. A dish of palamut arrived completely raw inside. Another person asked for their meat to be well done and it arrived completely underdone. In general, I find the portions of the main dishes small, and the salad that I had (spinach and goats’ cheese) nothing special. Cafe S in Akmerkez makes a much better one. The starters are nice- I’d rather stick to them – but avoid the Bosnak Eti which I ordered. Very salty and dry. I have also stopped going for breakfast on Sundays due to the slow service and the fact the the breakfast plate repeatedly arrived without all the things written on the menu. It really has become a rip-off.

    I like the concept and style of Abracadabra, but they have a terrible problem with maintaining a constant standard. Last night they have quite a few big tables and I think they could not cope. On a good note the service staff are always very friendly, but I will think twice going there at the weekend or for a special occasion. Its just too unpredictable.

  11. Hello guys,
    Reading some of the comments here and others over on Chowhound, it looks like Abracadabra has slipped. What do you think? Is it worth a shot? I am only in town for 3 nights so I want to make each meal special.
    Thanks,
    Maria

  12. Had a terrible experience at Abracadabra tonight. The problem mostly revolved around service, although the the food wasn’t particularly notable either. The problem: my Muslim partner was served a dish with pork in it – spaghetti carbonara. While I am quite aware that carbonara traditionally comes with pork, in particular pancetta or guanciale, this is Turkey, so I expect a dish featuring pork to detail this on the menu, or at least be informed by the waiter when asked. The menu at Abracadabra has the title of the dish, and underneath highlights the ingredients. The carbonara entry states “Carbonara with water buffalo yogurt” – no mention of the meat component. So, naturally, we ask the waiter what the meat is – we ask whether it is sosis (sausage) and are told that it is indeed sosis. Sosis in Turkey, needless to say, is made of dana (beef). Instead of beef, we got pork bacon. My partner cannot eat it. We send the dish back. On leaving, I decided to talk to the woman at the front of the house about the issue. My point: the menu, or the waiter, ought to note that pork sausage is used, out of courtesy to their Turkish/Muslim clientele. The woman was defensive and quite patronizing, telling me that carbonara obviously has pork, just like puttanesca obviously has fish. The message: you guys are simply ignorant, it isn’t our fault. Well, having spent two years of my life in Italy, I know that carbonara is eggs, guanciale/pancetta, and pecorino romano – not the yogurty, limp bacon pasta that they serve at Abracadabra. Ironic that the standoffish woman claimed to be an authority on carbonara, when their restaurant serves a version that is rubbish. Anyway, she refused to see my point of view, but wanted to escalate the discussion into a non-constructive argument, so I left. I’ve never encountered such an unprofessional staff member at any restaurant. Rather than take note of our concern, she decided to give me a lecture on Italian food.

  13. (Note: This comment comes from Abracadabra, in response to a reader’s critical comment)

    “How can you dare to sell pork in a muslim country?”
    Yes we dare!

    We read this “terrible experince” of our customer. We took it carbonara from Italian cousin and interpreted in our way for example using our local buffalo yogurt instead of cream.
    It turns out the problems of our costumers problem not caused by the food or service. (We offered to change the dish but apparently as of pork issue nothing was accepted). Our customers was main question and objection was “how can you dare to sell pork in a muslim country”? Well, this is highly political issue. We don’t think like that otherwise we should have posted to our menu “helal meat”:) Altough we respect people’s belief, abracadabra’s concept is about playing with traditional cousin with world cousin. We respect different cultures, identities and thoughts. We cook and sell everything to whom wants to try different and of course tasty food. But we also believe the food itself brings people and cultures together in a table. That’s why we love to see customers from many different nationality, religions, life-styles. As we cover old Ottoman hinterland in our food, you may see the whole geography from Bosnia to Caucasus to Middle East in our menu.
    abracadabra

  14. Make sure chef Erbay’s in the house when you dine

    http://chowpapi.com/

    http://chowpapi.com/?p=382

  15. Deepblue Fig

    Jul 27, 2010
    Reply

    My first experience at Abracadabra was quite romantic. If I would have been living anywhere near Arnavutkoy, would have gone there every day, drink my dark-and-stormy on the porch and re-run my first visit in my mind again and again.

  16. I tried to go to Abracadabra on Sunday but it was closed. It looked like it was closed for good, not just for the day. Furniture and appliances were gone and the door had some sort of seal on it.

    Anybody know what’s up?

  17. Yes, the restaurant has been closed down due to “permit issues.” There is talk of it reopening, but for now it seems to be out of business.


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