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