It must have taken an entire fleet’s worth of nets, harpoons, anchors, life preservers and buoys to decorate the dining rooms of Adem Baba. The decorations makes sense: the restaurant got its start as humble, boat-borne kitchen floating dockside in the Bosphorus neighborhood of Arnavutköy, although now it has transformed itself into a local seafood empire with three locations on the same street. Kitschy décor aside, for serious, straightforward fish eating, this is one (or better yet, three) of the top addresses in town. Though their menu may resemble that of so many other Istanbul fish houses, consistent high quality and great value have established Adem Baba’s cultish following.
From the Greek grannies having lunch after church to the French expat family in the booth, on Sundays everyone at Adem Baba is talking about the fish soup. Some may even be cursing their luck, having arrived after it’s run out. A bowl of this thick, aromatic soup would make a New Englander swoon. But be forewarned, fish soup is only served at Sunday lunch in winter months.
But even when there’s no fish soup, the starters never leave us disappointed. Fried calamari is perfectly prepared – tender and crispy – and served with a tarter sauce à la Turca that smacks of garlic, walnuts and yogurt. The term balık köftesi, fish balls, just doesn’t do justice to this Adem Baba special starter – a light and creamy bite of fish encased in deep-brown, fried and battered shell. After the fried appetizers, we like to cool down with a kaşarlı çoban salatası, shepherd’s salad with grated cheese, dressed with lemon and Adem Baba’s fine olive oil.
Though you could easily make a full meal of appetizers and salad, it would be wrong to pass on the fish course. Particularly in winter months, the glass cooler here is stocked with the region’s finest and freshest. Flayed open and sandwiched together in pairs on the grill, sardalya, a sardine of sorts, hides a tender salty zing within its charred crunchy skin – something of a poor man’s unagi. A plate of grilled or fried dil, sole, is a fine choice not available at most restaurants. Thick flaky cuts of grilled dülger, John Dory fish, appear on the menu regularly and are not to be missed. But when fishing boats are chugging into the Bosphorus filled with Black Sea sardines, hamsi, we have little will power to resist them when they are served fried in a corn meal batter.
The only thing absent at Adem Baba is a wine list. Somehow a can of orange Fanta doesn’t quite complement the top-shelf fish served here. The restaurant may trace its roots to the waters of the Bosphorus, but it remains one of our favorite dry lunches (and quite affordable at roughly $25 per person).
Address: Satışmeydanı Sokak 2, Arnavutköy (main location)
Satışmeydanı Sokak 5 (alternate location)
Beyazgül Caddesi 2 (delivery or takeout)
Telephone: 212-263-2933 or 212-287-2648
Web: www.adembaba.com