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Fauna: Let Them Eat Pasta

Tuna at work in Fauna -- photo by Yigal Schleifer
Editor’s note: Sadly, Fauna was recently forced to close after losing its lease. The owner/chef is looking for a new space. We will update this writeup as soon as we know more.

Visitors to Turkey beware: in Turkish, the word “pasta” means cake or pastry. Go into a place advertising “pasta” in search of a plate of fettuccine alfredo and you are more likely to end up with a flouncy Black Forest cake.

But the truth is, when it comes to pasta in Istanbul, we tend to stick to the cake variety. For sure, Italian restaurants exist. We just haven’t found that simple, homey kind of place that hits the spot when you’re looking for noodles, Italian-style.

That is, until recently.

A few months ago, tipster S.H. sent us to the Asian side’s Kadıköy neighborhood to check out Fauna, a small restaurant that serves homemade pasta (the noodle kind). The place certainly didn’t seem to be catering to the masses. Our first visit, on a Saturday evening, found the restaurant closing up for the day despite it being the height of the dinner rush. A second try, on a Sunday, found it closed for the day. Fortunately, we were able to recently return for lunch and taste what might be some of the finest Italian food we’ve had in Istanbul.

Fauna is located inside a small and narrow rectangular space done up in an inviting minimalist style. Five tables hug the wall on one side, while the other side is taken up by an open kitchen that has big pots and strainers hanging from the ceiling. Piano-based jazz (the good kind) plays in the background.

The real star here, though, is the wonderfully named İbrahim Tuna, a former news photographer turned self-taught Italian chef. Tuna, who has a long, gray Van Dyke beard and sparkly eyes, appears to have a deep appreciation for what he’s making, preparing almost everything from scratch and making the noodles and sauces fresh every morning.

A roving chalkboard lists the day’s menu, usually a mix of salads along with a few different noodle and ravioli dishes. On a recent afternoon, Fauna’s pasta choices included ravioli filled with porcini mushrooms or a blend of five cheeses, along with fettuccine-like noodles with pesto or in a tomato, basil, garlic and olive sauce. (The average price is around 15 lira.)

The pasta with pesto was superb, the noodles having the springy, hearty bite that distinguishes fresh pasta from the kind that comes out of a cardboard box bought in the supermarket. The pesto, meanwhile, was just as it should be, alive with the flavors of garlic and basil. The five-cheese ravioli was equally delicious, each little pocket bursting with delicious flavor, while the fresh tomato sauce it was served in was good enough to eat on its own.

Unlike many other Italian places in town, Fauna pays attention to the details and to the ingredients. The rims of the bowls the pasta was served in came sprinkled with a generous amount of coarsely grated, high-quality parmesan, which, considering the cost of real Italian cheese in Turkey, was like covering the dish with gold dust. A tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella salad – something so simple, yet so easy to mess up if any one of those three ingredients is not top-notch – was delightful, each item utterly fresh and flavorful.

Tuna also makes his own desserts, including what looked like a very good chocolate cake. Which means that, at least in the case of this restaurant, you can finish off your bowl of pasta with an order of pasta.

Address: Sarraf Ali Sokak 7, Kadıköy
Telephone: 216-345-9954

(Photo by Yigal Schleifer)

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