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Klemuri: Lazmatazz

Like Clark Kent hiding his Superman tights beneath a brown suit and glasses, Klemuri maintains the appearance of a predictable, Beyoğlu café — wooden tables, shelves loaded with knicknacks, Buena Vista Social Club on the stereo, spinach crepes and a crispy chicken salad on the menu. But down in the kitchen, out of public view, Klemuri’s alterego, a spry Laz cook, is waiting to save you from another boring “café” lunch.

Turkish stereotypes like to portray the Laz (an ethnic group from Turkey’s far northeast “Black Sea region”) as amusing, ignorant mountain folk, who talk with an odd accent and dance a wild jig. They are the beloved butt of the one-liners but, thankfully, there is more to the Laz than the caricatures of Dursun, Temel and their redneck adventures. There is the food.

At Klemuri, which in the Laz language refers to the chain which holds the cauldron over the fire, the Karadeniz tabaği, offers a nice sampling of Black Sea specialties: thick sarma made from chard leaves stuffed with a hearty mixture of meat and rice, sautéed onions with crushed walnuts, tangy pickled beans fried in a skillet (turşu kavurma), and patates kavurma, a sort of potato salad served hot. Of course, on the side came a basket of cornbread, the hallmark of the Black Sea.

On a recent visit, we were particularly happy to find Klemuri’s muhlama, a sort of Laz fondue, heavy on the cornmeal and butter. A skillet of cheese fresh from the “yayla” shot through with cornmeal and fried in rich butter is a delicious reminder of the highland pastures of the Kaçkar Mountains. But be careful, one portion can easily feed two or three people. And you will want to save room for a piece of Laz boreği, a sweet pastry filled with a scoop of pudding.

As if these menu staples were not enough, Klemuri offers daily specials from the Laz kitchen including pepeçura, ekşaş, mafuş and several others that we’ve never heard of before. Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Thinking of ordering the crepe just to be on the safe side? Just open your mouth and say hamsi.

Address: Tel Sokak 2/1, Beyoglu
Telephone: 212-292-3272

(photo by Ansel Mullins)

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