Best Bites of 2011: Our Take, Pt. 2
This well-loved meyhane cum esnaf lokantası (Meykanta? Lokhane?), located near Beyoğlu’s Balık Pazarı, presented one of the year’s great culinary mysteries. Namely: how that, despite being a decades-old neighborhood institution that’s located on a street we walk down on a regular basis, it took us until 2011 to actually notice it and step inside for a meal? Our overlooking of the restaurant all these years became even more puzzling once the food arrived at our table. Quite simply, the homey dishes at Merih were among the finest renditions of classic meyhane cooking that we’ve had in a long time. Take the example of the restaurant’s sakızlı muhallebi, a traditional milk pudding flavored with mastic. Often served as a gloopy, milky mess that tastes of nothing more than dairy and sugar, this muhallebi was redolent with the inscrutable and beguiling flavor of mastic, closing the meal on a delicious and hard-to-forget note that was both sweet – and like so much that surrounded our delayed discovery of Merih – mysterious.
Our first visit to Datlı Maya started and ended with tırnaklı pide that came right out of the oven. We used it to dab up everything from the breakfast bar – dark honey, chunky fruit preserves and rich butter. Then we piled wedges of spicy tepsi kebabı on it and then still couldn’t keep from tearing off pieces to go with refills of tea – washing down the tea with bread. Tırnaklı pide is so typical in Istanbul restaurants, particularly kebab shops, that it is often simply called “bread.” And quite often it is just bread. Fresh but a bit limp, reheated over a grill if you are lucky, it’s never the star of the table. Datlı Maya’s fresh pide opened our eyes to the glory of this staple and tapped into a deep unknown place in our stomach. On this blog, we’ve issued high praise of nearly everything else to come out of Datlı Maya’s oven, but it was a simple tırnaklı pide that hooked us on the place.
Siirt Şeref Büryan
When life gives you lemons make lemonade, and when a Roman-era aqueduct runs just outside your restaurant, use it to create one of Istanbul’s most original alfresco dining spots. That certainly seems to be the thinking at Fatih’s Siirt Şeref Büryan Kebap Salonu, which stands in the shadow of the Roman-era Valens Aqueduct. For a large group of friends on a celebratory Sunday this past summer, the restaurant cleverly set up a long table underneath the shade of one of the defunct waterway’s spacious archways. The result was pure magic, the archway serving as the ideal setting for a procession of food that culminated with what seemed like endless plates of Siirt Şeref’s exquisite kemikli (“on the bone”) pit-roasted lamb. It was a day of perfection, shaded by centuries of history.
7-8 Hasanpaşa Fırın
Based on the emphatic wording in some of our reviews (in Gaziosmanpaşa we found “homewrecking beans”; a celery root meze at Çukur Meyhane once summoned “gutteral moans” from our table; at Urfa Şark Sofrası, we found a kebab that was “bleat-worthy”) it might seem that we are really easily impressed. Honestly, we are often impressed, but rarely are we totally blown away by a new discovery.
Our most recent eureka moment occurred on a boat crossing the Bosphorus, where the metaphoric value of two continents colliding was not lost on us. Prior to boarding we stood in front of a window display with dozens of beautiful baked goods at 7-8 Hasanpaşa and picked a “Paskalya” loaf and a circular “tahinli” that looked something like a wide cinnamon roll sprinkled with sesame seeds. We wandered down to the dock and found our seats on the back deck of the boat and opened the backpack we’d stowed the breads in. The sweet smell of tahini, along with that of mastic from the paskalya loaf, escaped from the bag, summoning such a reaction on deck that you’d think we’d just lit up a joint. All eyes were on us, saying, “Let me get some of that.” Seagulls, defying their physical design to soar, awkwardly flapped their wings while hovering in place by the rail like hummingbirds, begging for just one crumb of our tahinli. The deep horn of a tanker blew from far away. It seemed the entire Bosphorus was aware of our snack.
On the first bite of crusty edge flavored by the sesame seeds, we were struck with shame that we hadn’t had this treat until now. Once we got to the center, where moist pastry hid a lining of tahini so sweet and nutty, we were gushing and squawking like seagulls. We giddily tore off pieces, insisting that each bite was better than the one before. Our companion for this epic journey, a friend from Greece, said he’d been eating a similar, tahini-spiked roll all of his life and this was the best one he’d eaten, “Ever!” Now there’s an emphatic description that we fully endorse.
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