We can’t prove it, but we suspect a network of tunnels lie underfoot in Beyoğlu connecting most of the meyhanes of Asmalımescit and Nevizade sokak to the same mediocre kitchen. We have tasted the haydari, patlıcan salatası, pilaki and lakerda at scores of meyhanes in this little dining district. Most are good enough when the rakı is flowing but none are outstanding. Following a number of tips, our search for a standout meyhane led us to the unassuming Asmalı Cavit on Asmalımescit Caddesi, where we’ve consistently had outstanding meals. Here we found a traditional meyhane bucking the trend toward mediocrity with subtle but significant tweaks that, for us, make the meal.
Asmalı Cavit does not overwhelm you with a monstrous meze tray. Most diners here seem to know what they want and discuss the alternatives with the waiter, sometimes creating elaborate scenarios according to personal preference. Owner Cavit Bey, ever-present in the dining room, looks after every table’s wishes. We have yet to hear him say, “maalesef” (“unfortunately,” in Turkish) to a request.
Out comes the kryptonite-green deniz börülcesi, or samphire greens, which the waiter offers with or without a spoon full of crushed garlic. A true octopus salad drenched in rich olive oil and flecked with slivers of tart pickles is a must. Topik, often more filling than flavorful, is usually not our favorite meze. But Cavit’s defies topik-ness, served as creamy little chickpea cakes generously doused with cinnamon.
Ordering from the hot starters list is particularly easy here – we usually ask for a plate of calamari and yaprak ciğer, thin slices of liver fried with onions. Another standout is the muska böreği, a fried triangle of phyllo dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef and minced onions, looks like any old börek but is beguiling with flavor. Meyhane standards like börek and liver are where we can easily identify a meticulous or lazy kitchen. Asmalı Cavit’s game is so tight on the hot starters, on a few occasions we’ve ended the meal here, not to risk disrupting our state of intense satisfaction with more courses.
But beyond the starters, there is excellent seasonal fish and fine köfte, as well. On our last visit, we had the season’s last hamsi, which Cavit gladly made to our specifications. Our favorite preparation of Black Sea anchovies is “hamsi kuşu” which calls for two butterflied and deboned anchovies pressed together, battered in cornmeal and lightly fried. With such small fish it is fussy work but promises a delicious result, as was the case at Cavit. The high maintenance hamsi, alongside three unadorned thick cuts of grilled palamut, or bonito, reflected the range at this restaurant. This kitchen will go the extra mile for the finicky customer but, in the end, it’s the use of high quality, fresh materials prepared simply but with extreme care that distinguishes Asmalı Cavit from most other neighborhood meyhane.
Unfortunately, that’s a method many places in the neighborhood seem to have forgotten.
Address: Asmalımescit Caddesi 16/D, Beyoğlu
(photo by Ansel Mullins)