31 March 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Viktor Levi Agandon

I completely blanked yesterday and missed posting this for Wine Wednesday. I got some bad news from home that completely threw me off my wine game. At least I can take comfort in good memories and good wine!

On one of the gorgeous days we had in February E and I ventured over to the Asian side to meet another friend for lunch. As much as I love riding the ferries it usually takes something pretty extraordinary to get me over to the Asian side. Turns out that the Viktor Levi Wine House in Moda, Kadiköy is just such a place.

I was lured to Viktor Levi by the promise that the restaurant makes and serves its own wine so imagine my surprise when we ordered a bottle and the foil showed that the wine had been made by Kavaklıdere! I read the 'about us' section on the website but remain confused. As best as I can tell, Viktor Levi went off and studied the fine art of making wine, came back to Istanbul where he tried to sell it to the four existing wine houses here but they didn't want to pay him what he thought his wine was worse so, in a strop and to teach them a lesson, started his own wine house. Then he died, something about a cousin going to America, and the wine house reopened in 1999. No mention of Kavaklıdere. Maybe it's like fashion? You know-how Karl Lagerfeld is a famous designer in his own right but designs under the Chanel label?

To begin, it's a great restaurant, you really have to respect the commitment to wine that leads someone to make their stairs look like wine barrels. And speaking of wine...we had the Kavaklıdere Viktor Levi Agandon with is a Kalecik Karasi-Shiraz blend. It's a lovely purply red with a nose of forest and red berries and spice. In the mouth the medium tannins and slightly higher acid end with a long finish. The berries come through on the palate as do some cherries, possibly eucalyptus, and baking spices. I was not blown away but it was nice enough to warrant ordering a second bottle!

I will definitely go back to Viktor Levi Şarapevi and try more of the wine with its confusing providence. Next time I'll ask someone what the deal is and find out if Viktor Levi is to Kavaklıdere what Lagerfeld is to Chanel. I'll also order another steak. The restaurant has a pretty extensive menu but seems to excel at steaks if the half dozen on the menu were any indication. I must say the one I had that came smothered in porcini mushrooms was glorious. Steak and good red wine; I don't need much else!

Viktor Levi Şarapevi
Caferağa Mahallesi
Moda Caddesi Damacı Sokak 4
Moda, Kadıköy

28 March 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Münhasır

Recently I met a couple friends at Münhasır for its breakfast. Münhasır, located just down the street from Istanbul's iconic Galata Tower is a charcuterie with an impressive selection of meats and cheeses, many of which are included in the big breakfast platter. None of us were in the mood for the big breakfast though so I need to go back for that another time.

First, I loved the feel of Münhasır. It's charming, feels welcoming and relaxed, and staff were nice (and English-speaking). Münhasır isn't big but it's a bright, comfortable space with nice little decorative touches, like distressed paper menus and orderly displays of its products.

Not that I could ever get tired of the traditional Turkish breakfast but I have been feeling the need to branch out so I selected Münhasır's yogurt and granola bowl: a generous portion of yogurt topped with crunchy home made granola, chunks of pear, pomegranate seeds, and slices of green apple. It was fantastic. While the flavor combination was really well-balanced and scrummy I definitely needed the combination. The yogurt Münhasır uses is goat-milk yogurt and while my palate loves a wide range of goat-milk cheeses I still shy away from other goat-milk products. And this was a strong flavored yogurt, like licking the actual goat strong.

I can't say I would ever choose to eat the yogurt on its own but I would probably eat anything if it were topped with Münhasır's granola. Thumbs up!

Şahkulu, Serdar-I Ekrem Cd. No. 23
Galata, Beyoğlu

23 March 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Chamlija 2014 Papaskarası

How much do I love Chamlija? A whole lot in case that rhetorical question wasn't obvious.

I'd never heard of the Papaskarası grape before seeing this bottle at La Cave (65 TL). It's a very old grape varietal, it's been around for some 1,500 years. The "forgotten king of Thracian grapes" produces a table-style wine similar to Pinot Noir and traces likely roots (haha see what I did there?) to Prokupac grapes which have been grown in Serbia and Macedonia since the 5th century.

The nose was very promising, cherry, plum, forest berries, I think I got a little dried rose towards the top of the glass. I'm guessing this probably hasn't spent much or any time in oak as I did not detect a great deal of spice. The longer I swirled the more one scent rose to the top: chocolate covered cherries.

The first sip was unexpectedly tart; somewhat shockingly so. I was not expecting that at all. Happily after the initial sip the rest went down much more smoothly to reveal (sour) cherries, young plums, a ribbon of spice. There were no tannins to speak of but a fairly high amount of acid which is likely why it was so tart. It felt very silky in the mouth and once I got accustomed to all the acid it was really lovely.

Another winner with another beautiful label from Chamlija!

16 March 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Suvla 2013 Behramlı

Not even the Suvla shop in Cighangir has this! I found it at the Macro Center in Levent for about 15TL and M got a bottle at the big Migros at Cevahir for 19TL. We must find it closer to home though because it was pretty darn marvelous.

We started our evening with a pricey Vino Dessera and this inexpensive Suvla was so much better. So much better. I was pouring the Vino Dessera for everyone else to avoid drinking it and then plotting how to get more of the Suvla Behramlı for myself. So let's talk about why it's so good.

Suvla's 2013 Behramlı is a big blend starring Cabernet Sauvignon and Karasakız supported by Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and the dreaded Merlot. Cherry red, clear to the rim the nose was full of red forest fruits, maybe some cherry, and baking spices. I suspect this spent at least some time in oak.

'Wine is Life' in case you forgot

When I taste wine I usually feel it before I taste it. The Behramlı is smooth and velvety with medium high tannins, medium acid, and a long finish during which the baking spice flavors really pop. Ont the palate I found the red forest fruits to be more dominate but with a nice spine of those baking spices. We maybe have to field trip a little to get our hands on more of this bottle but it will be worth it.

Before I moved to Turkey I firmly believed that you did not have to spend a lot of money to get a good wine; but then I came here where alcohol and import taxes are insanely high and my median bottle price increased by about 300%. In Turkey where even mediocre wine often costs an arm and a leg Suvla seems be [one of] the only company selling truly great wine at very affordable prices.


14 March 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Cuma

I hate winter. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.  It would take more hands than I have to count the number of reasons why I left Michigan nearly 15 years ago but winter would be counted a couple times. Istanbul winters are never predictable. Last February we got buried under what was really not all that much snow but enough to shut down the city for several days. This February was far more to my taste-warm enough to barely warrant wearing a sweater. A few weeks ago it was so nice that E and breakfasted outside in only our long-sleeve shirts. For this occasion we chose Cihangir's Cuma, a lovely little cafe tucked away on Çukurcuma, the street famous for its antique shops.

E trying to hide from the camera

To begin with, Cuma makes amazing bread. Amazing. And, local secret, if you pop in earlier in the day and ask to buy a loaf or two they'll make extra to sell to you. I imagine it's fantastic on the toasts and sandwiches. I'll need to go back sometime soon for lunch and find out! My neighbors have also vouched for the yumminess of the cakes and pastries that can be found inside the cafe.

For such a small place the breakfast menu is pretty extensive including the ubiquitous full breakfast and a compliment of eggs. We ordered the full breakfast and while the olives all went to E (I like them about as much as I like winter) we both dug enthusiastically into the tomato paste, rose hip preserves, something that tasted like Fruit Roll-Up spread, a variety of cheeses, and of course, the bal kaymak.

Cuma also does çıldır, the yogurt-smothered poached eggs I fell in love with at Kahve 6 which we had to order. Kahve 6's were a bit more garlicy I think but Cuma's were still gorgeous and E and I had a mini battle over who got to send the dish to the Clean Plate Club.

A warm February day and a gorgeous Turkish breakfast are both excellent reminders as to why I put up with this city!

Firuzağa Mahallesi
Çukurucuma Caddesi, No 53/A 
Beyoğlu, İstanbul

11 March 2016

Hungarian Guest Wine - Tihanyi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Ah! Apparently when I was writing about guest Hungarian wines from my ill-fated July trip to Lake Balaton I completely forgot to publish this last post! I need to clean out my draft box more often...

Aside from the Georgian restaurant a colleague and I found in Budapest on our free day, the only highlight, indeed the only thing that made the eight days I was stuck in Lake Balaton, Hungary bearable was the Hungarian Festival with its myriad of food, wine, and craft stalls. Especially the wine stalls.

Set in the middle of a park (which we don't see too much of in Istanbul to begin with!) the festival was very atmospheric with lights strung up in the trees and communal tables for eating and drinking the many offerings. Many of those many offerings were pork-based foods and you can bet I took advantage! Oh my gosh the food was amazing. Because we were there for work our company covered all our meals-as long as we took them at the hotel. Unfortunately the food there was really not good so as the week dragged on more and more people eschewed the hotel dinging room in favor of the festival flavors.

I tried many of the wines on offer. For a small deposit you got your wine glass and could then taste and buy glasses and bottles all night long with that glass. When you were finished you returned the glass at any of the wine stalls and got back the deposit. One of our last nights at Lake Balaton a small group of us started here with a bottle of the Tihanyi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon which ended up being one of my festival favorites. Our table quickly collected more and more colleagues looking to escape from the horrors of our retreat and as new people joined our table they went to get their glass and yet another bottle of the Tihanyi to share around.

I found one thing good about this trip!


So there we are, probably 12 of us, and suddenly the stalls are shutting down and the festival is closing for the night. The group of us descended on the poor kids working the Tihanyi booth with a proposition: rather than refund our glass deposits, just give us as many bottles of wine as the deposits will afford. Hungarians must not be big drinkers because we had to convince these kids, who got to know us turning up every 20 minutes for a new bottle, that yes we really did want some 10 more bottles.

We left the fair grounds for the park along the lake and drank more bottles there until we were rousted by cops. Apparently the lake has a closing time too. I packed it in when we finally trudged back to the hotel but about half the group stayed out to finish the remaining bottles (and order more from the hotel bar). Needless to say we did not see everyone at the first session the next morning.

So what was this wine which we imbibed so enjoyably?

The Tihanyi 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was a medium-bodied dark, raspberry colored wine with a gorgeous combination of flavors. Raspberry and red fruits like red currants and other berries were foremost but there were hints of green pepper, jalapeno, and mint. From the oak I got some interesting cedar and smoke flavors.

Was this the best Cabernet Sauvignon I've ever had? No. Was it good drinking? Yes definitely. It is also what leads me to conclude that wine, like proper grammar, saves lives because without this and the many other Hungarian wines I (and my colleagues) drank on this trip I think our work retreat might have turned into a J.G. Ballard novel.

09 March 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Sarafin 2013 Shiraz

For no particular reason I rarely buy wines by Sarafin which makes no sense as this maker has a reputation for making good wine. The 2013 Shiraz only supports that reputation.

A nice, plummy purple color, the nose was full of red and dark fruits, pepper, and leather. Aged 12 months in both French and American oak it was very aromatic; really quite nice.

On the palate it's smooth with well-integrated medium tannins and acid. It's a pretty big, full-bodied wine with lots of cooked fruit flavors, maybe some cassis, leather, and baking spices.

Is it the most remarkable Shiraz I've ever had? No. Was it horrible?  No. Was I expecting more after hearing so much about Sarafin...? Yeah, kind of. With all of the amazing producers I've recently discovered I cannot say that I will be in a rush any time soon to try more Sarafin wines.

07 March 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Nar Dükkan

I really like Nar Dükkan in Karaköy. Nestled in Tophane behind the gas station at the Tophane tram stop, Nar Dükkan has a large and varied menu including burgers that are possibly better than any burger I've had in the States. You can even get real bacon on them! But we're not talking about burgers, we're talking about breakfast options which Nar has in abundance.

I've done a couple breakfasts at Nar Dükkan. During the summer M and I went for Eggs Benedict which it does a credible job of making. There's real bacon for one thing so big points for that. English Muffins are substituted with hamburger buns which is a little odd and I had to scrape a crap ton of dill off the eggs. There's no reason for there to ever be dill anywhere but especially not on Eggs Benedict. Still is was pretty decent. Nar Dükkan also makes a good coffee served with fancy mint and strawberry water on the side.

On our next trip we went the more traditional route with a variety of egg dishes and its version of the full breakfast plate. For the price I found the full breakfast a little on the stingy side. It came with the requisite variety of cheeses, butter honey, a jam, some olives and some slices of fruit but had very little in the way of tomatoes and cucumbers and came with one lonely slice of very suspicious, bologna-looking like "meat". The eggs were quite nice though: menemen with peynir (a feta-like cheese) and fresh herbs and the three cheese omelet was really good.

I do like this place but I think I'll either visit only during lunch/dinner times or, if I'm there for breakfast again, stick to the egg dishes.

Nar Dükkan
Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mahallesi
Ali Paşa Değirmeni Sokak, No 22/A
Beyoğlu, İstanbul

04 March 2016

5 Turkish Desserts That Are Not to Be Missed

I have a serious sweet tooth. Which is probably no surprise given the number of baked good recipes I've posted and the dessert bonanza I threw for my 31st. When I moved to Turkey I knew I was looking at a few pretty good domestic desserts but I did not realize the vast array available. Turkey may not have a large variety of some things but it does desserts like no body's business.

One of my favorite places for dessert is Hafiz Mustafa. There are at least four branches in Istanbul and I visit them all pretty regularly. The menu needs to be seen to be believed. They have just about every Turkish dessert in existence: baklavas, candied fruit, Turkish delight (lokum), puddings, cakes, mastic ice cream...it's pretty insane. My favorites are the puddings, particularly the profiterol, sütlaç
and tavuk gümüsü. I usually eat around the profiterols in the profiterol pudding. I don't like them but the hazelnut pudding they're drowning in is amazing. Tavuk gümüsü is often off putting to newbies because the main ingredient is chicken breast. Don't be scared, eat it. It's glorious. Sütlaç, simply described, is rice pudding (served without raisins thankfully). Usually served cold here it's milkier than rice pudding in the States and goes beautifully with cup of Turkish tea.

Choc-pistachio (back) & profiterol pudding

Another famous dessert here is künefe, a dessert Turkey shares in common with the Middle East. I do a bad job describing this dessert which is like cheese filled shredded wheat, baked, and drowned in simple syrup. It's nummy.


This next dessert you have to travel for a little bit. I've only ever found it in Selçuk, home of Ephesus. It doesn't even have name beyond whatever the restaurant calls it: Artemis something something. I don't even like pistachios and I love this thing. It's like a cross between the afore mentioned künefe and baklava. I call it künaklava. Tracing paper thin layers of pastry wrapped around ground pistachios in the manner of kol bureği, then circled in a dish, baked with simple syrup, and served hot with kaymaklı ice cream (we'll talk more about kaymak eventually). If Ephesus doesn't 'flip your Twinkie' as a friend of mine is fond of saying, it's still worth the trip for this dessert which I've only ever seen at the Agora Restaurant in Selçuk.


Dessert is not just a restaurant thing here. Street food vendors also play their part. Lokma are one of my favorite desserts here and it's probably a good thing that there aren't any vendors in my neighborhood, or even the surrounding neighborhoods that sell them. Sometimes there's someone selling them near the spice market, there are a couple vendors in Ortaköy, and one in Eyüp. Personally though, the best are on Büyükada which is the only reason I ever agree to go out there. Lokma are like donuts but are really so much more. Dough balls are piped out of a pastry bag into hot oil where they're fried until golden and crisp. They're then scooped out and swirled around in some sort of honey syrupy goodness. Sometimes they're topped with pistachio powder (ick) but I prefer a dash of cinnamon (tarçin). You will never know the heaven that is a fresh batch if you're lucky enough to get one. After the initial crunch of the outer layer they basically just melt in your mouth.

Beautiful lokma goodness.

Last, but certainly not least-baklava. Baklava is nearly as ubiquitous as tea here and there are so many kinds! Baklava is really kind of fascinating. Like "Turkish" coffee there are a lot of regional arguments between the Turks, Greeks, and Arab countries over who invented it and each country does baklava differently. Lauren I think prefers Iraqi baklava. We both agree the stuff they make in Dearborn, MI should never be eaten and that the Greeks need to pull back a little on all the honey they dump all over theirs. I prefer Turkish baklava. Unarguably the best comes from Gaziantep, Turkey (frankly all food in Turkey gets better the farther East you go) but in lieu of flying to Antep you can get some pretty decent baklava in Istanbul. My favorite places to go are Ali Usta (several branches in the Sultanahmet area) and Göllüoğl, one of the most famous baklava places in Turkey. 

As I said there are so many kinds of baklava using not only pistachios but hazelnuts and walnuts (my favorite). You can even find chocolate baklava made with chocolate pastry and oozing chocolate sauce. 

Those on the far right are my absolute favorites.
There are so many more desserts than this; this is merely an overview of some of my favorites. Don't take my word for it though! Visit Turkey, try all the desserts, and find your own favorites.

02 March 2016

Turkish WIne of the Week - Vino Dessera 2013 Cabernet Franc

This particular wine I've had for a while. I picked it up at Comedus maybe eight months ago, back when I still thought paying 70-something TL a bottle was outrageous. I feel like now that's my median per bottle amount.

I have an up and down relationship with Edirne's Vino Dessera. I've had a couple amazing wines from them and a couple less wines. Unfortunately for me (and my drinking companions) this one fell into the latter category.

In the glass it was a not very attractive brownish red color. While it has been aged three months in oak I couldn't detect any discernible oaky scents or flavors. In fact, I couldn't detect much of any scents or flavors period.

In the mouth low-medium tannins, high acid, and rather high alcohol (15%) gave the wine a very thin feeling. I know Cabernet Francs are generally on the medium bodied scale but I think this bottle had gone on a diet at some point.

It was okay with food but not okay enough to justify the bottle price. Despite this bad experience I'm not ready to give up on Vino Dessera! When they get it right (for my taste) they get it really right so I'm going to keep trying!