29 June 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Sevilen's Isa Bey 2014 Chardonnay

It's no secret how I feel about Chardonnay-basically I hate it. I enjoy a steel-aged Chardonnay but those are difficult to find in the US, finding one in Turkey is like finding a unicorn standing in a field of four-leaf clovers. However a friend of mine is a huge fan of Sevilen's Isa Bey Chardonnay and at her prompting I tried a bottle.

Before we talk about the wine itself (35 TL from Carrefour, 69 from Solera) let's talk about this particular line of Sevilen wines. Isa Bey means Mr. Jesus. Naming your wine after the guy famous for turning water into wine (if I but had a superpower!) is not a bad marketing gimmick.

As oaked Chardonnays go this was not horrendous. Which is about as ringing an endorsement as I will likely ever give an oaked Chardonnay.

While it looks like a darker yellow/gold in the picture that has more to do with lighting than the actual color which was paler than I expect from a Chardonnay. Being a 2014 it is a bit younger so I'm throwing out a guess that it did not spend a great deal of time in oak. The nose was light, faintly floral with citrus blossoms and green apple. On the palate it was crisp with lively acidity and a medium, slightly buttery finish. For me the overwhelming flavor aspect was green apple with undertones of citrus.

For those who like dry, oaked white wines but for who your standard Chardonnay is too full bodied this is a good choice. It's not a heavy white but is quite quaffable. I'm still not a convert but I will try some other Mr. Jesus wines this summer!

27 June 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Aşşk Kahve

Getting a late start on this week's breakfast review because I completely forgot that it was Monday! Either the heat and humidity have finally succeeded in melting my brain or I haven't had enough coffee yet.

Speaking of coffee...Saturday morning M and I ventured up the Bosphorus to Kuruçeşme to try the highly reviewed Aşşk Kahve. While traffic along the Bosphorus road is usually a nightmare Saturday and Sunday mornings it's clear sailing. I think we may have waited for the 42T in Taksim longer than we were actually on it.

Aşk is the Turkish word for 'love', so aşşk is kind of like saying 'loove' and when we first arrived at the cafe I was ready to be in love with it. It's in a beautiful garden, sits right on the water, and is decorated with bright colors. It was a nice breezy day so sitting on the water was a very relaxing and refreshing change from my stuffy oven of an apartment.

Aşşk Kahve gives you the option of building your own breakfast platter offering all it's cheeses and spreads individually. Instead of doing that though M and I went for egg dishes, although of course with an order of bal kaymak on the side because life should always have bal kaymak!

Our drinks, the bal kaymak, and a bag of mixed breads came out pretty quickly making a favorable first impression. The portion of kaymak was quite generous and I really loved that it not only came with honey on it already but that they brought us a bottle of extra honey (of which I made judicious use!). My latte was only meh but M said his Americano was good. We were slightly horrified that his small orange juice cost 12.50 TL but whatever it was I paid for my passion fruit lemonade was well worth it.

Both of us paid the extra fee to have real ham with our eggs. M's choice was sunny side up eggs with ham and potatoes while I went for the Eggs Benedict. He quite enjoyed his order but I had mixed, leaning toward negative, feelings about my order. The salad and potatoes served on the side were better than the eggs themselves. While the dish looked promising the bechamel had virtually no flavor. Fail.

While we started out with great service it quickly took a huge nose dive. Yes the cafe was super busy but we also saw a lot of waiters avoiding eye contact with people and wandering around aimlessly in an attempt to look busy. It took M several minutes to flag down a waiter to order a water and when we were finally able to get someone's attention to ask for the bill it took another 15 minutes to come.

We both left with mixed feelings but in the end I think we decided that, while we wouldn't go back for the food, we would go back (especially on a weekday when it would theoretically be slower) for a drink and to sit in the garden by the water. Seriously it's worth the trip for the lemonade which comes in multiple flavors aside from the passion fruit (I'm addicted to anything passion fruit flavored); but for breakfast...meh. I've had better.

Aşşk Kahve (right next to the Macro Center)
Kuruçeşme Mahallesi, Muallim Naci Caddesi, No 64/B 
Beşiktaş, İstanbul

24 June 2016

Friday Fun - Sevilen Cider

Not too long ago while I was in Solera I found this bottle of Sevilen CIDER. I love hard cider and really needed to try this despite the rather steep price tag. Luckily since it was Solera I didn't pay the full 65TL (for cider!) but even with the discount it was a bit much.

Basically it tasted like äpfelschörle (apple juice mixed with sparkling water) and with only 5% APV (alcohol per volume) it wasn't a lot more than that. It was very apply so it had that going for it-pretty much that's all it had going for it. It was super sweet, really super sweet. I like sweet ciders, ciders that are too dry, for me, start to veer into beer-flavored territory and ick. This was too sweet for me. It was also only just barely carbonated.

If you like apple juice that's had both sugar and semi flat sparkling water added to it then Sevilen's cider is for you! If that's not your bag though you can safely skip this and know that you haven't missed anything by not trying it.

22 June 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Arcadia 2010 Sauvignon Gris

"'The time has come,' the walrus said, 'to talk of other things'." For me that means it's time to switch from my beloved red wines to the whites I try to drink during the warmer months. Now that summer is upon us I will try to drink more whites and may even face off with a few Chardonnays. To kick this off I went to a white wine tasting with some of my girlfriends.

Organized by Istanbul-based British pub, Pubness, we were to taste our way through four different Turkish wines with French sommelier Jean Luc. Forty to sixty people were expected at this event but only nine of us came. While some of that may be attributed to flaky people this was also a day when Istanbul experienced a 4.4 magnitude earthquake, a bombing that killed 11 people, a bus accident that killed several more people, and severe weather. Given all that I'd say nine people was a pretty decent turn out. Apparently not for Jean Luc who, and I am not kidding, refused to go ahead with the tasting because he wouldn't lower himself to speak to such a small group. The Pubness owners apologized profusely while Jean Luc sat at the back of the bar, wrapped in his own imagined superiority. We went on to enjoy our evening sans Jean Luc, spoke to Pubness's bar manager about the wines we were supposed to have sampled, and had our own fun while loudly disparaging Jean Luc, his heritage, what his ego was compensating for, and pretty much anything else we could think of.

Jean Luc wankery aside, we begin this season of whites with Arcadia's 2010 Sauvignon Gris. A lovely person gave this to me as a gift for my house warning so I don't know how much it'll set you back. I found this an interesting if not exactly enjoyable wine.

For one thing it was a learning experience for me. I've never had a Sauvignon Gris before so imagine my surprise encountering it here in Turkey. The Sauvignon Gris grape is a pink grape which, at least in this case, produced a brilliant, clear pale straw/gold color. Most commonly found in the Loire valley, the Sauvignon Gris is usually labeled only as a Bordeaux wine as it's apparently illegal to label it with the grape name. 

walnut tulum & chevre cheeses w/ lavender apricot jam

At first I had a hard time smelling past the oak to the fruit underneath but as the wine opened more I got some apple and stone fruit along with sweet spices and almond. The flavors were quite nice and paired beautifully with the walnut tulum and chevre cheeses that I had. Tulum seems to be Turkey's response to Stilton, it's got a very strong flavor.

While the flavors were nice enough where the Arcadia Sauvignon Gris let me down was the mouth feel. It's very flabby. I got no acid at all from this and I wonder if the bottle had gone off. Have you ever drunk water that's been overly softened? That's what this felt like. I've never had such a flabby wine before and while I appreciate that I now really understand what it means when you say 'flabby wine' I will be more than happy to not ever repeat the experience again.

Speaking of flabby...'Jean Luc' is now code for anyone being too pretentious, egotistical, self-important, etc., etc. The real shame of the evening was that for all the sommeliers trying to change people's mind about the accessibility of wine and the poor imagine of the snooty sommelier many hold there is a Jean Luc perpetuating the stereotype. I am sometimes pretentious but I vow that when I get my sommelier certificate I will not be a Jean Luc!

20 June 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Marmelat

Last Monday I had a mission. Well it was something of a dual mission: 1. Go to CherryBean Coffees to replenish my coffee bean stock and 2. Have breakfast at CherryBean's neighbor cafe Marmelat. I've been walking by this bright cafe for months now when I go next door for my caffeine mix and last week M and I went in to try them out.

Service was a little slow and they didn't have everything listed on the menu in stock-but it was still a pretty hearty thumbs up from the two of us. Marmelat offers traditional Turkish breakfast foods-no pancakes, paleo anything, or eggs benedict here-the difference between Marmelat and all the other Turkish breakfast places though is that they offer you a choice.

For 25TL you get Marmelat's breakfast plate and get to choose! three cheeses, two meats, two marmalades, and two olives and it comes with a boiled eggs, tea for two, and tomatoes and cucumbers. We also ordered sucuklu menemen which was very good, and a side of cigara borek (they were out of the pachanga).

Everything was excellent but we were most impressed with the marmalades-which apparently you can buy from the cafe! We chose raspberry and quince with clove and I will be back to buy them both. Often store-brand jams and marmalade are sweeter than candy. Marmelat's were gorgeous. We were full from breakfast but asked for more bread anyway because we couldn't leave the jams lying.

Thumbs up for Marmelat-well worth the visit. And after you've stuffed yourself with breakfast you can go next door to Cherrybean for a great coffee.

Marmelat (near the Galata Tower)
Bereketzade, Camekan Sk. No:8 
34421 Beyoğlu

17 June 2016

Photowalk: Edirnekapi to Ayvansaray

Outside of providing a distraction from work, Facebook really is sometimes quite useful. There's a group here in Istanbul run by a local guy who takes people on photo walks every other Sunday. Usually I don't like to do anything on Sunday-it's reserved for post church laziness-but I joined the most recent and am so glad I did.

Yas does these walks for people like me-foreigners who aren't tourists but who want to explore parts of the city that are less frequented. This walk I joined started in Edirnekapi and made a meandering path to Ayvansaray-near Balat. Along the way we stopped at several points of interest with Yas providing interesting details, history, and background.

Mihrimah Sultan Camii

We walked for a while along the old city wall. You can tell that it's been patched up in some places. In fact it's pretty obvious; so much so that UNESCO told Turkey to knock it off or lose the wall's protected status. Some parts are not repaired though and when we got to the Mihrimah Sultan mosque I gave up the chance for the view into the mosque complex and over several of Istanbul's hills because I was not doing those "stairs". Uh huh.

Terrifying stairs aside, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque was my favorite stop. It is an imperial mosque (i.e. commissioned by a sultan) and sits on the sixth of Istanbul's seven hills. The Mihrimah Sultan Mosque is a feat of mathematics and engineering. The arches that support the large center dome shouldn't be able to do so, and yet they do. The vast number of windows cut into each arch weaken the structure but despite this the mosque has been standing since the 1560s.

The windows are not just windows either. The majority are filled with beautiful stained glass that let in both light and color. It's breathtaking.

Edirne Gate

After leaving the mosque we headed back to the wall nearby and passed through the Edirnekapi (Edirne Gate). So-called because if you walk a straight line from the gate, not that that's possible anymore, you will reach the Turkish city of Edirne which was once upon a time the second capitol of the Ottoman Empire.

Kariye City Park

After leaving the Edirnekapi we walked further along the wall until we came to the Kariye Muzesi, also known as the Chora Church, my favorite museum in Istanbul. We went first to a lovely park I had no idea was behind the church then circled back around the front. I don't think Yas intended to stop but quite a few in the group hadn't yet been to the museum so we stopped for them. While it used to be one of the cheaper museum tickets at 15TL, the Kariye entrance fee has recently doubled. Luckily if you're a citizen, resident, or student in Turkey you can get the magical Museum Card which, for 50TL a year, allows you unfettered access to all the museums and sites in Turkey controlled by the Ministry of Culture.

Palace Center

Our next stop was the ruins of what was one of the imperial palaces. There's barely anything left and what is there has been so remodeled as to barely be recognizable. In addition to the very modern windows that have been put in, there's also a French balcony that makes no sense architecturally nor historically, and a door that opens to no where. Apparently it's to be made into some sort of cultural center.

Door to nowhere

When we weren't stopping for mathematically-defying mosques or ancient ruins were wandering the streets in the neighborhoods between Edirnekapi and Ayvansaray. Living where I do it's easy to forget what "real" Istanbul looks like. The narrow streets were lined with all sorts of homes, some if great repair, some not so much; some concrete apartment blocks, some traditional gems made from wood.

This enclosed balcony is called a 'cumba'

We stopped for a rest and tea break at the Molla Aşkı Teras Cafe which not only has a special tea blend with something like 40 spices, but also has an amazing view. While I may never attempt to hike up to the cafe (we walked down), I think it would be worth it. Worth it for the view and a tea-the food looked questionable so eat elsewhere.

Cemetery at dervish house

Dervish House

Our last stop was a renovated dervish house that is now a mosque. It also had an incredible view over the city and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the calm mosque and small cemetery over the bustling city below.

In the end it was a lot of walking on a warm day and I was exhausted after. However Yas was a great guide, it was a fun group of people, and I got to see parts of the city that I've never visited. I will be signing up for Yas's next walk!

15 June 2016

Turkish Wine of the Week - Paşeli 2012 K2

I had the Paşeli K2 last summer at my birthday dinner at Ali Ocakbaşı and it was fantastic. Unfortunately Paşeli is not really a pocketbook friendly wine although buying at Solera does help. The shelf price for the K2 is 90 TL but if you get it to go at Solera you pay %25 less making it a far more reasonably priced bottle.

I drank this bottle with some friends and colleagues in what I know call the inadvisable night of five bottles. Five bottles shared among four people should not be a problem. Unfortunately it was. I am too old to be having red wine-induced hangovers on a Wednesday. It was totally worth it though.

The K2 is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot aged for 12 months in French oak then sitting another six months in the bottles before it hit the market. It's got a very deep nose of red berries and dark fruits with something sweet/floral at the rim. Purple-red in color this baby has some nice legs showing its moderately high alcohol content (%14.4).

Nice big tannins on this backed up with a medium level of acid. The finish is a little disappointing but the berry and fruit flavors come through well. I liked this bottle (number four of the evening btw) as much as I did the first time. Highly recommended.

13 June 2016

Turkish Breakfast Review - Kırıntı

Last weekend to met my lovely friend S for brunch I ventured up to Bebek. I so rarely go to Bebek because the traffic is a nightmare but apparently everyone is still abed at 10AM on a Saturday and it took barely a blink of an eye to get there. Since I'd given myself more than an hour to get there I was early and used the opportunity to take in the gorgeous sea air with a walk along the Bebek shore.

In order to meet S I had to backtrack - no hardship since it was along the same boardwalk! Or what would be a boardwalk if it weren't made out of concrete. I digress...Kırıntı is located almost exactly across the street from the Bebek bus stop so you really cannot miss it. It's a spacious restaurant with lots of room inside and out. We started in the garden until the mother of all storms (pouring rain, thunder, lightening, and hail!) drove us inside.

The extensive menu, which also doubles as a magazine, could keep a person busy for hours. On weekends they serve breakfast until late afternoon so while the French Dip sandwich alluringly called my name I was set on breakfast. Now that I know Saturday morning traffic isn't terrible I'm far more willing to go back another weekend for the sandwich!

I must be a little homesick because I chose pancakes. Kırıntı's pancakes, accompanied by a small variety of fruit, nutella, honey, and maple syrup were decent but not as good as the ones Cuppa is serving up. S and I also also shared a blue cheese omelette and a salad of fresh tomatoes, green peppers and chilies, and black olives.

I cannot yet speak for the nonbreakfast food items but with it's great location near the Bosphorus, really friendly staff, and good breakfast foods, Kırıntı gets a good star from me.

Cevdet Paşa Caddesi 35

10 June 2016

Being an Infidel Has Its Perks

It's funny how you don't miss, or really even think about something until you can't have it. For me in Turkey those things have been foodstuffs, like pork. You can more and more find restaurants that carry a pork option: Urban does a pretty decent pulled pork sandwich, Journey has bacon for breakfast, Kahvedan does gorgeous pork chops and larger groceries like Carrefour and Macro Center carry some pork products; pork is still not widely available or reasonably priced. This is where Ideal Salam comes in.

Ideal Salam is an exclusive pork butcher shop. I heard about it some time ago but it's not located in one of the nicer areas of town so I've hesitated to go before now. I have made many lovely friends in Turkey and with several of them have formed something of a food group exploring as many of Istanbul's ethnic restaurants as we can (so far Georgian, Indonesian, and Uyghur). On Monday our food group celebrated the first day of Ramazan like only a true infidel can-by venturing into one of the city's seedier neighborhoods on a pork-buying adventure!

From Osmanbey we walked downhill along the infamous Dolapdere Caddesi. I generally avoid this area with its reputation for drugs and other such shenanigans. While walking a fair bit of its length I cannot say I was accosted or saw anything untoward but I still don't think I'd care to repeat the experience. Unless I have a sudden need of one of the many car shops or stores selling wholesale mannequins that line the street.

While the shop windows piled with mannequins were certainly an interesting sight to break up the monotony of all the garages, the most interesting sight was the pile of wood taking up most of the sidewalk as we neared Ideal Salam. The point of the completely untidy pile of wood was not immediately obvious as we carefully picked our way around it-until that is our noses told us what it was for as we literally sniffed out the cause. The wood was located directly in front of a bread shop filled with freshly baked, hot loaves and was (likely) used to fire their ovens (haha, see what I did there?).

Our mouth were already watering from the fresh bread smells by the time we found the BP gas station. Much like the door to Narnia, if you pass between the gas pumps you'll find, tucked away to the right, the door to Ideal Salam. And like the door to Narnia, Ideal Salam's glass door opens to a world of wonder...and a glass case full of beautiful pork products.

Unfortunately they were out of ground pork on Monday (it apparently comes in on Tuesdays) and the ribs looked sad and frostbitten. However there was still plenty to choose and the owner's excellent sales tactics (i.e. lots of samples!) guaranteed that we were not going home empty handed. I walked out with fresh ham, salami Milanese, and prosciutto. Ideal Salam also sells cheeses at a better price than Macro Center and I couldn't resist a gorgeous big slice of brie. Nor could I resist, at a very reasonable 35TL, a bottle of imported Negroamaro. Ideal carries a small selection of Italian wines, mostly Chianti blends but I've never had a Negroamaro (grown almost exclusively in Apulia in southern Italy) so that came home as well.

I was tempted to buy more than I did but had to remind myself that I would have to eat everything relatively quickly so as to not lose it to spoilage. Along with some aged white cheddar from Besiktas's Rani (good effort but not quite cheddar) it's been a ham sandwich feast up in here!