Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ciya Sofrasi - Istanbul

Haziran basinda 3 haftaligina Turkiye'deydim. Disarida cok yeme sansim oldu. Bunlardan bazilarini onumuzdeki haftalarda burada yazmayi planliyorum. En cok gitmeyi istedigim yerlerin basinda yurtdisinda tartismasiz en cok bilinen Turk restorani oldugunu dusundugum Kadikoy'de ki Ciya Sofrasi geliyordu. Ciya Sofrasi hakkinda yazdigim Ingilizce kritik Gastromondiale'de okunabilir. Bir kopyasi da asagida.

Kisaca ozetlemem gerekirse, Ciya Sofrasi ve Musa Dagdeviren arastirmacilik yaparak yore mutfagina ve tarihine katkida bulunmasiyla takdire sayan. Ama ayni seyleri mutfaktan cikan yemekler icin soylemek zor.
Few would disagree that Ciya Sofrasi is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Turkey, especially in international food circles. Most recently, the restaurant and its chef, Musa Dagdeviren, were covered very favorably in The New Yorker and the Financial Times. The restaurant is located in Kadikoy district in Istanbul and one needs to take a 20 minute ferry ride from Eminonu, in Old City, to get there.

Chef Dagdeviren travels around the country researching regional peasant home cooking and recreating some of those dishes in his restaurant. He’s also a regular attendee to many Culinary Institute of America (CIA) events in the States, highlighting Turkish and Anatolian cuisine. With his wife, Zeynep, they publish quarterly magazine called Food and Culture which includes essays regarding the history and culture about the region’s rich and less documented cuisine. In each issue, chef Dagdeviren brings to life 7 unforgotten dishes from the region by providing their recipes in the magazine.

Ciya Sofrasi is a product of romantic idea and in theory; it offers something new for those that are not familiar with Turkish cuisine other than typical kebab dishes found in the so-called Turkish restaurants overseas. Based on a recent lunch in early June 2010, I thought Ciya Sofrasi failed to live up to those lofty expectations. I found many of the dishes slightly above average at best and one can have better versions of the same dishes in other places in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey. There are too many dishes offered at Ciya Sofrasi in a given day and this certainly impacts the kitchen’s ability to cook with precision and care.

In Ciya Sofrasi, all the dishes are displayed cafeteria style, customers chose their dishes and then the dishes are brought to the table. We started with perde pilavi, a dish from Siirt, in south eastern Turkey. This is a rice dish with raisins, pine nuts, almonds and chicken and covered with dough like a dome. The dish was dry, overcooked probably sitting for a few hours at the counter and suffered from reheating. The next dish, stuffed zucchini with ground beef and chickpeas, was better but was a little overcooked as well.

Next, we had mumbar dolma. The sheep intestines filled with bulgur wheat, onion and spices, and then braised. This was a solid dish from Adana, in south-central Anatolia.

Next dish was from Syria. Lahm- i kiraz, sour cherries with lean ground beef and pita, is a colorful and visually striking dish. I thought the sauce was a little runny and pitas needed more crust to give a textural contrast. Overall, this was a good dish.

After that, we had stuffed sun dried eggplant and red pepper. This is one of my favourite dishes from South Eastern Anatolian city, Gaziantep. I found Ciya Sofrasi’s version a little dry and unbalanced with hot pepper paste flavors. I had the same dish at Mabeyin Restaurant in Istanbul 2 days before and their version was truly stellar. I suspect Mabeyin braised dried eggplant on top of lamb ribs and bones which gave the dish its delicate richness.

The next three vegetable dishes were better. Kullubas, a type of wild greens from Black Sea region, was sautéed with onions. If we haven’t been told, its taste can be easily mistaken for spinach. The second dish was swiss chard stuffed with fresh ricotta and bulgur wheat, was tasty and light. The last and better was sirken borani, sautéed wild spinach served with yogurt and tiny lamb chunks.

I think the desserts at Ciya Sofrasi were better than the savory dishes. Kerebic which is a little ball of semolina flour filled with Antep pistachios was good. Much better was the accompanying foam with soapwort and honey. Its natural flavor balanced nicely the sweetness of kerebic.

Then, we have followed with a fig dessert, incir teleme, which was quite good. Boiled milk was mixed with dried fig with no added sugar and it’s a light, refreshing summer dessert.

It’s hard not to applaud chef Dagdeviren for all his research and effort trying to bring history and food culture that will be otherwise lost, back to the tables. He’s in process of opening a Turkish Culinary Institute which will include a library, a school and a research institute. However, in its current state, a 20 minute ferry ride with breathtaking views of Bosphorus might as well be the highlight of dining experience at Ciya.

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