It was with excited anticipation that I was re-visiting Asitane Restaurant. Here in Edinerkapı, next door to one of the finest Byzantine churches, the Holy Saviour in Chora, I experienced my first culinary Ottoman history tour. With a table of good friends, I was about to take another ride back into the cuisine of the Ottoman Empire.
After a long and tedious journey in Saturday night Istanbul traffic, we finally arrived at Asitane. Upon entering the restaurant, one is completely transported into an opulent dining room with old world burgundy velvet upholstered chairs and an intimate ambience. The ud player (Turkish lute), accompanied by a violinist, were just setting up to entertain us with beautiful Turkish duets.
As we waited for the rest of our dining party, we perused the ‘lost cuisine’ of centuries ago, the selections dating from 1453-1918. The waiter brought us some sustenance in the form of a spicy dip of green olives with walnuts and spices to put on the lovely fresh wholemeal bread. With so many delights to choose from, it was difficult to decide on just one so we concluded that we would share a number of starters in order to experience as much of the menu as possible.
With eight cold starters and three warm to choose from we bypassed the Babaganuş (12TL), the Shrimp Pilaki (16TL) and the Bayıldı Platter (12TL) in favour of the Stuffed Calamari (16TL), Stuffed Vine leaves with Sour Cherries (14TL), the Grilled Circassian Cheese with Oyster Mushrooms (18TL) and the Chargrilled Eggplant with Tulum Cheese and Walnuts (14TL). With the decision to match our meal with a bottle of vin rouge, I took charge of the wine list.
There was a good selection of quality Turkish wines. A number of blends, Öküzgözü and Boğazkere were on offer from Kayra and Kavaklıdere (95TL), other single grape varieties and a Buzbağ Reserve (85TL.) We chose to go with a single grape, the 2007 Corvus Merlot (110TL.) This red had a subtle nose with quite a long finish attributed by a ‘high-ish’ acidity level. The lingering legs mellowed into a very pleasing selection to accompany our Ottoman feast.
Our final struggle, choosing the main course, was a relatively easy decision for most of us. Four of us couldn’t go past the Mutancana (32TL), leg of lamb braised with apricots, Rezaki raisins and almonds. My friend to the right ordered the Stuffed Melon (34TL) and his girlfriend, the XVIII Century Kirde Kebab (30TL.) We sat back in comfort, enjoyed our conversations while listening to the unobtrusive lyrical lute playing, knowing that all the difficult decisions had been made.
When our starters arrived we had trouble containing our excitement, our hunger for fabulous food was evident. The Chargrilled Eggplant was smooth in taste and was balanced with the saltiness of the cheese and crunch of the walnuts. The Visneli Yaprak Sarma (1844) was a pleasant change from the traditional dolma found today. The cherries added a slight sweetness to the stuffed vine filling but to me it was not as ‘cherry-like’ in flavour as I had expected.
The Çerkez-grilled cheese was similar in texture to haloumi and the smoked treatment complimented the saltiness. The oyster mushrooms were nothing special in taste but added a second texture to the dish. The Kalamar Dolması, Karidesli, was the first appetiser I had set eyes on due to the ingredients of cinnamon, apricots, pine nuts, currants and mint. It didn’t disappoint. The calamari was almost outshone by the centre mixture of minty freshness…a wonderful tour of Ottoman flavours.
When the main course arrived, we were confronted with our four hot pots of exquisitely fresh stewed lamb. I couldn’t enjoy the dish fully until I asked for a spoon to sip the flavoursome jus with each mouthful of tender lamb. I was a little disappointed with finding only one apricot, a few almonds and a couple of raisins, but the mixed morsels of ingredients I did taste together were satisfyingly good. I sampled the Stuffed Melon (1539), enjoying the blend of minced meat, rice, herbs, almonds and currents. I wasn’t ‘wowed’ by the flavour but the combination with the sweet melon was an added pleasure. My friend found the sweetness quite overpowering by the end of the dish. My couple of mouthfuls of the Lamb kebab with vegetables was not anything out of the ordinary. The yogurt and crispy flat bread croutons added to the textures both creamy and crunchy.
The waiter offered us the dessert menu for perusal as we all nodded in approval. Again, four of us leaned towards the Şeftalili Ka’a, cinnamon flavoured walnut dough with baked peaches and ice cream as the others selected the Levzine (1539), almond halva. When the Peach Ka’a came out it was a breathtaking tower of layered loveliness (although we joked that the walnut dough made it look a little like a dessert hamburger!) The cinnamon crunch was at the forefront of the taste experience and the soft baked peaches and creamy ice cream added another two textures. A completely scrumptious dessert that in hindsight could have been shared by two of us. The left over Halva was enjoyed by all over Turkish coffee and fortune telling from the bottom of the coffee cups. But since marzipan is not ‘my thing’ I bowed out of eating another morsel, j’ai bien mangé, çok döydum (I was as full as a ‘goog’! -egg)
Once again, my Asitane culinary journey was one to be remembered and promoted to others looking for a true Ottoman feast. To sample dishes from the Sultans’ Festival menus at the Topkapı Palace kitchen from the 15th to 18th centuries, is a unique Turkish experience. Kudos to the chefs and the waiting staff, for providing a wonderful dining extravaganza.
Amatrice de bons crus et cuisine