This week we collaborated with our guest writer Joanna! It’s always nice to be able to share good food experiences with new people :) –Richard
One of my philosophies in life has always been that food brings people together, and I happily got to witness that philosophy in action the other week. My friend Nick and I had been at an Awesome Calgary pitch night when we first met Kiran and Richard. Warm and wearing some pretty hilarious t-shirts, we instantly hit it off (obviously you’ll need to ask them if the feeling was mutual – if not, then I revoke my first comment ;)).
After some discussion about said hilarious t-shirts and the projects we were working on, we eventually get on the topic of food. I light up at the mention of food. Kiran and Richard were kind enough to invite us out to eat, since talking about restaurants had left us all with a grumble in our belly.
Now, I didn’t know if these two guys were just awfully friendly people or if they were actually putting up a rouse to murder me in a dark alley, but I threw caution to the wind. I’m glad I did. We end up at a quaint Turkish restaurant called Istanbul. As soon as we entered, we were treated to a bunch of patrons keeping the small space lively. Our waiter tries to teach us Turkish – Kiran and Richard do much better at it than I do. We decide to order a bunch of food to share, and during the meal, Kiran and Richard whip out there phones to take notes. It’s at that point I know sh*t just got real.
Yaprak Sarmasi (Stuffed grape leaves) - The first appetizer to come out and it’s piping hot. I feel the only way to describe it is a neatly packed bundle of flavour. The filling is moist and has a tangy kick to it. It has a very nice consistency to balance out the grape leaves, which are on the firmer side. The only issue I had here was a little film of greasiness on the outside of the grape leaves.
Mucver (Zucchini bites) - Deep-fried but soft in the inside with a blend zucchini and spices, this one hits the spot for me. You must dip it in cool yogurt to get the full experience. This was one of my favourite parts of the meal – it had a nice outer crust and the inside has those warm familiar spices that are representative of Mediterranean cuisine. This dish got us to talking about how sometimes it’s difficult for us to recall names of spices, but our palates have a much better memory.
Kabak Dolmasi (Stuffed zucchini… I see a trend…) - My main dish was a stuffed zucchini, almost like a cabbage roll. It came with a side of rice medley, salad and yogurt sauce. As you can clearly tell, I was on a zucchini fix that night. The zucchini was tender and the stuffing of rice and ground beef was very similar to that of the stuffing in the grape leaves. It was slightly on the bland side, and I cannot deny I was a little disappointed in myself that I didn’t get a kabob. The flavourful yogurt sauce did bring the meal together and counteracted the mild blandness of the stuffed zucchini.
So what is Istanbul? (other than "Not Constantinople") Among other things, it is an absolutely fantastic Turkish restaurant on 4th Street W and 40th Avenue (roughly) in the central north of Calgary. We arrived fairly late (just a half-hour before closing), but there were still a couple of groups of people wrapping up their meals and the staff was more than willing to accommodate us. "We’ll stay open as long as you want to stay – 1am, 2am, no problem, we just sleep in the back!" our cheerful host stated (not quite sure if he was joking or not).
Being pretty hungry, we decided to sample several appetizers, which turned out to be a good choice as they were all excellent. The yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) came out super-fast and piping hot – greasy, flavourful, fragrant (like a nice tea) and savoury with a tangy kick. Next up was the mucver – described as a zucchini patty on the menu, it was crispy and cumin-ey, reminding me quite a bit of Indian pakoras. Finally there was barbuny pilaki – a hearty, traditional dish made up of red beans in a zesty tomato sauce. It seemed very Italian in style to me – loaded with garlic, carrots and bell peppers, and a sauce that was un poco piccante. It was even served with oregano bread! Anyone who’s a fan of beans would be served well to give this dish a try.
The menu here is surprisingly expansive, so it was difficult to settle on a main dish – but in the end, I decided to go with the kuzu kebab – marinated, tender lamb cubes served shish-kebab-style. And my god, were they tender! I was feeling pretty full after our appetizers, but after tasting one bite of the kebab I had no trouble scarfing down every last bit of that succulent, perfectly spiced meat – they don’t even give you a knife with the plate, because you won’t need it! They don’t fuck around with the presentation here either – it comes out on a seriously stylish skewer. The bread, rice and salad were all quite nicely done as well and made for appropriate accompaniment.
After stuffing our bellies, we were offered a Turkish hand cleansing cologne – it seemed to be essentially a bottle full of the stuff that makes wet-naps wet. Why waste all that paper and packaging when you can get all that lemony cleanliness directly?
Istanbul’s been on my hit list for a very long time. I don’t know where I heard about it or how it got into my list, but I am glad that it did. Walking into Istanbul, we immediately noticed a large family of middle-eastern descent just wrapping up their dinner. Always a good sign to see ethnic locals in any restaurant. Despite walking in 30 min. before closing, the owner/chef didn’t put up any fuss and we were seated right away.
The interior was fairly functional. It was neither the "hole-in-the wall" dive that shit-hole Korean restaurant Don Day epitomizes, and neither is it classy, upscale or anything similar to those. It simply is. Neither good, nor bad. And random. On our way out, we were delighted to discover on of those old school fortune-telling machines near the entrance. Of course. Why not.
On to the food. I was a bit disappointed with the menu as I was expecting a plethora of vegetarian options. However, the menu was heavily tilted towards meat-based options, with most of the vegetarian options relegated to the starters and salads. I guess I was expecting a menu similar to
Persian or Moroccan cuisines, where vegetarian dishes are a-plenty (I think you’ve forgotten what Persian cuisine is like ;) – Richard). Maybe this is a Calgary thing?
I loved the stuffed grape leaves. The subtly-spiced rice was so delicious that you couldn’t just have one. If there were 10 pieces there, I would have popped them all into my mouth. It also helped that for some reason, the oily coating reminded/smelled like ghee (clarified butter). I can never say no to ghee. The zucchini patties reminded me of Indian potato cutlets, primarily cause of the cumin. I didn’t really enjoy the crispy exterior texture, and to be honest, it tasted a bit burnt. The dipping sauce was delicious, but overall, this starter was a bit of a miss. The Choban Salata (Shepherd’s salad) – tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green peppers, lettuce, and parsley all tossed with oilve oil and delicate herbs – was lemony and tangy with lots of parsley…just the way I like it. The lettuce tasted a bit stale (we did walk in before closing), but the salad was cold and refreshing enough that I could ignore it.
I ended up getting a pide or the Turkish-version of a pizza for my main course. Sebzeli kir Pide came with mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and green peppers, but the best part was the crust, which was essentially a phyllo-based, melt-in-your-mouth turnover. The toppings themselves were a bit plain – I would have preferred bolder flavours – but there are people who probably enjoy a dish more for the texture and plain veggies. Where the pide shined was in it’s value – for $11, it was big enough to feed at least two people. Indeed, I took home the leftovers and ate it for lunch the next day.
Overall I think this little spot is a hidden gem. It had an authenticity to it and had a no-fuss kind of menu. They stick to what they are good at, and it shows. Reasonable prices for the amount of food you get – I’m not going to lie, I gobbled up my leftovers as soon as I woke up the next day. Breakfast of Champions!
||21.5/25 = 84%
||19.5/25 = 76%