Armenian-inspired Jash Istanbul

The place: Jash
The offerings: Huge selection of mezzes, entrees, and drinks
Price range: 12-20 for mezzes, 26-40 for entrees
The pros: Delicious mezzes, great hospitality, live music
The cons: The main entrees paled in comparison to the mezze selection


According to its website, Jash specializes in  traditional Istanbul cuisine. It’s a fair description, but perhaps, not quite correct. Most people know Jash as an Armenian restaurant, or at the very least, an Armenian-inspired restaurant. Sure it serves the standard mezze selections found in any Istanbul meyhane, but its Armenian owner has also added a few Armenian specialities to the menu, including topik which my readers will already be familiar with. A visitor to Turkey may not easily pick up on the Armenian influence, but a resident of Turkey would understand from the decorations (a small Jesus hangs by the front door) or the clientele (we met the owner’s Armenian cousins who were visiting from Montreal).

In many ways, this restaurant feels like you are eating in someone’s home not unlike the familial atmosphere at The Galata House. Like the Galata House, Jash also has an old-time feel to it, but in opinion, it’s done even better. Antique decorations, family photographs, and feel-good hospitality abound. Mari(a), the owner is very hands-on, she gave us recommendations when ordering, asked us what we thought of our selections, and went from table to table to make sure all her guests were happy. The restaurant has a good amount of seating with a downstairs and upstairs as well as an outdoor patio area – but as this place is quite popular, a reservation is a must. You can tell from the picture below that we were the first guests of the evening besides one large group of tourists sitting outside. Shame on us for arriving so early to a meyhane, but someone had some plans that he had to set in motion!

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Jash is know for its mezzes and they did not disappoint. I had my heart set on the topik so we ordered that along with cerkez tavugu (literally translated as Circassian chicken this dish is a special chicken salad with walnuts), sarma (stuffed grape leaves), and melon to go with our raki. The topik was among the best I’ve ever had and it was well worth the 20 TL price tag which I had originally found pricey. The sarma, too, were delicious and extremely fresh. I was surprised to find that they were much better than any homemade sarma I’d ever had – the chef at Jash certainly knows what he is doing. The chicken salad was also good but the portion a bit small. I took a look at a few other mezzes as waiters were serving them, and the midya dolma will definitely be on my list of things to order next time. They were HUGE and overflowing with rice stuffing.

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From L to R: melon, chicken salad, topik, and sarma

By the time our main entrees came, we both agreed that we were already quite full and it probably wasn’t necessary to order two full entrees (next time, we are sticking to the mezzes). I tried the harisa which is only available on the weekends and similar to traditional Turkish keskek which is made with chicken and wheat. Gurkan tried a kofte dish with meatballs on toasted bread with tomato sauce poured over and yogurt on the side. The concept was similar to Bursa’s pideli kofte, but not quite as tasty in our opinion. In the grand scheme of things, we weren’t overly impressed with the main entrees but it may be because nothing could compare to the delicious selection of mezzes we had just devoured.

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Harisa, similar to keskek

Jash has an accordion player that starts to play in the evenings around 8 p.m. On the night we were there, he took up a place outside on the patio to play. The real surprise of the evening was when the accordion player came over to our table and Gurkan PROPOSED. That’s right, he proposed in Jash and I said Yes! Everyone in the restaurant was clapping for us and snapping photos. After everything had calmed down a bit and we had gone back to our table, guests continued to congratulate us from their tables and one couple even beckoned us over to them in order to wish us well in life. I’m telling you this place has the coolest atmosphere. Mari also came over with little gifts including a bookmark and bag holder with the restaurant’s name on them, and we told her we’ll be back every year to celebrate (as long as we are in Turkey). Gurkan proposed on the longest day of the year, so it shouldn’t be too hard for us to remember our annual date at Jash.


How to get there:

Jash is centrally located and easily accessible from Kabatas or Taksim. In typical Istanbul fashion, it rained the evening we visited, so we went by taxi which may also be a good idea for first time visitors since Jash is tucked away in Cihangir.

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Backwoods meets trendy Cihangir at Geyik

The place: Geyik Coffee Roastery & Cocktail Bar
The offerings: coffee & cocktails
Price range: latte 10 TL; cocktails 30-35 TL
The pros: Excellent coffee, great atmosphere and good tunes
The cons: Very small & the bathroom doors are see-through!


This cozy cafe is right down the street from Smryna, another well-known Cihangir hangout. By day, it’s a chill coffee house and by night, it’s a trendy craft cocktail bar. When we walked in, there was no coffee menu to be found, and instead, Serkan (the co-owner according to The Guide) simply asked us ‘what’s your drink?’ Normally, I take a pour over during the day but it was warm and I had just walked up from Karakoy, so I opted for an iced latte and I am glad I did. Serkan prepared the drinks right in front of us, and I was pleased to see he shook the lattes martini-style and served them with shaved chocolate. It’s certainly not standard latte preparation but it was a nice touch. The espresso was smooth and the drink frothy.

While sipping my drink, I admired the inside of the small cafe. A few stools were set up at the bar but most of the sitting space was on a bench alongside the opposite facing wall and towards the back of the cafe where there were free-standing tree stump stools. There were tables and cushions set up outside as well but all had been spoken for. Back inside I noticed the floor still had its original design and the ceiling was covered in rustic wooden beams. Behind the bar was a small image of a deer (geyik), the namesake of the cafe, set against a brick wall.

I also had a chance to check out the cafe’s cocktail menu, and I was shocked to see that the old fashioned had made the cut. For some months now, I have been searching Istanbul for an old fashioned, and I had come to the conclusion that the best and perhaps only old fashioned in all of Istanbul was the one I make at home (thanks to my friend Olivia who brought me the bitters from Boston). I’ll be back to try Geyik’s old fashioned, but not before I return for another one of those frothy lattes!

Word of warning: Don’t drink too much coffee otherwise you will have to use the bathrooms with see-through doors. Not sure how this can be possible? You’ll have to see for yourself…

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A snapshot from our walk to Cihangir

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The barista works his magic as Mr. Geyik looks on

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It’s all in the details at Geyik

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Shaken lattes at Geyik

 

A mom and pop meatball restaurant? Look no further than Çukurcuma Köftecisi

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll known that I have thing for Cukurcuma, one of Istanbul’s neighborhoods. Art galleries, antique shops, and hipster cafes galore, it’s also the location of Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence which should not be missed if you’re a fan of the book by the same name.

The destination this time was Cukurcuma Koftecisi (or, according to Google, Cukurcuma Meatball Restaurant). I first saw it on one of my many walks exploring Cukurcuma – it’s not far from Cukurcuma 49, a restaurant serving up yummy pizzas with local Turkish wine and live jazz music.  I also checked out the restaurant’s website, and after seeing this fun quote featured on their homepage, I knew it was a place I had to visit.

“Having lunch at Cukurcuma Koftecisi is like being a part of the live studio audience of a TV sitcom with meatballs. Three generations of an unusually tall family run a busy local restaurant with what seems like very little service industry experience but great intentions and strong will. Hilarity ensues.”

We went for an early dinner on a Saturday evening, and had the whole restaurant to ourselves. There’s no menu – the options rotate daily and you just choose from the day’s offerings. We ordered two portions of kofte (meatballs) and a plate of mucver (zucchini fritters) and fried eggplant which came with a side of spicy pepper sauce. The mucver and eggplant were excellent, and the kofte were of the homemade variety. They were very tender and not at all like the kind you typically find in restaurants. My favorite thing, however, was the pepper sauce. It complemented everything perfectly. In fact, I was content to eat it all by itself until Gurkan kindly reminded me that I should save it for when the kofte came.

While we ate, the mom of the family (looking lovely in her chef hat) prepared vegetables for the following day and the dad sat outside watching the dark streets of Cukurcuma and its passers-by. When customers came in, he took their orders and barked a few orders to the kitchen hand. Little rough around the edges but very helpful nonetheless. I’d say the website’s quote wasn’t too far off.

In a neighborhood full of trendy (read: pricey) cafes and restaurants, it’s a relief to know this no frills restaurant exists. The restaurant (and the family who runs it) has a personality all its own and as Gurkan says, it’s the nicest esnaf lokantasi he’s ever seen.

 
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Spicy pepper spread, eggplant, zucchini fritters

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Homemade meatballs

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Gurkan petting the cats of Cukurcuma. If you look closely, you can see the mom preparing veggies. Just look for the white chef hat.

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The dark streets of Cukurcuma. Can you find the three cats?