Restaurant Review: Ottoman Taverna

Ilhan Erkek by Roy Lopez

Super Chef recently interviewed Chef Ilhan Erkek at Ottoman Taverna. After the interview, the chef cooked up a few dishes from his extensive menu. The restaurant is a stunning, light-filled space. It has a Turkish marble bar stocked with, Ilhan claims, the largest selection of Turkish, Greek, and Middle Eastern wines anywhere in America.

The chef started with a small selection of cold meze from his open kitchen, then moved on to soups, hot meze and an entré. Here are Super Chef’s impressions of ogle yemegi (lunch).

Small plates of Midye Tava, rice stuffed mussels were enlivened by a squirt of lemon juice, revive memories of boat rides up the Bosphorus.

Midye Tava of Ilhan Erkek by Abou Daqn

Zeytinyagli Yaprak Dolma, rice stuffed vine leaves are studded with pine nuts, but could use a bit more flavor.

The best is the Imam Bayildi, an olive oil rich roasted eggplant napped with tomato and basil oil. It is firm yet silken, smokey, yet still mellow. Ilhan is a genius with eggplant.

Imam Bayildi of Ilhan Erkek by Abou Daqn

Vegetarian, spicy Cig kofte, made of pounded bulgur, flavored with Pomegranate molasses and hot peppers, comes cradled in a lettuce cup like a Vietnamese treat. These morsels are made with pounded raw lamb in Turkey, but Ilhan’s version leaves out the meat – and it’s better!

Next is a light red lentil soup, Kirmizi Mercimek Corbasi, with a spicy paprika oil. It’s followed by Icli Kofte. The crunchy bulgur shell hides a meatball, enlivened by a sauce of Marash pepper, dill, and mint.

Finally, a plate of Hunkar Begendi, a slow cooked lamb shank over eggplant puree – again a highlight. Ilhan leaves some of the eggplant firm and not completely married to the béchamel – so that the texture is not all silken, but more toothy. This lets the eggplant shine, and gives a foil to the silken lamb.. There is nothing left at the end, but a stark bone.

Ilhan Erkek makes Hunkar Begendi by Abou Daqn

For dessert, Ilhan brings Kunefe, a crispy katayif pastry, filled with mild Hatayi cheese, that is fried and then doused in syrup. Forget cheesecake – this is the way cheese should be eaten in dessert.

Did Super Chef mention we can’t wait to explore the rest of the menu? This is Turkish done right.

(More photos by Roy Lopez available via Dropbox here.)

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