It has been some time since I dined at Mikla, chef Mehmet Gurs’ penthouse restaurant in Istanbul, but the flavors from the night are still fresh in my mind. The meal was a fitting end to a spectacular foray into Turkey; much like the days I spent there; each dish was rich with Mediterranean flavor.
Before I delve into the meal itself, I would like to thank Chef Gurs for accommodating my seven-person group so handily and on such short notice. It was only two weeks before our dinner that the group even decided to travel to Istanbul, so Chef Gurs’ swift generosity in offering a table at which I could celebrate my dad’s birthday from afar must not go unnoticed. We were not an easy group to host, either. Out of the seven of us, only three had the desire to budget for a tasting menu, which made the timing quite difficult, and regrettably unsatisfactory for some.
Although I was assured that everything would be taken care of (it was), I was given a scare when I arrived at the reception to find a reservation for “Johns Gonzo –Party of Two”, written in by the chef himself. Naturally, I assumed that this was meant for me, and that it was incorrect, which caused a bit of difficulty. It was not until a few minutes later when the chef’s very capable manager, Ms. Sabiha Apaydin, found the reservation in my name, two spots underneath Mr. Gonzo’s. I was immediately relieved, and was able to enjoy my evening from that point on.
We spent our first hour at the restaurant’s bar, half of which is an open terrace at what feels like the top of the world, where we drank the sunset along with our Turkish wine. After the sun was down and the city illuminated, we moved to our table at the other side of the restaurant to begin.
The meal began with an amuse of chilled pea soup with the slightest hint of mint – a promising beginning.. The soup hit just the right spot after a hot day in the Turkish sun, and refreshed my palate before I even knew it was necessary. I played a game with the globules of olive oil that dotted the surface as I alternated between spoonfuls of soup laced with olive oil and without. Following the soup was a Carpaccio of North Aegean grouper with Kalamata olives, lemon and dill. Both as a follow-up to the chilled pea soup and simply on its own, the dish was magnificent. Thin slices of grouper were laid out neatly on the plate, with olives and herbs distributed pleasantly along the fish’s surface which made for an exciting time in scooping up all the little bits of flavor. The dish seemed to be the pure essence of the Mediterranean, although I would hardly have pegged it as Turkish. Misconceptions can be funny like that.
The next dish did not play the same tune as the previous two, and instead of light and airy the dried beef with Turkish cheese (that bears resemblance to Parmesan Reggiano) struck a decidedly heavier chord. A hint of nutmeg lined the periphery of the tousled beef while the cheese accented the plate’s hearty attitude. Simply marvelous. The meal seemed to alternate themes from this point forward and pleasantly contrasted my expectations. From the beef and cheese course we were taken back to the Turkish countryside with a plate of goat cheese and fig, accented with a special Turkish preparation of honey, truffles and arugula. My mouth is watering at the thought of succulent fig and honey juxtaposed against the dryness of the goat cheese and arugula.
While the previous courses evoked thoughts of Tuscany, it wasn’t until the next course that it became clear that Mikla is a Turkish restaurant, first and foremost. The cherry wood smoked lamb loin with a walnut pistou and pinto bean puree precisely satisfied my preconceptions of gourmet Turkish cuisine. The walnuts complemented the nuttiness of the rare protein, and as such the three of us doing the tasting were absolutely floored.
The next course saw a return to the sea, and featured grilled grouper, anchovy and olive oil-poached artichoke. Its artful presentation added to the course, with splashes of color provided by tufts of asparagus, zucchini and a fantastically flavorful red/green olive puree around the uniform tones in the center of the plate. This is fish done right.
The final savory course was a beef cheek and vegetable “pot au feu” with some more pea soup serving as a sauce if one so desires. I did, and so consumed my simultaneously light and substantial entrée with gusto. The light mint of the soup wonderfully lifted the darker flavors of the beef cheek into a very successful balance. Although each seafood dish performed wonderfully on its own, it was the clearly the turf that took dinner to another level.
We finished up with four phenomenally prepared desserts, each one as good as the last. Starting off was the “Bergama Tulum” (Turkish cheese) with a fig confit and walnut puree. The richness of the nuts and cheese paired well with the sweet confit and the resulting plate felt distinctively Turkish, much like the lamb. Following that was the vanilla panna cotta with a wild lavender flower preserve. Although the preserve was very sweet, when taken in moderation with the panna cotta it made for a wonderfully creamy and delicious dessert.
The final two courses seemed to depart somewhat from the Mediterranean theme, with a warm raspberry soup and vanilla ice cream, as well as the “Truffled Truffle”. The raspberry course was reminiscent of a deconstructed pie, and the inclusion of the vanilla ice cream made it seem vaguely American. That isn’t to say it was bad, it was in fact far from it, but it was certainly unexpected. The small truffle was served under a glass dome on top of its plating, which intrigued me greatly. Inside of the chocolate exterior was a creamy concoction of cognac, truffle, and more chocolate, which absolutely blew me away as I finished out the meal.
Altogether, I was thoroughly impressed by Mikla. Mehmet Gurs’s operation on top of the city gets my wholehearted recommendation for the smoothness of its operation, its friendly service and particularly the incredible quality of its food. I’m sure that he has developed some new dishes over the four months since I’ve been there that I would love to get out and try. It’s just too bad I won’t be able to travel abroad again for a very long time.