Posts Tagged ‘Turkish’

Istanbul Cafe

Friday, April 9th, 2010 by virginia

As recommended by Silva, Josh and I decided to try out Istanbul Café the last time we had a craving for Turkish food. Coincidentally, we ran into Felipe and Silva on our way to the restaurant, and Silva offered up particular dishes that she liked (the chopped tomato salad dip, the kofte, and the shepherd’s salad with feta). We ended up ordering way too much food for just the two of us, but we did manage to cover most of the items she recommended.

Before heading to the restaurant, we looked up the menu to see if they sold alcohol. Not seeing anything noted, Josh called to ask and he was told that they do not offer any alcohol. He followed up by asking if that meant we could bring our own, and he got an affirmative response. When we arrived with our bottle of wine in tow, however, we were told that they don’t serve alcohol, and we aren’t allowed to bring alcohol either. I’m guessing this is for religious reasons, but that’s not the response Josh got when he specifically called to ask. Perhaps there was some confusion on the phone, both in the questioning and in the response, as English did not seem to be the first language of the person who answered the phone.

Nevertheless, the no alcohol policy wasn’t really an issue. They were apologetic about the situation and we quickly slipped our bottle of wine under the table, out of sight. I just thought it was weird that out of all the reviews I had read about the restaurant, no one mentioned the policy. We opted for water instead, and set about looking over the menu. As always, there were lots of things that I wanted to try, given that this was our first visit to the restaurant, so we ended up ordering sampler platters for both our appetizer and our main course.

The cold appetizer platter included hummus (mashed chickpea and tahini paste), lebni (thickened yogurt mixed with dill, garlic, walnut, and herbs), chopped tomato salad (hand chopped tomato, bell peppers, onion, garlic, and walnuts mixed with red pepper paste), eggplant salad (smoked eggplant mixed with mashed garlic and roasted red pepper), and a few stuffed grape leaves.

Cold appetizer platter with hummus, lebni, chopped tomato salad, eggplant salad, and stuffed grape leaves

It came with a basket of grilled pita bread to dip with, and I thought all of the spreads were really tasty. The chopped tomato salad was flavorful and tangy, and the eggplant salad had a nice smokiness to it. The yogurt dip was thick but not too sour, and everything had a good amount of garlic in it. My least favorite was the hummus, but only because I think the hummus was a bit boring compared to the other dips. Otherwise it was a very respectable hummus.

Grilled pita bread

We ate most of the pita bread and put a good dent into the appetizer platter, but there was still tons left so we had them wrap it up for us while we went to work on our entrée, the Istanbul combo. The giant platter came with chicken shish kebab, lamb shish kebab, kofte, doner kebab, and lamb chops, all served on top a bed of rice. The rice I think was a bit undercooked, as it had a strange crunchy texture to it. I know there was orzo mixed in with the rice, but that wasn’t what was making it crunchy (I made sure to try a forkful sans orzo). There were also grilled tomatoes and peppers, but the peppers turned out to be jalapeno, and super spicy! I’m not sure why they served the jalapenos, and if it was intended to be a garnish, but they were way too spicy to be edible. Yikes!

Istanbul combo - chicken, lamb, kofte, and doner kebabs, lamb chops, peppers, tomatoes, rice

All the grilled meats, however, were well seasoned and flavorful. I especially liked the kofte, which are meatballs made with ground lamb and beef mixed with Turkish spices. The doner kebab was wonderful as well, which is thin slices of lamb shaved from a spit. The outside of the meat was crusty and crispy, and I ended up making mini gyros for myself by wrapping the meat in some pita bread. Again there was too much food, even though we stuffed ourselves silly, and we ended up taking home about half of the combo.

Overall we both thought the food at Istanbul Café was well spiced and seasoned properly, but preparation-wise it suffered a bit. The lamb and chicken kebabs were tasty but tough and overcooked, and even the kofte was a bit gristly, surprisingly. Service, however, was efficient and attentive, although the restaurant was pretty empty when we were there. They wrapped up our leftovers right away and even threw in some extra pita bread for us, which I thought was a nice touch. The no alcohol policy presents us with a bit of pickle though, as we like to enjoy a nice bottle of wine when we go out for dinner. The resolution to that problem is to have the food delivered and eat it at home. It’s available for order on Seamless Web, and I think that’s what we’ll do the next time we have a craving for good Turkish food.

Before we left the restaurant, they took us on a tour of the outdoor garden area in the back, which is really pretty. It looked like a nice place to hang out and smoke a hookah, if that’s your thing. The restaurant also offers an extensive array of desserts, which we were to full to try but some of the pastries in the glass display cases looked amazing. Turkish teas and coffees are available as well, and it’s a nice place to just sit and relax. The décor inside the restaurant is also interesting, with low tables and chairs and intricate lamps hanging all around. I definitely recommend checking it out sometime.

Istanbul Cafe
325 West 57th St. between 8th and 9th Ave.
New York, NY

Disappointingly Bland Food at Hanci

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010 by virginia

We did take up Silva on her recommendation to try the Istanbul Café, but we’ll post about that meal later. What prompted her recommendation was the meal we shared at Hanci Turkish Cuisine that left us wanting more – more seasoning that is. We went there with a group of people after some happy hour drinks at Valhalla. Josh and I suggested it because it was close by, we had enjoyed our first visit, and because it was a BYO, or so we thought.

We stopped off at a liquor store on our way over and picked up a few bottles of wine. The first thing we were told when we showed up at the restaurant with the wine was that they were no longer a BYO, and that if we wanted our wine there would be a $10 corkage fee. No thanks. None of the wines on their short list seemed very appealing, so most of us stuck with soda while Josh tried a Turkish beer. It was very light, nothing to write home about but perfectly drinkable.

Turkish beer

We decided to share a few appetizers to accompany the wonderful Turkish bread that I’ve been raving about. The bread was as good as I remembered – hot, crispy, and flavorful. We devoured baskets and baskets of this bread, and everyone agreed that it was pretty tasty.

Delicious Turkish bread

Our appetizers included the ezme, which is a dip made from chopped tomatoes, peppers, and onions, with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. It’s a little spicy and very flavorful, perfect for slathering all over the wonderful Turkish bread.


We also got the piyaz, which was the white bean salad that Josh and I ordered when we got delivery from the restaurant. The salad was fresh and chock full of creamy white beans but like with our delivery, it lacked seasoning. The tangy vinaigrette helped a little, but it definitely needed more salt to perk up the flavors a bit.


Our last appetizer was the cacik, which is a dip made with yogurt and cucumbers seasoned with dill and garlic. Again, this dish lacked flavor and seasoning. It needed a lot more dill and garlic, plus salt. It tasted mostly like plain yogurt, and we ended up saving most of the bowl to use as an accompaniment with on our entrees.


Both Silva and Felipe ordered the kofte for their entrees, and they were really disappointed with the lack of spices and seasoning in the ground lamb mix. I had the lamb sis kebab and thought the lamb was perfectly cooked but also lacked seasoning. The meat itself was juicy and tender, but it was bland. We made liberal use of the salt shaker on our table.

Lamb sis kebab

Fortunately, Josh’s entrée was much better. He ordered the iskender kebab with chicken, which was served over bread cubes and a pool of yogurt and tomato sauce. The yogurt and tomato sauce provided a much-needed tang and sweetness to the otherwise bland chicken kebabs. It was an interesting dish with lots of unusual textures coming from the bread cubes that were soaking in the wonderful sauce.

Chicken iskender kebab

Overall I think everyone was a little bit disappointed with the dinner we had at Hanci. When I think Turkish food, I think of perfectly grilled meats with a wonderful array of spices. The food we had just didn’t fit the bill. Everything was cooked perfectly but nothing had been seasoned, rendering everything bland and flavorless. And without the bonus of the BYO, the only thing drawing me back to the restaurant is the bread, though I’m not sure it’s worth making the trip. Which is really too bad, because we had such a great time during our first visit. Even service fell off a notch the second time around, with our waitress slightly surly and indifferent. We’re going to expand our horizons for now and try other Turkish restaurants, even if they aren’t within walking distance from home.

Hanci Turkish Cuisine
854 10th Ave. between 56th and 57th St.
New York, NY

Delivery Doesn’t Do Hanci Turkish Cuisine Justice

Sunday, March 14th, 2010 by virginia

Josh and I really enjoyed the meal that we had at Hanci Turkish Cuisine and decided to get a delivery order from there one rainy night when we were too lazy to venture out of our apartment. We decided to get a few appetizers and split an entree of the mixed grill, since last time we had ordered too much food. We both remembered how much we loved their freshly baked, crispy and chewy Turkish bread, so when we placed the order on Seamlessweb, we wrote in the special instructions section, “Please bring us extra bread, we love it!”

Our order arrived quickly but sadly, they failed to bring us the extra bread we requested. Instead, we got three measly little pieces, not even a basket’s worth if we had eaten at the restaurant. I guess that’s what we get for being lazy? The bread was delicious as always but the three pieces weren’t nearly enough to use on the portion of cacik we ordered, a yogurt based dip.

Delicious Turkish bread but a meager portion

Cacik is yogurt mixed with chopped cucumbers and seasoned with garlic and dill. It’s similar to tzatziki sauce from Greek restaurants, but Hanci’s version was much milder in flavor. There were lots of small cubes of cucumber but I wish they were more heavy handed with the garlic and dill, as it was kind of bland. It did go well with the mixed grill we ordered, but we ended up putting in a lot of salt to coax out some more of the flavor.

Cacik - yogurt with cucumber, garlic, and dill

We also got an order of sigara boregi, which is fried phyllo dough cigars filled with feta cheese and topped with parsley and dill. The fried phyllo dough suffered a bit from delivery, as it steamed in the container and got a bit soggy, but flavor wise it was quite delicious. The salty feta paired well with the fresh herbs, and though the phyllo was soft, it wasn’t too greasy and was still somewhat flaky.

Sigara boregi - phyllo dough cigars filled with feta cheese

Our last appetizer was piyaz, which is a salad made with white beans, onions, parsley, tomato, and olives. It was dressed with a tangy vinaigrette, and I loved the bite that I got from the slices of fresh red onion. It was a refreshing and flavorful dish but it also needed some salt to boost up the flavor a bit.

Piyaz - white bean salad with onion, parsley, tomato, and olives

For our entree, we split an order of the mixed grill, which was a dish that we had ordered when we went to the restaurant the first time. The mixed grill features lamb sis kebab, chicken tavuk sis, lamb kofte, and chicken adana. All the meats are served over rice pilaf and a side of mixed vegetables. It’s a generous portion of food, though I favored the lamb sis kebab and the chicken tavuk sis, which are just grilled cubes of lamb and chicken. Both the kofte and the adana lacked seasoning and flavor, although all the meats were nicely cooked and very tender.

Mixed grill over rice pilaf with mixed vegetables

I have to admit that we were a bit disappointed with our delivery order from Hanci. We enjoyed our meal at the restaurant much more, and perhaps the food just suffered a bit from being taken out. I did think that a lot of our food lacked basic seasoning though, such as salt, and was much blander than I had remembered. We were also disappointed that they didn’t bring us extra bread, or even a normal sized portion of the bread, as we had ordered several appetizers that needed the bread to pair with. I don’t know if they just didn’t see our special instruction or if they chose to ignore it, but after the hospitality we received while we were there, we were a bit surprised that they weren’t more accommodating. I understand that the bread they offer free at the restaurant costs them money to produce, and I would have paid for extra bread if that was an option, but it wasn’t. In general, I think their food is best enjoyed at the restaurant, when it can come out hot and fresh, and you can have all the delicious Turkish bread that you want.

Hanci Turkish Cuisine
854 10th Ave. between 56th and 57th St.
New York, NY

Hanci Turkish Cuisine

Monday, January 11th, 2010 by virginia

Updated 2/2/10 – Hanci Turkish Cuisine is no longer a BYO. It now offers a limited wine/beer list. There is a corkage fee of $10/bottle if you bring your own wine.

I’m always looking for good BYO restaurants in the city, after being spoiled with the huge number of BYO options in NJ. I read about Hanci Turkish Cuisine, a BYO right in our neighborhood, so one Friday night Josh and I decided to give it a shot. The restaurant is small but the bright lighting and simple décor make it seem much larger and more airy. Even though tables are close together, I didn’t feel cramped.

The restaurant wasn’t full so they graciously let us sit at a four-top instead of a table for two, which turned out well because we ended up with a ton of food on the table. We started off sharing the mixed appetizer plate, which came with a taste of most of the cold appetizers and dips on the menu, including hummus, ezme (chopped tomatoes, spices, green peppers, onions, olive oil, and lemon), patlican salad (like baba ghanoush), tarama (red caviar spread), zeytinyagli pirasa (leeks and carrots cooked in olive oil), and haydari (thick yogurt with walnuts, garlic, and dill). There is both a small and large option, so we asked our waitress what she recommended. She told us quite honestly that there wasn’t a huge difference between the small and large sizes, so we were better off ordering the small and saving a few dollars. I was surprised that she was so frank about it and didn’t try to up-sell us, which raised my impression of the restaurant immediately.

Mixed appetizer platter

The dips and spreads were all very unique, and really tasty. My favorites were the patlican salad, ezme, and haydari. There was a ton of food on the platter, and we definitely did not need the large portion. We ended up keeping the platter on the table even as we moved on to our main courses, so that we could keep dipping into it with the fabulous warm Turkish bread they brought us. I’m drooling just thinking about this bread, which was puffy, kind of like focaccia, but light and crispy on the outside. It was similar to the bread that we’ve had at Afghan restaurants, but it was hot and fresh and completely addictive. I asked for a bread basket refill twice, and a new full basket was brought out to us each time. It was really that good!

Hot and crispy Turkish bread

For our main course, we decided to share the mixed grill and the lahana dolma. We like ordering the mix grills at new restaurants so that we can try more of the offerings and decide which ones we like best. That way we’ll know what to order the next time, and if all the grills are really good, then we can just keep getting the mix. This mixed grill came with lamb sis kebab, chicken tavuk sis, lamb kofte, and chicken tavuk adana. The chicken tavuk and the lamb sis kebab were both spectacularly flavorful and tender. I wasn’t a fan of the chicken tavuk adana, as I thought the seasonings and flavors were a bit strange, but the lamb kofte was quite good, although it needed a tad bit more salt. The meats were served on top of a fluffy rice pilaf and accompanied by simple grilled vegetables.

Mixed grill platter

The lahana dolma were cabbage leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice, and dill. It was served in a pool of a tangy tomato-based sauce and tart plain yogurt. The cabbage leaves were soft and easy to cut through, and the filling was moist and flavorful. It also needed a touch more salt, but dragging each bite through the tomato sauce and the yogurt definitely helped. Despite all the ingredients, it was actually a pretty light dish, not too rich or heavy.

Lahana dolma - stuffed cabbage leaves

Overall I thought our meal at Hanci Turkish Cuisine was top notch. The food was delicious, tasted homemade, and was carefully prepared. Service was also wonderful. They uncorked our bottle of wine as soon as we sat down and brought us wine glasses right away. Our waitress explained each dish to us and answered our questions fully. She recommended the right sized appetizer platter for us, and when she cleared away our dishes she noticed that we had left some tarama (red caviar spread) on the otherwise cleaned plate and wanted to make sure everything was ok with that spread. We explained that I thought it was quite good, but Josh isn’t a fan of caviar spread so I couldn’t eat the whole portion by myself. It really was just a small dollop that was left but her concern made us realize how much thought and effort goes into each of their dishes, and it really shows.

At the end of our meal, we were finishing up our bottle of wine and I accidentally spilled my entire glass on the table, and myself. Yikes! But I didn’t have to worry, our waitress immediately swooped in and wiped up the mess, then clucked that my sweater was going to stain from the red wine so she poured some salt into her hand and started to rub it into the stains on my sleeve herself. Some people might think that’s a bit weird but I thought it just demonstrated her genuinely caring nature. During the whole meal she made us feel at home, and she treated us like special guests dining at her house. Considering this was our first visit to the restaurant, it only made me want to come back again. So if you enjoy Turkish food or any kind of middle eastern/Mediterranean food, I highly recommend coming to this restaurant. I’m positive that you’ll have a wonderful experience and eat some really fabulous food.

Hanci Turkish Cuisine
854 10th Ave. between 56th and 57th St.
New York, NY