March 12, 2011

High and Low Dining: Istanbul

The elegant Mimolett, Istanbul’s newest big-night-out restaurant, has a made-for-television back story: local boy eschews the family textile business, goes abroad and (without his parents knowing it) learns to cook by working with renowned chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Joël Robuchon, then triumphantly returns home with the intention of opening Turkey’s first Michelin-starred restaurant.

Mimolett (named after an orange-colored French cheese, which is spelled with an additional “e”) opened only in December, so the ending of the chef Murat Bozok’s tale is still something of a cliffhanger. For now, though, diners are able to play a role in his nightly effort to raise Istanbul’s culinary bar.

“Because we’ve never had a Michelin-starred restaurant here, it has become something like a national ambition,” Mr. Bozok said. “I am using mostly Turkish ingredients with French techniques. I want to put the standards of a good gastronomic restaurant in place here.”

So far, he is mostly succeeding. The seasonal menu at Mimolett, in the heart of the bustling Beyoglu district, is concise, the dishes unfussy. During a recent visit, a soup combining celeriac and apple nicely pitted the earthiness of the celeriac against the tartness of the apple. Slices of aged veal chops, served in a mellow red wine sauce, were wonderfully tender and satisfying. The restaurant’s wine list, meanwhile, is a good place to get acquainted with some of more exciting developments in the rapidly improving Turkish wine scene, with several bottles from some of the country’s up-and-coming small wineries.

For now, Mr. Bozok not only has the hoped-for Michelin inspectors to win over, but also his local clientele. Turks readily admit that they have a conservative, close-to-home palate, with mother’s kitchen often remaining their favorite place to eat. Indeed, the chef acknowledged that he’s had to dial down the sweetness in some sauces and reductions he was serving after receiving complaints from Turkish diners. A few months in, he said, the restaurant is still a work in progress. Stay tuned.

Read more on The New York Times: High and Low Dining: Istanbul


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