On the Banks of the Bosphorus

“The Turkish refer to their Ouzo as Raki, and at Gefen restaurant, we used it to wash down a successful platter of Mezze: mangold leaves with pine-nuts, rice, onions, and raisins (a winning combination!!); spicy burghul salad; thick tzatziki…; roasted eggplant; and more…” Adam Bar made-up for not taking her to Turkey by taking her to Gefen restaurant in Tel Aviv.

For years he has been dreaming of taking her to Turkey, but as it turned out, all of his trips to Constantinople, a.k.a. Istanbul, were trips without her. One time it was a business trip, another time they had simply not yet met. However, a joint visit to Istanbul has been, for years now, high up on the to-do list.

It is clear to him that sailing on the Bosphorus, visiting the bathhouse, and seeing the S?leymaniye (his favorite mosque) are only filler between experiencing the true pleasures of the trip: the apple-sized cherries, the rice-stuffed oysters sold at the market by ?stiklal Avenue, the fried fish of the dock by the Galata Bridge, the mornings by the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, and his favorite doner restaurant near the Ey?p Mosque. All this, as has been mentioned, is yet to have happened, but it was time to make a trip to the next best thing. On Friday night we went out to Gefen restaurant.

At night, Gefen restaurant is not a place in which you will find people who passed by or happened upon the location. Those who make their way to Shoken Street in south Tel Aviv after night fall choose to do so for a clear purpose. This means convenient parking and an intimate feeling and joy shared by those who choose to distance themselves from the various restaurant zones, which offer so many restaurant choices that the patrons are constantly pre-occupied with whether or not they chose the trendiest restaurant of them all (when they should really be focused on the fact the their cars are being towed away…).

The kitchen at Gefen restaurant would be considered eclectic Turkish, combining dishes characteristic to Western Turkey and which would be familiar to all who have dined in Istanbul (such as Moussaka – stuffed eggplant), and grilled meat dishes, more common to Eastern Turkey. To start things off, we toasted glasses of a 2004 Turkish wine, product of the Kapadokya region – a dry wine, not too full, easy on the system, and only mildly intoxicating.

The countries surrounding the Mediterranean may speak different languages, may have different architectures, and may even spill each other’s blood, but when it comes to the oven, they all fall in line with an unbeatable combination of appetizers and anise-based alcohol. Label the liquid Pernod, Pastis, Ouzo, or Arrack, and label the solids Mezze, Tapas, or Antipasti – just admit that the Mediterranean consensus vis-?-vis starting-off a meal leaves some hope for the future of the region. The Turkish, by the way, refer to their Ouzo as Raki, and we used it to wash down a successful platter of Mezze: mangold leaves with pine-nuts, rice, onions, and raisins (a winning combination!!); spicy burghul salad; thick tzatziki which was harmoniously prepared so that the dominant flavors of garlic and dill did not overpower the more delicate flavors of the rich yoghurt, olive oil, and cucumbers; Okra in tomatoes and onion, which can serve as an excellent introductory dish for all those whom aren’t familiar with or have reservations regarding this vegetable, romantically coined “Ladies’ Fingers” by the Indians; rich goat’s milk feta; Piaki (white broad bean in lemon and olive oil); roasted eggplant; anchovy in olive oil and lemon. All these were accompanied by hot, freshly-baked Turkish bread, which we dipped in olive oil and olive spread. The Raki, by the way, was served to us in a glass housed in a special copper dish, surrounded by ice, and with some water.

Next, we were served lachmajun: thin baked dough with ground meat and spices, plenty of fresh purple onion, and parsley. Gefen’s approach to the lachmajun, characterizes their approach to the doner dishes – they take a routine dish of Turkish fast-food and, without overdoing it, they simply make it the best way possible, with accuracy and freshness.

For the entr?es, we decided to sample a wide selection of kebabs, and so we were given: Turkish kebab – ground mutton, which we finished in an instant. Excellent;