Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sofyah 9, Istanbul

For all of its history and great architecture like Sinan’s dramatic yet serene Süleymaniye Mosque (completed in 1557) or his intimate and concealed Rüstem Paşa Mosque, Istanbul has the trappings of a modern city. It has a smart modern art museum with the requisite “industrial chic” bistro. But what makes Istanbul such a great European city is its urban vibrancy, especially in the large Beyoğlu district, as exemplified by a neighborhood meyhane like Sofyah 9. Sofyah 9 is located in the Tünel section of Beyoğlu, a gentrifying area with the extremely narrow, somewhat windy roads typical to cities with nearly two millennia under their belts.

The restaurant is an old narrow building on three levels, each of which holds a dining room seating perhaps 30. The décor is sparse, basically smoke-stained walls, some Turkish bric-a-brac, a cheap sound system piping in traditional Turkish music for strings, and a small Marlboro cigarette vending machine. We sat next to a group of eight men, probably in their thirties, immersed in cigarettes, raki, meze, and boisterous conversation. Sitting behind them was a group of six women, doing exactly the same thing and presumably on furlough from their cages.

Despite being in a Muslim country on the other side of the world, just sitting down in Sofyah 9’s cozy, intimate and blithesome second dining room felt, (yes, that dreaded cliché is on its way) like home. Sofyah 9 with its café spirit was actually a place that promotes drinking, eating, smoking and just as important, unfettered rhetoric, boasting, ridiculing, jubilant seething, and best of all, harrumphing. That the food was good but not going to win any prizes was beside the point.

As for the food:

Our waiter brought over eight cold meze from which to select. I chose four because Marisa was beyond caring about Turkish food. Kereviz, a simple dish of celeriac, olive oil accentuated with vinegar, and just enough greens not to be a garnish was delicious because of the celeriac’s moderately tender texture. We also had hummus made of fava beans, which was preferable to the chickpea version to which I am more accustomed. We also had taze fasulye, a plate of green beans, which in Monsieur Peckham’s words, “had been hanging around for awhile” and a tasty lakerda, small chunks of salted bonito with oil, red pepper and dill. I should really say “I” as Marisa wouldn’t touch the stuff. We then tried a few hot meze: kaşarlı börek, a flaky pastry with cheese that Marisa dismissed as Turkish mozzarella sticks. More interesting and much better was the pazi sarmasi, which resembled your basic stuffed grape leaf, but was swiss chard stuffed with minced meat and rice. The “entrées,” which were slightly larger meze plates for one, were less successful. I had an overcooked grilled fish while Marisa preferred her serviceable lamb shish to the meze.

A note on Istanbul: Culinarily, two items were standouts in Istanbul. I just about mainlined unsweetened Turkish coffee (türk kahvesi, sade) all over town. We also had success at an anonymous bakery specializing in baklava just outside the Grand Bazaar that Marisa literally sniffed out. We attempted to order two small pieces of pistachio baklava, but managed only to provoke the baker’s disdain. He just gave us our meager order for free. That fresh baklava was still warm and had the rich, proportionate, buttery flavor that French bakeries have perfected and which lingered for several more seconds than what seemed scientifically possible.

Sofyah 9

Sofyah Sokak 9


0212 245 0362

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