If the words Turkish cuisine still conjure up images of portly mustachioed men hacking away at huge wheels of sweaty lamb, it might be time to pay a visit to Istanbul. An increasing number of the city's restaurateurs and chefs are turning their backs on the traditional kebabs and mezes and rediscovering long-forgotten regional dishes and Ottoman recipes, giving them a contemporary twist. Here are three to try.
Ignore its inauspicious location behind Karakoy docks. This new style lokanta (roughly, a simple restaurant) opened last year to great acclaim. Just 33, chef and owner Didem Senol already has an illustrious past: she studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and worked at Le Cirque and Eleven Madison Park. Senol travels widely through the Aegean and Anatolia, ferreting out only the freshest ingredients for Maya's daily changing menu, which features things like salad with pomegranate, raki with cucumber and mint, and grilled halloumi cheese wrapped in vine leaves. More at lokantamaya.com.
Right next door to Senol's restaurant is another inviting lokanta where bright turquoise tiles line the walls, the tables are covered with crisp white linen and a wrought-iron staircase rises up to the first floor. Try the hunkur begendi (sultan's favorite), a bed of rich, creamy eggplant puree topped with delicate pieces of beef or lamb. See karakoylokantasi.com.
Perched on the 18th and 19th floors of the Marmara Pera hotel, this place offers some of the best views of Istanbul. Its moniker comes from Miklagard, the name given to Istanbul by the Vikings and that's because chef-owner Mehmet Gurs is half-Turkish, half-Finnish and grew up in Sweden. Scandinavian influences are pronounced in dishes like smoked istavrit (a local fish) and chilled minted pea soup with goat cheese, figs and honey-dried beef. For more information, visit miklarestaurant.com.