Istanbul: Turkish Delights in the Wharf District

Owner Oral Kurt greets newcomers at the door to his Istanbul restaurant, Karakoy Lokantasi. i i

Owner Oral Kurt greets guests at the door to his Istanbul restaurant, Karakoy Lokantasi. Ivan Watson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ivan Watson, NPR
Owner Oral Kurt greets newcomers at the door to his Istanbul restaurant, Karakoy Lokantasi.

Owner Oral Kurt greets guests at the door to his Istanbul restaurant, Karakoy Lokantasi.

Ivan Watson, NPR
Karakoy Lokantasi fills up at lunchtime, with business people from the shipping and maritime offices i i

Karakoy Lokantasi fills up at lunchtime, with business people from the shipping and maritime offices in the surrounding wharf district. Ivan Watson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ivan Watson, NPR
Karakoy Lokantasi fills up at lunchtime, with business people from the shipping and maritime offices

Karakoy Lokantasi fills up at lunchtime, with business people from the shipping and maritime offices in the surrounding wharf district.

Ivan Watson, NPR
The menu at Karakoy Lokantasi features a mix of Turkish and Ottoman dishes. i i

The menu at Karakoy Lokantasi features a mix of Turkish and Ottoman dishes. Ivan Watson, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ivan Watson, NPR
The menu at Karakoy Lokantasi features a mix of Turkish and Ottoman dishes.

The menu at Karakoy Lokantasi features a mix of Turkish and Ottoman dishes.

Ivan Watson, NPR

After a morning spent exploring Istanbul's narrow, winding streets, Karakoy Lokantasi is the perfect lunchtime solution.

The restaurant sits in the middle of the wharf district in Karakoy, a stone's throw from the Bosphorus and across the street from the sea terminal where huge, foreign cruise ships dock. You can spot it by the large clock that hangs out front.

Inside is a brightly lit brasserie, built reminiscent of the early Turkish Republic era of the 1930s. At lunch, the place is jammed with business people from the shipping and maritime companies headquartered in neighboring buildings.

Owner Oral Kurt is a tall, bearded man with a penchant for sweater vests and the air of a poet. He dominates the room, greeting newcomers at the door and swiftly urging them to squeeze in at a table next to other members of the lunch crowd.

The changing daily menu offers a variety of Ottoman dishes and traditional Turkish cuisine. I recommend the baby lamb chops (izgara sut kuzu pirzola), which are just about the most tender things I've ever tasted. That, and hunker beyendi. Translated as "the sultan liked it," the hunker beyendi dishes consist of either chicken or beef on top of eggplant puree.

For starters, you can always depend on the soup of the day. There are also a collection of small salads, and you can choose from different cold dishes of vegetables soaked in olive oil.

Also, try the yogurt. It's homemade, thick, creamy and served in a clay pot.

Dessert is another treat. In addition to the usual honey-soaked Turkish pastries, sometimes they serve visnesoslu muhallebi. That's a creamy pudding topped with sour cherry sauce. Damn good.

Karakoy Lokantasi serves beer and wine, and offers a wide assortment of Turkish raki. Unfortunately, the neighborhood is pretty empty in the evening, which makes walking here at night kind of creepy. Take a taxi, and when you've eaten and drunk your fill, ask Oral Kurt, and I'm sure he'll be happy to call a taxi to take you home.

Sweet Bonus: Take a right out of the Karakoy Lokantasi, and walk 50 yards to Gulluoglu Baklava. It makes the best baklava in Istanbul. Ask for sutlu nuriye, a special milk-soaked baklava that usually sells out by mid-day.

Updated Jan. 5, 2009

Karakoy Lokantasi has moved since this review was originally written. Something about a greedy landlord who tried to raise the rent on the restaurant.

The good news is manager Oral Kurt moved his establishment just two doors down from the original location. Its now located on the corner of the same block. The restaurant operates on two floors now, and is decorated in a completely different style, with blue wall tiles and green plants. I can confidently report, however, that the new restaurant is every bit as good as the old one, if not better. Kurt still works the floor, greeting visitors and sitting down at tables with friends. Meanwhile, the large, blue-tiled columns that partially divide the room tightens the space up, giving diners a little more intimacy as they tuck in to their delicious meal.

Karakoy Lokantasi — Kemankes Caddessi, Karakoy, Istanbul, Turkey. Telephone: 90-212-292-4455. E-mail: karakoylokantasi@karakoylokantasi.com.

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