Saturday, December 15, 2007

Little fishies, greens, and raki: a foodie update

My host took me to Doğa Balik restaurant. Doğa (pronounced do-a; the ğ just makes a vowel longer and softer) means "nature" and balik means "fish." The fish is the freshest in town and the restaurant has gotten rave reviews.

Many little fishies are here. (Or just click "Album 1" from the restaurant home page linked in the paragraph above.)

Like two other restaurants where my host has taken me, this one had a spectacular view. You can see the city and its major monuments, beautifully lit.
We ate a selection of meze (which just means hors d'oeuvres), choosing what we wanted from a big display (like an antipasto display in Italy). This included several types of greens (spinach, something that looked and tasted much like collards and may have been just that, mustard greens, and about three other kinds of greens, plus some celery root, which isn't really a green) served cold, most of them steamed, chopped, and dressed with a bit of olive oil; a delicious eggplant dish (roasted and pureed eggplant with not much else in it from what I could tell); a small frittata-like thing made with zucchini, carrot, egg, and heaven knows what else; and in my case a few little white fishy salads, all of this cold and not in large quantities: this isn't the U.S. and there is none of the gargantuan American portion situation here. (Accordingly, most folks are pretty slender.) There were two cruets on the table, one of lemon juice and one of olive oil (green and very fragrant) in case we wanted to add dressing to our cold salads or even to our fish later on. The restaurant served all this with toasted white bread.

(You can see restaurant pictures of all those greens here at Album 3. Click each one for a close-up.)

Next we had tiny little lightly fried fish. They were, I was told, something like anchovies. Fresh ones, though. No breading or anything; just light and crispy. Each was about the size of a tablespoon.

The main course was red mullets, about five for each of us since they are small to medium sized fish. They were simply grilled. That's it. No grilled-and-stuffed, no pan fried, no sauce, no coulis of this or that. (I looked for pictures of grilled mullet online as an illustration for this post and couldn't find something as simple and beautiful as what we had.) Just the fresh, fresh fish with crisp grilled skin, and the fish were whole. Heaven help you here if don't know how to fillet your fish; not that it's that difficult, but you do have to know how to work a fish knife and not be freaked out by fish heads. For the heads and bones they gave us a little plate. There was nothing with the fish but some fresh arugula with no dressing -- just the green leaves on the plane with the fish.


My host likes wine but suggested we drink raki since I hadn't had any yet and it goes well with fish. The websites will tell you that Turks drink raki with their meze, but they also have it (at least here in Istanbul) with fish meals.

There is more on raki here from Wikipedia (with my usual caution about Wikipedia, bla bla bla). Raki does taste very good with fish, and fish with raki, since raki is made with anise. It is also 45% alcohol, i.e. 90 proof, so a little goes a long way. Generally people drink it with some water, which turns the clear raki a cloudy milky white. It works the same way as other anise-flavored drinks around the Mediterranean. It was delicious but I stuck to one little glass.

Even though it was a light meal, we weren't very hungry for dessert, but at the urging of one of the waiters (the service was fabulous, very attentive without being intrusive) we ordered and shared a dessert of pumpkin and quince. They were not mixed together; they just happened to be on the same plate and, I think, cooked the same way. They were both served cold but had obviously been stewed or poached and sweetened a little and had kept their shape. They were served with a dusting of some kind of nut, or maybe a combo of pistachio and walnut (it really was just a dusting so it was hard to tell, and both nuts show up often on menus), and a dollop of the local version of whipped cream on the side. We didn't have the cream except by accident, and we didn't quite finish the dessert, even sharing it. It was good.

And that, as Walter Cronkite would say, is the way it is, Saturday, December 15, 2007.

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