Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bits & Morsels: Beyoglu & Travertine

Beyoglu's Doner Kebab. Vertically grilled thinly sliced lamb and beef over rice pilaf.

by Erin Frankel

Spring is finally here and that means al fresco dining and light 'seaside' fare. This week, I went to two Mediterranean restaurants — one, a childhood favorite in my neighborhood; the other, a swanky newcomer.

Beyoglu is a sophisticated neighborhood Turkish restaurant on the Upper East Side and one that I have frequented for years. Beyoglu's interior is dressed with authentic, homey elements that evoke seaside Turkey. The yellow walls lit with warm lighting, the seahorse motifs on the tables, and the candlelight reflections off the broad-beamed ceiling is all very convincing.
Fresh baked bread for the meze (below).
A selection of meze (Clockwise from top left): Ezme – mixture of spicy chopped vegetables; Tarama – carp roe caviar spread; Cacik – thick homemade yogurt, cucumbers & garlic; Shepherd Salad – chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion & peppers, with lemon & olive oil.
On this balmy evening, we decided to dine at one of Beyoglu’s many outdoor tables. Like the décor, the dishes here are a mix of authentic Turkish coastline cuisine and assimilated Mediterranean flavors. The menu turns out classics with exceptional flavor and flair.

Ahtapot Salatasi. Char-grilled octopus marinated in olive oil & balsamic vinegar.
Greek Salad. Crisp lettuce, greek olives, onion, feta cheese, stuffed grape leaves & artichokes.
I had been craving some Mediterranean-inspired creaminess so we eagerly ordered my favorite two dips — the cacik, a Turkish dish of seasoned, diluted yogurt mixed with crushed garlic, mint, cucumber, olive oil and lime juice; and the tarama, a smooth paste of fish roe, mixed with milk, lemon juice and grated onion. Sweet, easy and satisfying.

Beyoglu offers an assortment of fresh, delicious appetizers, but my favorite is the octopus. It is served in a bowl with a tablespoon; an unusual format until you taste the dressing that accompanies the dish.

The combination of fresh seafood, crisp vegetables (including the bite of onion), and the tart dressing cleanses your palate for the main course.

And as for the entrees, both the Greek salad and the doner kebab are favorites.

The large Greek salad is made with the typical ingredients, but instead of offering large cubes of feta cheese, Beyoglu shaves the feta on the salad so you can taste the consistency of cheese with each bite.

The doner kebab is made with fresh lamb that is sliced thick and cooked to a perfect medium consistency. The lamb is surrounded by a freshly mixed salad and light rice with sliced onions.

If it all sounds so simple, it is. That's the genius of Beyoglu.
Somon Izgara. Char-grilled filet of salmon, served with green salad.
1431 3rd Avenue
Travertine is a newer, contemporary Mediterranean restaurant with an active lounge scene in the evening set right in the middle of the up-and-coming Nolita restaurant scene. It is a local hotspot for the neighborhood’s young and glamorous (or wannabes). The plush bi-level dining room is outfitted with sleek furniture, low lighting, and a large and lively bar in the main dining room. For a more private, intimate dinner, there is a secluded seating corner behind a curtain on the second level of the restaurant.

There is something for every taste bud on the menu. Denae Cappelletto, a vibrant young Australian, offers a casual market-fresh menu that runs down the Mediterranean coast, with a solid foundation in light, fresh Italian cooking.
A look inside Travertine.
My favorite starter was the Mixed Seafood Ala Plancha, a mixture of arugula, roasted peppers, chickpeas, and a variety of shellfish including, scallops, calamari, and octopus all doused with a preserved light lemon citronette, which adds just the right amount of tart to balance out the dish.

Virtually all of the pasta dishes here are more traditional, with little twists along the way. In particular, the creamy decadence of the Gnocchi, which is made with ricotta, vanilla bean, and white truffle oil.
Marinated fresh beets with yogurt sauce.
Seafood a la plancha.
Travertine’s thin-crust pizza was by far the most interesting take on pizza I’ve seen in a while. Travertine essentially places a meze platter on top of the pie with its selection of fresh vegetables, hummus, and tahini. 2 feasts in one is the best way I can describe it. All of the entrees are so generously portioned that leaving hungry is not an option.

After dinner, a DJ set up shop in the middle of the dining room, the tables and chairs were removed, and DBDSocial, a free event planning and concierge service, threw a lively party with signature, bespoke cocktails and small bites.
The "meze" pizza.
Mezzaluna pasta: sweet butternut, parmigiano, reggiano, amoretti.
Gnocchi: ricotta, vanilla bean, crackling, white truffle oil.
19 Kenmare Street
Photographs by Erin Frankel.
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