Güle Güle, for now

photo (18)OK, yes, I know. Those of you who speak Turkish know, güle güle is how to say good bye by the person staying behind, and alas, I was the one leaving and should say: hoşça kal, but I love the musicality of this farewell and use it all the time now. This will be my final post about our trip to Istanbul....although I plan to play with several recipes over the coming weeks that are inspired by the many delightful tastes we had along the way. Our dear friend Aziz went out of his way to introduce me to chefs and restauranteurs so I'd be able to appreciate the scope and variety of Istanbul's culinary world, try new things, and bring some of the sunshine-laden flavors back to my own kitchen. Experiences like these reinvigorate my passion for food! I met the Jamie Oliver of Istanbul who's got his own microbrewery and is working on a plan to improve lunches in the Turkish public schools.  And the lovely Aliye Turgay,owner of Fenix, a very chichi Asian-Mediterranean fusion restaurant where the beautiful people swing their hips to the music her husband spins on decks by the bar.  It was an evening of food, fashion and fabulousness I wasn't expecting in Istanbul.1For our final night out, my dear husband begged the hostess at Yeni Lokanta to give us a table (his skills of persuasion are second to none).  Everyone we encountered said this was the place we had to go for fine food in Istanbul.  Unlike Mikla, which some suggested bastardizes Turkish cuisine, Yeni Lokanta has been praised for serving not just another fusion cuisine, but instead rethinking what Turkish cuisine is all together, and creating something new, but undeniably recognizable.  I couldn't wait.Starting with a vodka cocktail spiked with red chilli flakes (I'd had enough raki for a lifetime) they brought us what is perhaps my favorite hummus ever (must remember to try the little cucumber salad as a crunchy garnish) and a gorgeous amber-colored smoked butter for the bread. A scan of the menu confirmed this would be a wonderful way to say goodbye to Istanbul.  Strawberry and artichoke salad - dotted with yoghurt and mint leaves. Olive oil braised bass with zucchini and red onion salad - delicately poached fish under ribbons of vegetables with smoked tamarind.  Next we ordered the hot mezze selection: fried zucchini flowers stuffed with herby yoghurt, koftas with grilled vegetables, and best of all, manti, the traditionally meat-filled Turkish dumpling which Chef Civan Er turns on its head and fills with dried eggplant.  In the process of reconstituting the eggplant, he achieves a meaty texture for his filling and then adds a hint of spice and pomegranate molasses to play on the eggplant's smoky flavor. These perfect little dumplings swim in the classic salted lebneh (yoghurt) sauce dotted with more spice and fresh mint. For main courses we chose the short ribs and perhaps the most divine grilled octopus I've ever tried - paired with a purslane and smoked eggplant salad - it was summer on a plate. Finally desserts of chocolate mosaic (another Turkish classic Chef Er has refined) with caramel and bananas and the most marvellous of all, muhallebeli kadayıf kızartması, isli dondurma ve bal.   Essentially, a frozen milk custard coated with finely shredded pastry and deep fried.  This is served alongside a smoked water buffalo milk ice cream and drizzled with honey - a hot, cold, crunchy, soft, sweet, salty explosion of joy.