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Restaurants & Bars 16

Cafe Istanbul--Columbus Ohio

BarbaraF | Jan 5, 200402:09 PM

I did a search here and didn't find anything on Cafe Istanbul in Columbus Ohio. It is located in a huge shopping-complex/mall/outdoor walking-mall/entertainment center called Easton, and is an oasis of good ethnic food amid the mostly corporate chain offerings.

Cafe Istanbul serves well-prepared Turkish foods with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and minimal fuss in cooking and presentation. The restaurant itself is lovely on the inside with decor based on Turkish-style tiles with stylized floral motifs, etched silver amphora, woven carpets as wall-hangings and truly impressive wrought iron chandeliers with dangling glass candle-cups. (They are electrified, alas, so no candles flickering from the cups.)

The service is impeccable, with all of the wait staff being well-trained, friendly, and conversant with the cuisine. They are very good at helping diners select a dish, and they are happy to answer questions about the preparation of the food.

It is the food that is the best reason to visit, however. The mainstays of the restaurant are kebab--and so far, all of the selections we have had are cleanly seasoned and grilled to perfection. Lamb is always flavorful and extremely tender--no expense is spared in getting top quality meat here. Their bread is always hot and fresh, and they make their own yogurt. I assumed that had to be the case, because it was so thick and tangy and good, that there was no way it was from a carton. I was happy to know I was right.

Their eggplant dishes are to die for. My favorite appetizer is Imam Bayildi, which I am told translates to, "the Imam fainted," which refers to a folktale about an Imam who was so overwhelmed by the goodness of an eggplant dish he was given to taste, he fainted dead away. I think the dish is well named: it is half a small eggplant, grilled over a wood fire, brushed with buttery olive oil and served with a sauteed mixture of peppers, onions, garlic, tomato and pine nuts with a bit of lemon juice spooned over top. The whole thing is served chilled, and it is luscious. The eggplant is rich, the olive oil is pure in flavor, and the vegetable melange over it all is perfectly balanced.

They also have a wonderful eggplant stuffed with meat, raisins, pinenuts, onions, garlic, tomatoes and peppers as an entree that is not to be missed.

The desserts are gorgeous as well. They have the least sweet and most buttery baklava I have ever tasted, and they have a sweetened goat cheese wrapped in shredded phyllo that is a revelation in flavor and texture. And of course, they have Turkish coffee--one of my favorite redactions of coffee ever. Be warned, the very fine grounds are still in the tiny cup, so if you have never had such a thing before--it is there. But somehow, though the grounds are there, they are not bitter or noxious, they just add body to the drink.

The prices are a bit on the high side, probably owing to the upscale nature of the place and its location, but for a really nice dinner in a great atmosphere that isn't just continental European or corporate stuff, I cannot recommend Cafe Istanbul highly enough.

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