The rich food diversity and history of the Ottoman empire has been sadly neglected by the Bay Area food world where what passes for Turkish and Greek cuisine are mediocre meze plates, obligatory hummus and truffle risotto. Enter Istanbul modern. Run by a delightful super nice chef couple with experience in high end restaurants- the wife worked at 11 Madison park in NY and Saison among other places, the husband is Armenian from Istanbul. Istanbul Modern is a new pop up restaurant in SF whose cuisine is centered on Istanbul but encompasses the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire: the Balkans, Greece, Georgia, Persia etc. This approach is revelatory and refreshing. We went Saturday night for the first time. Impeccably prepared dishes with layers of flavors. It was the most memorable enjoyable meal we have had in ages. This is a place to keep an eye on. These are rising superstar chefs. This is the future of high end cuisine.
Food is served family style on long tables and our neighbors were very fun to talk to.
Here is what we ate:
Simit. small rings of freshly baked flatbread topped with sesame seeds. Served with a tangy Yogurt butter. Excellent chewy texture and paired well with the butter.
Then a series of Mezes (small plates) were served family style:
Georgian mushroom salad- delicious
Muhammara- a middle eastern spread. The previous versions I’ve had were made with walnuts. The tannins in the walnuts can be harsh on the tongue. This version was made with almonds and had a silky texture and rich flavors. Best version of this dish I have ever tried.
Smoked yogurt with asparagus and pistachios- WOW!!! this took took simple ingredients and elevated them and transformed them into something that added up to more than the sum of its parts. Eating it was a revelation- I never imagined that yogurt asparagus and pistachios could make your tastebuds sing.
Lentils with Lamb belly and roasted cauliflower. Beautiful presentation under-lied even more beautiful flavors.
Halumi with green fig marmalade. Excellent. The marmalade was one brought to the chef by relatives visiting from Istanbul. Seasoned with maybe a hint of rose water. It was made with underripe figs. None of my fig marmalade’s have tasted like this. Next batch I will make with underripe figs.
Next a soup was served:
Yuvalama- lamb meatball, yogurt and short ribs soup. Well spiced tangy with tasty chickpeas and tasty small meatballs.
Main course: black cod with beans and bulgur. The black cod was fresh, fatty and meaty. The flavor was accentuated by tangy sumac (the chef has a special source of sumac he imports). As with all the dishes this had layers of flavors.
Biji Biji - homemade Turkish kaymak (clotted cream) ice cream in a strawberry soup with fresh strawberries and strawberry tree fruit. Excellent! Strawberry trees are ornamental trees with fruit that resembles strawberries. In the past I have tried them and found them bland. But the ones in the soup were excellent. According to the chef they need to be super ripe to be good. This was an excellent well balanced dessert that was not overly sweet and deeply satisfying.
The meal ended with a homemade aperitif- cherry brandy flavored with Mahlep (a spice made from the seeds of a Persian cherry). The liquor had layers of flavor and was the perfect end to a perfect meal.
We brought wine, an old Rhône that paired perfectly with the cuisine. Corkage is $10. A drink pairing was also offered for $30. Our table neighbors got the drink pairing and it looked intriguing. We will try it next time.
Right now the restaurant operates as a pop up but a permanent brick and mortar location is in the works and will be opened closer to the end of the year.
Dinner on Saturday is $65, brunch on Sunday is $35. Go here while before word gets out. Can be booked on Feastly: