A16

Posted on

A16 is San Francisco’s darling of an Italian restaurant. It is doted upon by magazines, bloggers and eaters eager to dine at the city’s hippest establishments. The restaurant’s meatballs night on Mondays is its most popular draw, but it was a Friday evening when a friend and I arrived for dinner to celebrate my birthday. (Uh, last January. Since I’m catching up on reviews and all.)

We started with the mozzarella burrata with olive oil, sea salt and crostini.

Mozzarella burrata with olive oil, sea salt and crostini

I don’t know if this was intentional, but the crostini were a bit too crisp, or dare I say, burned. The mozzarella burrata was good, though it wasn’t out of this world. Still, it was a satisfying compliment to our bottle of G&K Grillo Sicilia.

For my entree I chose the casareccia with baccala, tomato, green olives, garlic, chiles, basil and breadcrumbs.

Casareccia with baccala, tomato, green olives, garlic, chiles, basil and breadcrumbs

It was all right, but I couldn’t help but feel dissapointed. I expected something more exciting, something more flavorful. Maybe it’s me, I kept thinking. I mean, isn’t A16 where all the cool kids eat?

I hate to compare restaurants, but I couldn’t help but think of the Italian restaurant that I had eaten at a month earlier. I won’t name names, but I’ll just say that I love offal. And Chris Cosentino.

I’m more than willing to give A16 another chance. Maybe they were having an off night. After all, an entire city can’t be wrong. Right?

Lentil Salad with Browned Sausages

Posted on

Lentils have always been a comfort food for me. Adas polo, an Iranian lentil and rice pilaf topped with fried onions, was a dish frequently requested by my sister and I when we were kids. Adasi, or soupy lentils served with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with golpar, is one of my favorite meals when I’m feeling under the weather.

A dish of lentil salad with browned sausages that I made recently is French-inspired rather than Iranian, but the comfort factor is still there. With the days getting shorter, darker and rainier, a bowl of well-seasoned lentils couldn’t be a better antidote to the autumn blues.

Lentil salad with browned sausages

Ingredients:

2-3 cups cooked brown lentils
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and chopped
1 lb smoked sausage, sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and saute, turning ocassionally until browned, about 10 minutes.

2. In another saucepan, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and remove from heat.

3. While the sausages cook, make the vinaigrette: In a bowl, whisk one tablespoon vinegar with the mustard and a pinch of salt. Whisk in two tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

4. If lentils are not warm, reheat them. In a large bowl, toss the lentils with a little salt and remaining vinegar and olive oil. Drain the sausages and add sausages and vinaigrette to the lentils, tossing to coat. Stir in the parsley, onions and carrots and add salt and pepper to taste.

Day 18: Istanbul

Posted on

It was our last full day in Turkey and my family and I wanted to make the best of it by checking off the last few things we still hadn’t had the chance to see. We got up early to catch the ferry from Eminonu to Uskudar. Uskudar is on the Asian side of Istanbul, and only a 20-minute ferry ride from the European side.

Üsküdar

Right off the dock was a large park with several kiosks selling kabab sandwiches and snacks for hungry commuters. We bought several doner kabab sandwiches and containers of ayran and sat down to enjoy the view of the Bosphorous.

Ayran and doner kabab

Üsküdar ferry dock

We explored the neighborhood for a bit and then took the next ferry back to Eminonu. At Eminonu’s Golden Horn, we peeked into Yeni Mosque for a few minutes, exploring the courtyard and busy area outside full of hawkers selling grilled corn and freshly-baked bread.

Yeni Mosque

Yeni Mosque

A few steps away lies Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar, which you can smell before you see. The aroma of coffee, cinnamon, olives, peppers, and saffron all blend into a heady scent that draws a steady stream of Istanbullus and travellers alike.

Dried fruits, nuts and spices at the Spice Bazaar

Olives at the Spice Bazaar

Fruits at the Spice Bazaar

We bought coffee at the renowned Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi and a cezve, or Turkish coffee pot at a stall nearby. On our way out, we purchased some eggplant, okra and tomatoes for that evening’s dinner.

The next morning we got up early to say goodbye my uncle and his wife, who were heading back to Tehran. My family and I took the metro to Ataturk Airport, where we awaited our flight to London, with a quick stopover in Munich.

I had caught a cold during my last few days in Turkey and by the time we reached London, it had developed into full-fledged pneumonia. The overnight stay we were to have in our hotel ended up being an overnight trip to the emergency room (thanks for being free, NHS!). Suffice to say the transatlantic flight back to the states was excruciating. But aside from that little snafu, the trip was an amazing experience. It’s been three months and I’m still dreaming of Istanbul. And Paris. And London.

Day 17: Istanbul

Posted on

On our second attempt to visit Kapali Carsi, my family and I made sure to go on a weekday, when the main part of the bazaar and all of the merchants were sure to be open. Kapali Carsi, or the Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest markets in the world with different areas devoted to trades ranging from gold and rugs, to spices and fabrics, and just about anything else you could ever imagine. We spent the better part of the day there, but I think we could have spent closer to a week exploring in order to see every corner.

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

The main way was bustling with people, but the side alleyways were more sparsely packed, making for more determined merchants.

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

Kapalıçarşı Grand Bazaar

The more we walked, the more I noticed a trend. When I spoke Persian, most merchants would state their price lower than when I spoke English. I suppose the logic is that if you’re visiting from Iran, you can’t afford as high a price as those visiting from Europe. I used this to my advantage, although interestingly enough, most merchants approached me in Spanish instead of Persian or Turkish.

I noticed another trend. Quite a number of female tourists were interested in purchasing belly dancing costumes. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this, considering that I overheard more than one specifically request “the kind that Turkish girls wear!” Pardon? In any case, ladies, baby blue and fuschia polyester costumes are so last year. The latest issue of What Turkish Girls Wear said so.

During our visit, I bought an inlaid backgammon set, a hookah, a few evil eye trinkets, Turkish delights, Ottoman-era coin earrings, and a turquoise ring. I suppose it’s a good thing that I only had enough time to spend one day in the bazaar or I might have gotten carried away.

On our walk back to our flat, we stopped to purchase a box of freshly-baked sutis, which looked exactly like but tasted like a sweeter and crisper version of Iranian bamiyeh.

Suti

With sweets in one hand and handicrafts in another, I’d say it was a pretty productive day.

Day 16: Buyukada

Posted on

When I was planning this trip several months ago, I wanted to pack at least one day trip into our time in Istanbul. The Princes’ Islands, and most notably the island of Buyukada, stood out as a must-see. Buyukada is not far from Istanbul, taking only 90 minutes by ferry through the Sea of Marmara.

We took the tram from Aksaray to Karakoy and then the IDO ferry from Karakoy to the islands. Buyukada is the last island stop, and the largest too.

Büyükada ferry landing

The Princes’ Islands gets its name from the Byzantine Ottoman era, when princes and other royalty were exiled here. Given the beautiful homes, tree-lined streets and horse-drawn carriages everywhere, it doesn’t seem like such a bad place to be stuck in. Today, Istanbullus come here in the summer for a quiet break from the bustling city.

Büyükada carriage

Büyükada

My family and I walked up and down the picturesque hilly streets for most of the afternoon, taking a break to buy some albaloo (Yes! Turkey has albaloo too!) to snack on later.

Büyükada

After we circled around much of the island, we stopped for ice cream and tea at a cafe while we waited for the last ferry of the day to arrive. On the ferry, we took in the most breathtaking views during sunset as the boat stopped at the other islands to pick up more passengers.

Heybeliada

Sea of Marmara

All that hill climbing had made us sleepy, so after we arrived at Eminonu dock in Istanbul, we hopped on the tram back to our apartment, just in time for dinner and a good night’s rest. Buyukada may not be as fast-paced as Istanbul, but what it lacks in action it makes up for with charm.