Saturday, August 22, 2009

Your world is 360...

Up front: I can't post pictures of the restaurant right now, because my photos are uploading from my camera; however, I will be posting them soon. In the meantime, happy reading...

If you're confused by the title of this post, 360 is a restaurant. It sits on the 7th and 8th floors of one of the most trafficked areas in Istanbul, Istiklal Street, and has a 360 degree view of the city. The restaurant's website is The restaurant is one of the most famous in the city. They have a diverse and aspiring menu along with a delicious view of the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, the Marmara Sea, the Prince Islands, Asia, etc. etc.. They serve 200 on a bad night and 500 on weekend nights. They also have a heel-scraping after party with a DJ and bar on the weekend (all this right in the restaurant). In my personal opinion, the restaurant is better than a lot of the “chic” establishments in the city, so comparatively speaking is it a very nice establishment.

Now, for some honest criticism. At this point, I've tried just about everything on the menu, because the chefs love to cook for me and make me fat. If you click on the following link, you'll see another link for the restaurant's menu in the middle: It's a bit pricey, but the food is very good and I'm pretty happy with the way they prepare it. I say very good, only because I'm not completely taken with it. I think there is a lot of improvement that could be done on the menu. For one, they don't use enough spice, so their flavors don't completely meet the threshold that their website touts. Two, their pastas are a little lacking. That is, the flavors are too shallow, with a bit too much of the plain tomato taste and not enough Mediterranean zing and infusion. That being said, their meats are delectable. The Adana and Iskender Kebaps are mouth watering, albeit pricey, and the duck and lamb confit are very good. For a Turkish restaurant, their fish selection leaves much to be desired. The cupra with lemon, dill, eggplant, and zucchini, wrapped in grape leaves is devoid of that last little bit of flavor it needs to make it on my ‘tasty menu’. The Levrek (sea bass) is not as mouth-watering as in the states, and its lemon butter sauce is a bit pedestrian for my taste (chuckle, chuckle). I say slap some coconut cream sauce on that bad boy, and you’ve got a hot item (although that would be more of a Southeast Asian fusion). The salmon with mustard sauce is endearing, but a big fail in my book. The anchovies in grape leaves, just okay. My other suggestion for the fish menu would be to add a light, salty (and a bit more sizable) fish to the menu with a Turkish cheese sauce with Turkish spices. NEXTT!! The Thai section of the restaurant is very good, but totally cliché. Peking duck spring rolls, ok, but give me some peekytoe crab rolls…then we’re talking! Fried and tempura(d) clownfish sushi is also a massive fail-I don’t think any more needs to be said here. They do have pad Thai, which always aspires to be my top pick when I’m perusing a menu, but I’ll concede that it’s nothing special. Their Thai curry…prepackaged! Overall, if I was making the menu, I would say stick some more crab and scallop on there, give me some more traditional Turkish, and put a little spice into it. Oh, and if they want a Michelin-star, they better start putting some sauces on the menu with words that I don’t know.

Now that we've covered the boring part -- food, that is -- let's talk about my experience. I've come to the conclusion that every Turkish guy is a winker or a wannabe winker. It's funnier when they're a wannabe, because you can always tell when they're thinking about winking. They're face goes completely still for a moment (where the wheels start turning on how to coordinate all those facial muscles into a closing of one eyelid) and then there is a quick spasm where they slightly turn their head, mouth-open in concentration, and let out a half-assed wink. Nonetheless, they are proud of their accomplishment. They have just winked at an ignorant foreigner and now have the upper ground. If only they knew the winking arsenal that I could unleash, they would cower! But let's not stray from this subject just yet. There are also those winkers that have an overabundance of facial spasms, where they will rapid fire wink at you about 5 times. When this happens, I just want to tell them not to overextend themselves, sit down and get a glass of water. It's only the occasional Turkish male that correctly pulls off the most grandfatherly of accomplishments: the lazy lid, one-eye-open-other-resting trick, and you can rest assured that they are not giving up their secret. So now, you're asking, what does this have to do with anything? Well, dear blogger, I have witnessed this phenomena in only the most winky of circles, the league of restaurant waiters. There are about 25 of them on staff at 360, and you can be absolutely certain that they all wink at me as I'm going about my business behind the counter.

There are nine cooks at the restaurant: 1 pastry chef, 1 bread and pizza man, 2 pasta guys, a Thai cook, a meat and fish cook, 2 garden chefs, and an executive chef. They don’t speak English at all, though. This presents something called a language barrier, because I don’t really speak Turkish. I speak a very broken Turkish and understand a lot of what people have to say, but that’s about it. Because of this, though, I am endearing, so all the waiters and all the cooks want to talk to me. Of course they have their selfish reasons for wanting to talk to me, because they all want to learn English from me. I’m much cheaper than the local English Time (school), which charges exorbitant rates for lessons. As a result, I've made a lot of friends that want to both help me and learn from me. They all call me some form of Ay-too, and I've ceased correcting them, so I will forever be known as Ay-too.

For about twelve days, I worked at 360 from noon until midnight or later, so I was tired after that and this is certainly why I have not been writing as much. I learned a lot, though, and had a lot of time to practice my Turkish. As I said above, I can now understand most of them, but I can't for the life of me hear what the pastry chef or tatli (sweet) guy, as I call him, is saying. He talks at the speed of light and never gives in when I ask him to talk slower…in fact I think he deliberately speeds up, but I can’t completely tell. As a result, he has to deal with my missed orders sometimes, haha! If ever I talk to him in what seems to be normal time, I will have learned Turkish.

Here are the profiles of each of the chefs that I work with, with all of their names spelled incorrectly:

Typhon- Typhon is the pizza and bread guy who may be a year or two older than me. He hasn't attended college and doesn't plan to, I don't think, but he seems pretty content working the kitchen. He is certainly a wannabe winker. He and the guy that run the bar are avid Besiktas (place) soccer fans and have taught me the soccer team's chant. They are very proud of this and make me recite it about 23 times a day...I feel like a dog being asked to roll over, but I play along because it means free pizza and free drinks, not to mention that it makes everyone laugh, every single time. When I started at 360 on Wednesday, I was making bread with Typhon, so he is the first person that I knew in the kitchen and he takes pride in that. Every time I defect to another station to make meat dishes or pasta dishes he shakes his head and says, "ekmek, no George" (translation: why the hell aren't you making bread with me right now, George...he calls me George because it's much easier to say). I just have to staunchly oppose or else I get stuck in the bread domain of hell, kneading, baking, and cutting all day.

Harkan- Harkan is the sweet's guy, or the pastry chef, and he works with Typhon over in the bread corral. He also shakes his head when I'm not there to fill cherries with nuts, cut up melons, dip things in chocolate, or make puff pastries. Whenever he wants me to do something, he just keeps repeating the name of the food I'm supposed to be working on: "carpoose, carpoose" (watermelon, watermelon). If there is one section of the restaurant that lives up to the restaurant’s hype, it is the pastry section. Although some of the pastries are actually imported from other shops around Istanbul, they are delicious! Hey, if you know someone else can make it better, why not take what they have and serve it at your restaurant, right? Harkan is ironically skinny and is dead set on working for me when I open my restaurant in New York City (as are they all at this point). He has all my contact info, and I'm sure he's going to use it at some point next year. I call him Harkan-Abi (Brother Harkan).

Gokhan- I wish I could explain Gokhan in person, because he does a lot of whooping and running around. He also dances, screams, and can't pronounce my name for the life of him. He really wants to learn English, but is awful at pronunciation. When I'm teaching him, I always tell him he's doing a good job when he's about 50% of the way there in pronunciation. Gokhan is one of the pasta and sautee chefs, so he's the one that gets to flip all the stuff in the pans and make fire. He loves it! Although, I'm not sure if it's good to pair fire with a crazy person. He's always getting yelled at for something.

Veysel- Veysel is the biggest name screwer-upper out there. He calls me many variations of Ay-too. He asks me five times a day whether I've found an American girl to fly over here and go on a date with him. Every time I tell him, “yes, of course I've found her. She'll be on a plane in a week.” After this, he gets very giddy and proceeds to tell everyone around him for the 20th time that he has an American girl coming for him. Veysel is also the one that likes to punch and fight me in the kitchen, which is always a fun time and a nice vacation from doing the bread knife shuffle in the bread corner. I've come to the conclusion that he, like Gokhan, is crazy as beans.

Lucky- Lucky is the Thai chef who is 48 years old, slightly speaks English (I know I lied above that no one speaks English), and likes to talk about her Nigerian boyfriend. I haven’t quite pinned her down yet, but she’s a bit of motherly, crazy-Thai-lady, conspiratorial, type (I think that works?). She loves to make Typhon angry by pulling me away from the bread section and loves to tell me how she (unlike the others) is not afraid of the boss.

Siraj- Siraj is the meat and fish guy. His section also shines, like I mentioned earlier. He works wonders with the meats over the wood burning grill and does the Turkish specialties right. Also, he is a noble soul. He’s thirty years old, divorced and lives two hours from the restaurant. This means that he works noon till 1 a.m., then has to commute home and be back to work at twelve the next day. He sleeps between 3 and 4 hours per night and always tries to seem bright and cheery through a haze of sleepiness. He can’t move closer to the restaurant, because wages do not allow. If I did open a restaurant in the US and wanted to help one of these guys in the kitchen out, it would be him.

Annika- Annika is not Turkish, methinks. Her name doesn’t sound like it and her looks don’t really say Turkish to me. I don’t really know her that well, other than her saying a few words of English here and there. She does her work and keeps kind of quiet. She is a garden chef.

Murat- Murat doesn’t really add too much as far as kitchen excitement. He’s kind of the guy who’s always there when you’re joking around the vegetable rack, but he’s not really popping the jokes out. He either nods in approval or disapproval. He is a garden chef as well and is really into his work with the blender and the knife.

Executive Chef Zek- Yes, Zek. He is quiet also, but in a more thoughtful manner than Murat. He always seems to be observing the other chefs in a far off manner. Every once in a while when I’m chopping away or deeply focused on making pastries, I’ll turn to see Chef Zek about 13 ft. away, thoughtfully observing my work. I think he likes me because I never react. The other day, he actually made me dinner. He walked up to me and said, “penne or fettuccini” (he had obviously asked lucky how to say “or”). I told him I would like fettuccini, so that’s what he made me. He’s been cooking for about 18 years and is in charge of the final presentation of dishes.

The boss, Mike Norman, is a young guy who is not a Turkish native. He owns both 360 and the Suada Club, which floats on a manmade island off the European coast on the Bosphorus (I worked there for one night and it was very crazy). According to all the workers, he’s a very scary man (you know, the always busy, I don’t have time for you type). I’m not scared though…he’s not paying me, haha! I talked to him for about 5 minutes the other day in his office. I told him that I appreciated him letting me stay and asked if we could sit down and talk some accounting and business about the two restaurants, which we’ll do on Friday. Boldly, I told him that his website was riddled with grammatical errors and misused words and told him that I could help him fix it…he accepted, so now I am going to rewrite his website. Mike is a well known chef in Europe, so hopefully he’ll be able to help me out with some restaurants over there (as long as he doesn’t read my reviews above).

At 360, I have learned the 12 sauces that they put on all their entrees, three kinds of bread, how to season and cook the meats, how to make pizza dough, how to make a pizza (it’s hard stretching the dough to a circle), how to make certain pastries, and a lot about presentation. I have now ended my stint at 360, but I ate there with my girlfriend, Lauren last Thursday and they treated us to a free dinner that would have cost over $200….score! But cooking is never over…until then, it’s the chopping board for me.


Anonymous said...

Wow Ethan. You truly have the life. You will have to taech me some of these things when you get back.