Letter From An Istanbul Kitchen Part 4: Abracadabra Runs Out of Tricks

Abracadabra is the most anticipated restaurant on my Istanbul trip. I’ve read the accounts of Dilara Erbay’s wizardry in the kitchen and I’m foaming at the mouth to get at her food.

But the part where the rubber meets the road, as they say in the American South, finds Abracadabra not firing on all cylinders.

I love Arnavutkoy. I reckon it must be where the moneyed Turks hang their hats after a hard day, the homes are gorgeous and the property along the Bosphorus is as prime a location as Istanbul offers.

It’s Sunday night and the cabby informs us right off the bat how lucky we are that Erdogan is not spending the weekend at his nearby Palace. The traffic backs up for miles as the security details stopper the avenue to protect the man who’s leading Turkey at the moment.

We roll up on the mansion that houses the restaurant and find a very quiet scene. It’s a cold January night with a stiff breeze coming off the Strait and it looks as though the local eaters have decided to stay in and have their pide delivered.

A host leads us up multiple flights of stairs and sequesters us on the top floor of the big, wooden house in a cozy room with amber lighting, a few comfy chairs and sofas and a handful of traditional tables and chairs.

We roll the dice and order the entirety of the appetizer menu which could feed 6 hungry eaters.

Snake eyes.

To be fair, there  are a few good bites among the plenitude but overall, mainly due to expectations, we’re disappointed.

The highlight is a filet of Bosnian Beef, smoked and then chilled and cut into 6 strips. It’s of a good quality and the beefy flavor is likeable enough.

The lowlight is a cheeseplate that while very handsome and featuring a number of Turkish cheeses [ a three year old whose name escapes me, a Lake Van herbed and a goat from Ankara region] all of which are ammoniated. We barely touch this dish but end up fighting over the dried figs  which, as is typical in Turkey, are stellar.

Confusion reigns over a mushy steamed cauliflower dish served ice cold with a treacly peanut sauce. Not to our liking. Had this dish been served fresh and warm with a fourth of the sauce it could’ve been saved but as it is it’s d.o.a

More to our liking is a vinegary salad of  olives and chopped walnuts. This is a Turkish classic and Abracadabra delivers with top notch olives and good quality walnuts.

An item billed as grilled sausage with strong mustard turns out to be hotdogs with the ends fileted to create little porky octopi. This is something I would’ve made at home when I was ten years old. I love whimsical food but this dish is not tasty.

Service is restrained and comfortable. Our waiter paces things nicely and is an affable gent. The restaurant is deserted but he doesn’t overcompensate by being all over us. On his recommendation we try Abracadabra’s take on the classic Dark n Stormy cocktail with housemade ginger beer and it is delicious.

It proves to be the star of the show at the restaurant on this night especially  due to its’ being sipped on the porch with a commanding view of the Bosphorus Bridge.

Back in the US it’s traditional for the bull chef to be off on Sunday night and I reckon this is true in Istanbul as well. I doubt that Chef Erbay is anywhere near her landmark on this evening so I file this report with that as a caveat.

I hope that things are markedly better when she’s on the range.


Address: 50/1 Arnavutkoy Cad. Arnavutkoy

Phone: (212) 358-6087


About the Stars:

4 ****  Extraordinary, life changing

3 ***   Excellent

2 *     Very good

1 *     Good

0 *     Mediocre to Acceptable

Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating.

About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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One Response to Letter From An Istanbul Kitchen Part 4: Abracadabra Runs Out of Tricks

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