Even we sometimes find that our palates have grown weary of rakı and eggplant salad. Lately, when that happens, we’ve been heading over to the Asian side of Istanbul for unique Iranian-Turkish mezes and hearty carafes of Aegean red wine at Şiraz, a tiny meyhane in the Moda neighborhood of Kadıköy.
Opened two years ago by Elahe Eftekharinasr and Ahmet İlter Şenyurt, the miniscule place has seven tables, and a galley-sized open kitchen tucked into the back. A huge chalkboard covers one wall with the day’s offerings, and, if the weather permits, the whole front opens to the street.
“I built this restaurant for her,” says Şenyurt, “I said, ‘You’re the boss; whatever you want, do it.’” Eftekharinasr uses that creative license to serve up surprising and satisfying food inspired by her Iranian roots. She moved to Izmir, on the Turkish Aegean coast, from Iran when she was eleven. “I learned to cook from my mother,” explains Eftekharinasr, “then I started to read cookbooks and work in restaurants.” We were tipped off about Şiraz by Emir Ali Enç, whose Soy copper pots are in heavy rotation at the restaurant. You may see him helping out in kitchen sometimes, too.
Meyhanes are restaurants where you eat small mezes and drink rakı or wine. Here, the food pairs well with wine, so we order a carafe of the house red, made by Eftekharinasr’s friend in Urla, on the Aegean coast. We begin with barely pickled zucchini slices dressed in an herby vinaigrette and hidden under a cloud of freshly grated Izmir tulum (sheep’s milk cheese). Rumus patlıcan (Greek-style eggplant) is a refreshing balance of smoky yogurt, eggplant and sweet pekmez (grape molasses) with slivered pistachios for crunch. Hot, butter-fried halloumi cheese comes coated with sesame seeds; a vibrant bunch of basil is served alongside for noshing. One night Eftekharinasr sent us a toasty mini copper saucepan filled with soft leeks, creamy goat cheese, tiny strawberries and chopped walnuts. We realized then why Şiraz is different from other meyhanes: The chef is not bound to tradition; she is free to create playful dishes full of flavor and temperature and textural contrasts.
Our favorite main course is the meyveli kavurma, which arrives sizzling hot in a wide copper pan. Kavurma is cured beef that hails from the far eastern Black Sea region. It is preserved in its own fat and stored in terracotta pots. Eftekharinasr balances the intense, fatty and savory meat with punchy sour cherries, green onion and cinnamon. After we devour the dish, we greedily soak up the rich juices with pide bread.
We’ve also tried the steamed levrek (sea bass). Eftekharinasr serves the fish Iranian-style, with lime slices and bitter orange molasses. The fish comes in its own personal copper sauna, elevated above aromatic juices so it remains lush, not soggy. Again, the contrasts are a pleasant surprise: the sweet fish flesh with bitter molasses and tart lime.
Eftekharinasr is beginning to add winter dishes to the menu. Her Iranian braised lamb collar with dill rice will make you cherish the season – or at least forget about the long nights for a while. The dish is called shivid polo ba gerden in Farsi and is comfort food at its finest. We divvy up the tahdig, or crispy, golden rice on the bottom of the pot and pull apart the luscious lamb with our forks. Savory, saffrony and filled with love.
If you are feeling full, quiet that nagging sweet tooth with a few dates and coffee. Otherwise, order the tahini helva. Imagine if sesame, sugar and lemon went to the hammam (Turkish bath) and were pounded together into a marshmallowy cream, then topped with walnuts.
Eftekharinasr’s dream for Şiraz is to have people come to enjoy her style of food. If you feel like a romantic ferry ride across the Bosphorus and a family meal, check it out. Your rakı-weary taste buds will thank you.