Nestled among the cluster of fancy & upscale shopping & dining at The Shops at Legacy is – Café Istanbul – ” ….the Turkish Restaurant..” which is “… proud to serve exquisite dishes from Anatolia Turkey…” (Cafe Istanbul). This one is a very recent addition to the original Cafe Istanbul which is located at Inwood Village, Dallas.
We started visiting this place & soon got hooked to it after Arjun made a visit with his co-workers for lunch. We were frantically looking for a good Turkish Restaurant, so when he came back saying that he found one, we did not waste much time to visit it again, with family this time. The diverse menu is rich with plenty of choices & fresh ingredients that are not only tasty but also healthy & good for you. The new found excitement made us go to Cafe Istanbul more than once, so this review is going to span multiple days of culinary experience.
In front of the restaurant entrance is the lovely & elegant patio. There are tables & couches set under the trees & the bright umbrellas. The mood of the dining & socializing under the sky changes & gets even better in the evening while the street band plays nearby (almost every night) on one side & with a magical view of the lighted & the musical fountains on the other side.
While it is busy & vibrant outside, the mood inside is modern, calm, & warm surrounded with dark wood & stone. You will hear some soothing Mediterranean music. The bright cool blue table napkins accent the tables & the “Evil Eye” (see on the walls) provide a wonderful contrast.
This is a medium sized restaurant, not big enough to hold a party for 300, but there is enough space to be comfortable & have your own privacy at the table. The tables are squares, which almost gives the feel of a Cafe. We wished the tables were larger when we went for lunch & sat inside. With 2 adults & 2 kids & a full fledged meal, there was almost no place to hold a glass unless the “done” dishes were cleared up, which was taken care of promptly. It is perhaps not worth complaining about but I would still say that I would be happier with a bigger table especially if one is dining with kids.
We did not have much trouble the day we were at the patio. Two tables were joined together & we were very comfortably seated without worrying much about moving plates & glasses around.
The ceiling provided a beautiful view of pretty blue intricacies.
There is a small bar area near the entrance (below) & another section towards the interior of the restaurant.
Nazar Bonjuk/The “Evil Eye”: Turkish Good Luck Charm to ward off evil.
While we were comfortably seated after a warm greeting, we were ready to begin our meal under the watchful Good Luck Charm of the Evil Eye.
Fresh Baked Bread
While we were deciding on our menu, a basket full of fresh baked bread was served. For me nothing is more appetizing than the aroma of the fresh baked bread. They are wonderfully crusty on the outside topped with sesame & nigella (onion seeds), while the inside is soft & airy. Just right & we made a plunge towards it right away. The basket keeps getting filled with fresh bread and Lavash (see below) till your order arrives.
Red Lentil Soup
On our second visit, after the bread basket, we sampled the Ezo Gelin or the Red Lentil Soup.The soup has pureed red lentils as the base with fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, parsley & spices; lot of flavors & a paired well with the bread for my little one, who dipped her bread in the soup & quickly finished her slice of bread.
The Appetizer Platter
Next we tried the Meze Tabagi or the Appetizer Platter. The entire platter comes for about $15, while the individual ones range anywhere from $5 to $7. Here I will quote the description of the items from the menu of Cafe Istanbul. The platter was all vegetarian, abundantly loaded with different delightful flavors, textures & tastes. For myself, I could just make a meal out of a few of these appetizers. Here is a list of what it had:
Dolma/Stuffed Grape Leaves: “Marinated grape leaves stuffed with rice pilaf, pine nuts, onions & Mediterranean spices.”
This was quite a bite full with everything nice stuffed inside the grape leaves.
Humas/Hummus: “Creamy blend of mashed garbanzo beans, tahini, yogurt, olive oil and garlic.”
The Hummus was ordinary, pretty much like anywhere else. But how much variety can you add to it if you want it to taste authentic?
Babganush/Eggplant Puree: “Charbroiled eggplant puree flavored with mint, parsley, tahini, garlic and a touch of olive oil.” & Patlican Salata/Eggplant Salad: “Chopped eggplant, charbroiled for perfection and mixed with parsley, garlic, olive oil and citrus juice.”
These were good but nothing that set it apart from the other Mediterranean places we have been to.
Acili : “Fresh blend of diced tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley, mint leaves, olive oil and garlic.”
Now the food was talking. Our heart & senses immediately took to this. (It is that bright orange in the platter below). This is a kind of condiment I would like to use everyday everywhere – spicy, tangy & bursting with flavors with a kick that one is sure to remember. First taste, you don’t feel much, but in few seconds the mouth fills up with some wonderful explosion which keeps you wondering what it is in other than what it says in the menu. Well we are yet to figure that out!
Cacik: “Traditional yogurt and chopped cucumber, seasoned with mint leaves, olive oil and garlic.”
This was sharp & good & as most of the other dishes here, this one too makes you wonder about that little unknown spice touch that adds to that special taste. My daughter took a fancy for this.
Beyaz Penir (Turkish Feta Cheese): “Medium soft brined Turkish feta cheese slices with tomatoes, lettuce and Turkish olives.”
I don’t know if this the patented Greek Feta, but it was wonderful. I don’t think I have tasted a better Feta Cheese before.
Kisir /Taboulleh: “Fresh blend of diced tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley, mint leaves, olive oil and garlic.” along with cracked wheat.
I was very eager to try this out after I had made Kisir at home. The Kisir is fantastic! A very peppery, spicy & tangy Tabbouleh, with lot of spices & flavors. We kind of made little bite size wraps for ourselves with the lavash & the kisir.
Next came the Lavash, fresh, hot & puffed up like a steaming ball. This was quite an experience as we sat & watched it slowly deflate. (Lavash is a very thin bread topped with sesame seeds & nigella & cooked on the walls of the traditional oven.)
Here is the shot of the inside of the Lavash.
Hot Appetizer Ispanakli Borek : Pastry puff filled with spinach, feta cheese, herbs and onions.
A nice healthy & a very Mediterranean filling inside the puffs.
Kalamar/Calamari: Tender calamari lightly fried with Cafe Istanbul’s special breading.
We haven’t yet diversified our taste buds to be calamari lovers. I thought the sprinkle of spice on the top was a nice touch, & I would have definitely liked it better if we had requested them to cook them more “brown”, but we did not make that request. I have to say the dipping sauce (the pinkish one) was fantastic.
The dishes in the Main Course are priced from $12 to $16.
Tavuk Sis/Charbroiled Chicken
Sis-Kebap is one of the significant dish in Turkish cuisine. The chicken pieces marinated & spiced with the Chef’s own blend of herbs & spices this is indeed a signature dish. The charbroiled meat is served with Turkish rice pilaf, red cabbage and onions & the spice topped flat bread. It is a big platter with lot of sides & was enough for us share one. Arjun loved it. It is on the spicy side, but that is what makes it so good. I have to mention here that I was a little disappointed seeing this on this particular day. I had come with the expectation of big orangish chunks of chicken breast meat with loads of sumac & grilled vegetables & buttered rice on the side. Well that happens to be my problem.. the Shish Tavuk happened to be my favorite dish in Seven Hills of Istanbul which we would frequent in New Jersey. That kind of sat in my mind. This one here did not lack in taste or flavor, but my mind set kind of put a barrier to enjoying this to the fullest. The second time we visited and ordered the Tavuk Sis, it was way better; it looked like the kind which we always have, not like the one we were served the first day (picture above). The breast pieces were soft, succulent and juicy. I do not know why it was different the two different times.
The Cabbage Salad was scrumptious with a creamy dressing.
Flat Bread with Topping
This was served with the Tavuk Sis. I think it was topped with olive oil, spices & parsley – a fine & very a spicy way to have a flat bread! We love the spices & the fire.
Falafel Sandwich: This dish is a part of the “Lunch Specials” ($10.95).
Excellent Falafels, (one of the best we have had), are stuffed inside the bread with lettuce, tomato etc. What made this sandwich extra special is the spread that was used on the bread. It was creamy, spicy & when we asked what it was, we were told that it was the Chef’s special sauce. Special indeed, for I would order the Sandwich again just for this spread, & itch till I find out what it is. The Falafel Sandwich was served with a side of garlic flavored yogurt.
Karides Sis Kebap (Shrimp Shish Kebap) – “Skewered shrimp, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions charbroiled and served with rice and red cabbage.”
My daughter ordered this dish for lunch. We asked for it to be “well done”. It was a big platter with about 8 humongo sized char broiled shrimps, char broiled red peppers, & onions along with some lettuce. There was an light orange colored sauce on the side. A squirt of fresh lemon & we were ready to go. Pardon the cliché, but again the predominance of some unknown combination of spices here makes this shrimp like no other grilled shrimp I have had before. Will we order this again? Definitely!
Tavuk Durum: “Charbroiled ground chicken wrapped with tortilla, lettuce, tomatoes & onion, served with garlic sauce”
The filling/chicken was tender, juicy, spicy & very very flavorful. Again there some some “Chef’s Special Sauce”. The plate had broiled hot peppers & tomatoes. What I would really like is if the chicken was wrapped in a more traditional flat bread, like a thin Pita or even something like Lavash. The Tortilla here just did not match up. Going over the menu, I see a similar dish (Chicken Beyti), but served with thin Lavash Bread. may be I will give this one a try next time.
They also have an assortment of Pizza here, which we haven’t tried:
Lahmacun: (Type – Traditional) Ground beef & veggies served over thin crust Turkish Bread (no cheese); about $5
Peynirli Pide: Thick crust & topped with Turkish Feta or Mozzarella; $11.95
Sebzeli Pide: Thick Crust with vegetarian topping ; $11.95
A few others topped with Turkish sausage are available too.
Dessert: Baklava & Wine Poached Pears with Walnuts & Cream.
We were really full to try out any dessert, but the staff brought us a sample anyway. We realized we would have really missed out if we did not try any. The Baklava was delicious like any well made Baklava. What I really liked was the elegant red wine poached pear served on the bed of walnuts with cream on the side.
Cafe Istanbul has a bountiful assortment of traditional desserts in the menu.
Turkish Coffee: Very different from the regular coffee we are used to here. It is strong, dark & probably prepared by roasted coffee beans, but the powder is not discarded.. it kind of settles down at the bottom. While Arjun is not too fond of it, I like the flavor. Without sugar (or cream) the coffee is too intense & I always order a medium brew.
What we would like to try the next time:
Drinks: We did not sample any.
Some Dishes from the menu:
- Tavuk Sarma/ Stuffed Chicken: (Chicken breast, stuffed with pistachio & raisin)
- Chicken Beyti
- Karides Sote (Shrimp Saute)
- Tilapia File (Oven baked Tilapia seasoned with herbs & Olive Oil)
- Manti (Dumpling) – but only if they can customize to make it with chicken
The ambience is delightful here in a very vibrant location. A perfect spot for a relaxed hangout. with some great culinary experience. The service is friendly yet professional. All the staffs that we came across answered all our enquiries about the menu in a knowledgeable way. I cannot speak enough about the quality & the freshness of the food. The food arrived in timely manner all the times we visited, except for once when Arjun visited with a friend for lunch. This particular time, the it took about 45 minutes for them to serve the food; not many tables were occupied, so it was not the overwhelming crowd. It was working day, so it got a bit inconvenient for Arjun. The staff was extremely apologetic & Arjun & his company were offered Turkish Tea. Again this happened just once, & I know that understand there might be circumstances in a business where the staff is on the inconvenient side.
We had the privilege to meet the Chef:-). He came out while were in dining out in the patio & exchanged a few words with us.
How Authentic/Traditional it is?
I don’t know, for I have not had the privilege to dine in Turkey. What matters is the quality & taste of food – which I would say is fresh, very very flavorful & varied. Every single dish that we tried can boast of unique taste & style & I need to mention here again about the mysterious touch of the Chef. It has rarely happened to us that we could not nail down the ingredient or the spice in a dish. (We try to do that all the time & don’t rest till we find it). But the flavors, the aroma & the tastes were so complex & beautiful that we failed to solve the mystery this time. As I have said before, I would have loved to have the rolls/wraps in traditional breads.
What we would like to see: Kids Menu
Most of the food on the menu can be customized to be more or less spicy, or whatever way you want to suit a child’s taste & tolerance. But it is a waste of food & money when there are no kid’s size proportions. For example, we have 2 kids, we had to order adult sized big plates for each of them (they have different tastes, so we could not order 1 & have them share). It would be great to have that flexibility to order & customize the regular menu in kid size proportion & price, even if a separate menu is not offered.
A must mention:
I need to mention here that the second time we went & decided that we are up for a review, Cafe Istanbul graciously took care of the bill. We asked for the bill after a feast, & they came back with one but we were told that we were not to pay anything. We frantically protested, then requested & they agreed that we pay only for the service. We are very thankful to Cafe Istanbul for doing us this favor.
Some interesting things to know (Information taken from the restaurant’s website: www.cafeistanbul.net): “…owner and chef Erol Girgin; before he arrived in Dallas, he once owned Mangal, a gourmet restaurant that sat 1,500 people on a patio in Ankara, Turkey…”
On the Web: Cafe Istanbul
Street Address (Plano):
5450 Lone Star Drive, Suite #C160
Plano. Texas 75024
Phone Number: 972 398 2020
Hours of Operation:
Mon-Thu. 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.