Ilhan Tackles Native Turkish Cuisine
with Ottoman Taverna Opening Monday
Ottoman Taverna, the new Turkish restaurant from restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, opens today for dinner at 4 p.m. at 425 I St. NW in Mount Vernon Triangle.
Ilhan, who was born in Istanbul, also owns Alba Osteria next door in the same building as well as L’Hommage Bistro Francais just a few blocks away at 450 K St. NW. Although he’s opened more than 20 fast-casual restaurants including Pizza Authetica, TCBY, Einstein Bagels, Café Cantina/Pizza Pino, Gelateria Dolce Vita and others in addition to his fine dining restaurants, he’s never tackled his native Turkish cuisine.
“I wanted to do justice to Turkish cuisine,” he told DC on Heels. Part of that had to do with finding the right chef. And as executive chef, Ilhan has hired another Istanbul native Ilhan Erkek. Erkek most recently was garde manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla. Previously he cooked for five years at the Ritz-Carlton in Istanbul at Cintemani, the hotel’s Ottoman restaurant. He also served as executive chef at Tryst Gastro Lounge in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The 160-seat restaurant, designed by Matt Norris of Norris Design in Atlanta, pays homage to the turn-of-the-century casual restaurants found throughout Istanbul with a backlit onyx top bar that was mined in Turkey, a copper-clad back bar, blue glass pendant lights and the use of arabesque shapes. The interior is light with whites, brown leather chairs and striped banquettes in orange and browns. Honeycomb patterns are found through the dining room from the custom light fixtures and wine rack to the pantry doors and cased openings to the bar and the exhibition kitchen. The floors are faux Turkish marble and the ceiling has exposed wood beams. A large mural featuring the Hagia Sophia, a Greek Orthodox church turned mosque turned museum, covers one wall near the kitchen.
The exhibition kitchen, visible from the dining room, has a copper charcoal pit custom made in Turkey to cook the kebabs, a doner grill to cook meat similar to that in a gyro and a wood-fired oven for the pide flat breads. The dining room can be partitioned off into three area with folding doors and there is a private dining room as well. There is also a chef’s table, call the Sultan’s Table, which seats 12, that will be devoted to a 10-course tasting menu with wine pairings and an outdoor patio with seating for 46. A wall of blue evil eyes greets diners as they enter the restaurant to ward off evil.
“Both the design scheme and menu of my new restaurant reflect the empire that ruled a large swath of Eurasia for 650 years until 1923,” Ilhan said. “Instead of forcing its way of life onto the conquered, the Ottoman Empire absorbed other ideas and practices to create one of the world’s great cultures. Food is no exception to this rule. The cuisine of the Ottomans is influenced by all the great ingredients and techniques found throughout the region, melded into a complex flavor profile that is familiar to all, yet unique at the same time.”
Erkek’s menu features classic dishes that incorporate traditional cooking techniques to pay tribute to the true flavors of Ottoman cuisine. Dishes include soups and salads, cold and hot meze, flats breads and entrees. Small plates range from $7-$24, entrées from $16.75-$24.75 and desserts range from $6-$12.
Soups and salads include kırmızı mercimek çorbası, red lentil soup with onion, tomatoes and paprika oil; and grilled calamari fattoush salad with pearl couscous, tomatoes, cucumbers and crispy pita chips. Cold meze dishes include confit garlic hummus, chickpeas, garlic, tahini and paprika served with pita; imam bayıldı, roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions and basil oil; and çerkez tavuğu, Carcashian chicken with walnut, garlic and paprika oil. Hot meze includes karides güveç, shrimp stew with a saffron tomato broth, garlic chips and fresh herbs; içli köfte, bulgur wheat köfte stuffed with ground lamb and beef, walnuts and parsley sauce; and midye dolma, mussels stuffed with rice, pine nuts and black currants.
Pide include sucuklu pide with spicy lamb sausage, cows’ milk cheese, arugula and marinated red onions. Entrées include several kebabs such as the adana kebab, char grilled lamb and beef seasoned with red pepper and herbs; and the doner kebab, thinly sliced lamb and beef served with rice pilaf and onion salad. Other entrees include karnıbahar, cauliflower stew with tomatoes, cipollini onions, and parsley; hünkar beğendi, slow braised lamb shank served over eggplant puree; tavada levrek, pan-seared Branzino with mashed fingerling potatoes, capers, tomatoes, olives and sautéed spinach; and moussaka, eggplant, potato, ground beef and béchamel sauce. The dessert menu features baklava, finely layered pastry filled with ýnuts and steeped in syrup; künefe, levantine cheese covered in crispy kadayýf pastry soaked in simple syrup; sütlaç, oven baked rice pudding; and pistachio, hazelnut and vanilla ice cream.
Happy hour features half-priced hot and cold meze and flat breads priced from $3.50-6.
The restaurant features wines from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and California. There are more than 20 wines priced from $8-$13 by the glass. There are also 79 wines available by the bottle priced from $32-$93 and 15 reserve wines priced from $110-$485. Efes, a Turkish beer, is available on tap and a large selection of raki, Turkey’s national drink of twice distilled grapes mixed with anise.
Ottoman Taverna is open from 4-10 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 4-11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. Happy hour is from 4:30-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Lunch and brunch will be added in the future.
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.