When Is A Food Adventure Not A Food Adventure? Two Words: Istanbul Cafe

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Andrea’s View:  A couple of weeks ago, my parents said that they would like to go on a food adventure with us.  I asked where they would like to go and my father replied, “I don’t know.  Surprise us.  Just don’t pick anything too adventurous.”  I said, “How do you feel about Turkish food?”  His response, “Sounds good to me.”  So the four of us met at Istanbul Cafe on a late Sunday afternoon.  As we were walking in, my mother whispered to me, “Did you make a reservation?”  I looked at her kind of cross-eyed and said, “no.”  We were the only ones in the restaurant.  Now, I could see where she was coming from, this is a fancy dining room.  It looks like a place that one would need a reservation.  The restaurant is spotless, almost too sterile, and they have linen napkins on the tables.  We sit down and order a bottle of white wine and hummus.  The wine was surprisingly good, it was a vintage I was not familiar with, but the hummus was okay.  It was too smooth and not seasoned very much.  I ordered the vegetarian vegetable stew.  This is a tomato broth with eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, onions, green peppers, and green beans.  It is served with rice.  I am sorry to say that even though all the vegetables were fresh and properly cooked, the broth reminded me of Campbell’s soup.  As I ate, I looked around the very quiet dining room and I wondered where was the disconnect.  My parents seemed to be enjoying their food and the restaurant as a whole.  They even spoke of bringing some of their friends to this restaurant.  And although my food was more than decent, I felt something was missing.  Then I realised what it was.  There was no quirkiness, no joy, no love or pride in one’s homeland cuisine.  It was all very commercial.  If you want to experience Turkish cuisine with authenticity, go to Bosphorus.  I missed the crazy carpets hanging on the walls, the colorful pillows thrown everywhere, and the servers with broken English giving their suggestions about the menu.  Those are the things that make a food adventure a food adventure.   This just feels like Turkish food served in a Ruby Tuesdays.

The Hummus

The Vegetarian Vegetable Stew

The wine

Dave’s View:  In the past, I’ve written about how some restaurants follow a well planned formula.  They all use the same food supplier, so at the end of the day, you can have five locally owned restaurants managed by five different owners, but the food is all the same.  Mexican and Chinese restaurants are the two that come to mind.  I didn’t think Turkish restaurants would fall into this category, but I may have stumbled upon a restaurant that does. It’s name is Istanbul Cafe on West 86th Street in Indianapolis.  I don’t want to give the impression that their food was awful.  But I don’t want to give the impression that it was enjoyable.

To make my case,  I ordered the Adana Kabab.

That is ground lamb.  The lamb was flaky and had a nice pleasant spice from the peppers and onions.  When you bite into the kabab, the lamb disperses into your mouth and it’s very addicting.  The small amount of sauce/fat layered on top helps the process along.  Accompanied with Basmati rice and sautéed vegetables, the Adana Kabab is a meal that is decent.  I bet if I went back three times and ordered this same meal, it would look and taste exactly like this every time.

You may ask, “Well, what is wrong with that? You’re supposed to make meals consistent.”  I would answer you, “Are you supposed to make meals consistent?”  There was no uniqueness in this meal whatsoever.  Yes, it was well made, but it lacked substance.  It was taken out of the “How to make money in a Turkish restaurant using these proven recipes”, Chapter one.  (No, there is no such book, but you get what I mean.)  It was like a robot made this dish. No emotions were put into it.  It was like plop, plop, and then more plop.  Now eat the matter.

The place needs to screw up.  It needs to quit measuring everything out to the one, one thousand of an ounce.  Add too much onion, put less peppers in it.  It’s too sterile!!!

In the past, Andrea and I would go to a Mexican restaurant just to order the salsa and chips.  We didn’t order anything else.  Why?  The salsa would be different everyday.  One day it would be sweet.  The next day is was spicy, other days it had too much cilantro.  It had originality.  Someone took the time to make it and they put their soul into.

The inside is the same theory as the food.

It’s elegant.  Nice straight lines.  Very Frank Lloyd Wright.  Everything is in place.

I wanted to get up and rearrange the vases.  The vases and teapots are exactly 6 1/2″ apart. (I didn’t get up to measure.)  I wanted to put my empty beer can collection from the 1970’s up there. ( I don’t have one.)  I could  put a replica of Glinda the Good Witch up there. (That I do have, but it’s not mine.)  The walls were weeping for some creative endeavor.  They were calling, “Please make me fertile again.”

My plate said the same thing.

Food:  7  Ambiance:  7  Service:  8.5    Total:  22.5 out of 30.

$30-$40 with adult beverages
Istanbul Cafe on Urbanspoon

Istanbul Cafe on Foodio54

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