I know the Q is about Seattle, but the number of mentions of Vij's prompts me to write: I went to Vij's recently after hearing the hype about it for years -- and was underwhelmed. I don't get it. It's not "fusion Indian" by any means (Madhur Jaffrey's Dawat in NYC was the first of that genre and it really pressed Indian food in new directions, some of which included reviving dishes that had gone out of style). Back to Vij's: it's standard India fare, upscale to the extend that it's got "service," something I suspect folks don't expect from "curry joints." But as far as the food goes, I was hard pressed to see what was unique or so spectacular about it; it's the kind you get in any 4 or 5-star hotel restaurant in India.
Wow, hotop1, you seem to make it to Istanbul a lot - how I envy you! I haven't been back since last May and WISH I could return again. And your report of Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi only makes me want to go even more! Check out my long report on Istanbul eats and do tell me what you think.
I think you might be thinking of Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi in Karakoy? I never actually made it there (even some locals said they had not been able to find it; kudos to you!), but your directions sound exactly like the place I read about in the New York Times in May, I think. I can't find the link, but here is an excerpt from the article that I copied and took with me to Istanbul:
"More interesting than any place in Kumkapi is Tarihi Karakoy Balikcisi in Karakoy district. Near Tersane Caddesi, Kardesim sok. 30, Karakoy; (90-212) 251-1371. Lunch only; no alcohol; 23 new liras ($15 at 1.53 new liras to the dollar).
Finding the restaurant, however, just behind the fish market near the Galata Bridge, is anything but simple. Down an alley lined with hardware stalls, past 200 yards of screws, drills and hinges, all that gives it away is a wood-framed doorway and a little display window with a small sample of the day’s catch. Everything here is of the day. When they run out they close. And it’s lunch-only, consisting of two tiny upstairs rooms and an even tinier one downstairs. You can’t make a reservation, although you can reserve a particular fish if it’s in Choices go up on a blackboard."
Below is a report on restaurants in Istanbul from a May’07 trip. None of the restaurants are “finds” or unknown; they were culled from a variety of sources, including chowhound, other web sites, and guidebooks. Also, none are hole in the walls or street food, but average priced for a sit-down dinner. (Btw, local Istanbulus friends thought the listing in the Time Out Istanbul guidebook were on target. If you’re in Istanbul for a week or so, it might also be worth grabbing a copy the weekly Time Out Istanbul, English language eds of which can be found in many newsstands, especially in touristy areas such as Sultanahmet).
Probably the most memorable meal we had was at Galata House. The place is difficult to find*, on a dark, residential street, with no other commerce in sight and a very modest sign over the door. It used to be the British civil prison and was purchased about 15 years ago by a couple, Mete and Nadire Goktug, who are architects and planners and who turned it into a restaurant. The dining spaces are lovely (2 floors) and if you’re lucky, you might get a table in the upstairs courtyard. Snug and surrounded by high walls that are charmingly lit, the place is evocative. The food is Russian and Georgian and was for me a welcome break in a 10-day visit. Mete and Nadire are happy to make recommendations; the mixed appetizer plate was terrific, the only disappointment in it the yogurt with squash (the walnut spread was splendid, as was the eggplant filled with walnuts, as was the beet salad [and I’m not a fan of beets]). The lamb with plum sauce was terrific (the sauce a tart surprise) and the veal goulash solid. The best part of the evening, however, was a long conversation with Mete, a fascinating and worldly man who knows the city of Istanbul intimately and has read everything it seems. Perhaps because we were there on a Sun night late, we had a lengthy conversation with him in which I learned much about the history of Istanbul, it’s nooks and crannies, it’s past and present. Mete is a genuine host and seems to love conversation; just ask him a question and you’ll have a splendid conversation in which you’ll learn much, possibly even about your corner of the world. [Galata Kulesi Sokak 61, Galata (0112 245 1861; www.thegalatahouse.com)]
*Getting to Galata House: Take the tram to Karakoy. When you get off, you’ll have to cross the wide street to your left towards the Tunel funicular station (there is also an underpass but most folks seem to prefer to dodge the traffic and I would certainly avoid the underpass at dark). Having crossed the street that the tram runs on, walk north, past the wide intersection, past a plaza-ish space, upon which you’ll get to another street. Straight ahead, a bit to the left, you’ll see a set of steep steps going upward and a sign saying “Galata Tower.” DON’T take these steps (they will, predictably, take you to the Tower which is too far north), but take a left at the street and perhaps two or three streets up is Galata Kulesi Sokak, where you take a right GH is on the right up a steep hill and past a curve.
Our next best meal was at Sofyali 9 (the “i” at the end is the dotless “i”), a lovely restaurant in Beyoglu, near Tunel square, at the bottom of Istiklal Caddesi. The meze here were spectacular, a cut above. The waiters come around with a large tray with meze and you just point to what you want. The white beans with olives, pickled lemons and dill were superb, as were the leeks (a simple and fragrant preparation), the seaweed, and the walnut paste. Sofyali is a grill place and the kofta and lamb kebab were some of the best I had in Istanbul. [Sofyali Sokak 9, Tunel (0112 245 0362)].
Also in Beyoglu, on Istiklal Caddesi was a sweet shop that I’ve been dreaming about since I first saw it and kicking myself for not bringing boxes of sweets back. Saray has superb baklava. Even if you don’t like baklava, you ought to try theirs (I seldom eat sweets and loved theirs which weren’t too sweet). I got various shapes and sizes, all made with ground pistachio, and each was better than the last! Go there, point at various different types of baklava, and get a box. You won’t regret it. (Istiklal Caddesi, 102; closer to the Taksim Square end).
Everyone recommends Balikci Sabahattin (both “i”s in the first word are dotless and the “c” has a cedilla) in the Sultanahmet area, and it IS very good. I highly recommend the house appetizer, mussels with rice. They are excellent, flavored with what I’m guessing is star anise (at least that’s what it tasted like to me, although I don’t know if that’s a spice used in Turkish cooking). The hot appetizer of monkfish was recommended and I’m grateful for the recommendation: the fish comes on a fajita-like pan and is cooked with tomatoes and bell peppers and is delicious. [Seyit Hasan Kuyu Sokak 1, off Cnkurtaran Caddesi (012` 4581824); reservations are essential]
The restaurant at the Istanbul Modern (take the tram to Tophane and it’s a short walk from there) is well worth the trip for it splendid location. Housed in an old warehouse, the Modern is perched high and right at the conflux of the Golden Horn and Bosphorous. If you sit on the deck, you’ll have a wonderful view: on the one hand the Topkapi palace, Aya Sofya, and Blue Mosque, on the other the Beyoglu area and Galata Tower. The place is leisurely and the food very good: the artichoke appetizer was splendid and the manti very, very good.
The food at Asitane, which is right next to the Kariye [or Church of St Chora (you should, btw, make it a point to go to this beautiful church which as some spectacular mosaics and frescoes)] is very good and they have a lovely outdoor garden, but the service leaves much to be desired, especially for a place with its pretensions and prices. Our meal was given to another table and we were kept waiting more than an hour for a replacement. They were apologetic, but we hadn’t really planned to take a two-hour lunch and were annoyed to get stuck in the neighborhood because traffic out of it is hideous after 3pm. Given that, I will say that lamb shank was excellent: subtly flavored and falling off the bone in just the way it should. The sea bass in parchment was also very good, as was the appetizer of chard filled with bulger wheat. If you get the “Fava” appetizer (which I do recommend because it is so unusual), know that this is not beans, but some sort of paste that then seems to have been steamed and dressed with dill. [Kariye Camii Sokak 18, Edirnekapy (0212 635 7997;www.kariyeotel.com/asitane.htm)]
Hamdi in Eminonu is a grill place and very good. If you want a seat on the top floor (you do, for the brilliant view of the Galata Bridge and across), make reservations. Otherwise there are 4 other floors and you’ll have little trouble getting a table. The service is brisk and the grilled meats very good. The meze are fine - not great, not bad. [Kalcin Sokak 17, Tahmi Caddesi, Eminonu (0121 528 0390)].
Finally, I’ll underscore what everyone says: avoid eating in Sultanahmet (with the one exception noted above) The food is bland, disappointing, and not worth the price. It’s a great location to stay in (both for the sights and the tram line) but not to eat in. We ate at several joints and can only recommend two, both less for their food as for their truly spectacular views from the top floor or rooftop (Dubb Indian Restaurant, Incili Cavus Sokak 10, 0212 513 7308 and Seven Hills Restaurant).
One final note tangentially related to restaurants: bathrooms in Istanbul can be a challenge (the Modern’s and Astine’s are striking exceptions that get top marks); I recommend carrying a tissue pack in your bag.
I live in Tacoma (work at U of Puget Sound) and have to say that Tacoma is a bit food challenged. I am happiest in hole-in-the-wall places, but sadly, despite its history, Tacoma lacks even those. In the last 6 years the city has gone though a real "renaissance" but in terms of food this has mostly meant high end restaurants that have big price tags, but serve, at best unimaginative, and at worst, downright bad food. (Sea Grill downtown is a prime offender). With due respect to Leper, I'll take issue with several of the suggestions made:
Indochine opened to great fanfare, but came down with a crash b/c of its truly awful service (horrors stories of folks waiting an hour or more for drinks or starters, wait staff quitting, etc). But the food was good (although not as good as their cousins in Federal Way) and I returned several times. More recently, however, I went twice in the last month and the service was fine, even speedy. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of the food which had taken a turn for the insipid and uninspired. I can't recommend it and wouldn't return.
I like Il Fiasco and their spagetti & meatballs are terrific, but at $18 a plate, it feels a bit steep.
Asado is so loud it hurts (and I am not somebody who is sound sensitive). Ditto with Primo Grill, although compared to Asado it's like a church on an early Mon morning (but if you do go to Primo, DO get their calamari with saffron starter which is terrific).
So where to go? El Compadre I would absolutely recommend. Also Mexican and hole-in-the-wall-y is Veulve a la Vida (tamales are good, although not consistently). The unfortunatley-named Sars (on N. Pearl) is the closest to good Thai we get in Tacoma (especially if you stick to Thai dishes like shrimp with basil which is executed beautifully). Unfortunately, it serves no liquor nor allows BYO, a drawback if you want to tone down the heat with beer (and they do REAL hot). The Southern Kitchen serves Gumbo on Fridays in the summer that is very good, but they often run out of it, so call. Six Olives has some of the best fries I've had and Eve, the bartender there makes a killer drink (Martinis, especially). There are a couple of good Vietnamese Pho places on S. 38th (Vienna Cafe, for instance, not a Pho place, but serves great sandwiches on terrific bread). South Tacoma Way has a number of good Korean places (search the chowhound site for recs).
In sum, there are plenty of places to eat in Tacoma, but to recommend? I find myself hard pressed.