Early this week, I was invited by Robyn Eckhardt for the the book signing/dinner at the launching of her newly published cookbook “Istanbul and Beyond” (link) made visually alive by the wonderful photographs taken by her husband David Hagerman. Having been friends online with the food journalist couple and having tested a few of the recipes when the book was in the writing stage, I was more than eager in meeting them and partaking in this special dinner. The event took place at The Fourth Estate restaurant located at the top floor of the National Press Club at downtown Washington DC. For dinner, the various courses were taken from the pages of the cookbook, and we savored the myriad of Turkish flavors while the author and her husband regaled us with storied from their personal journey in the making of the cookbook. Here is a rundown of the whole meal:
Appetizer: Ari’s Rice-stuffed Mussels with All-Spice, Raisins, and Pinenuts.
Appetizer: Zucchini Beef Dolma and Soft Cumin Pepper Paste Cheese Flatbread
Cocktail: Purple Basil Cooler
1st Course: Lemony Okra Tomato Soup with Garlic Toast
2nd Course: Herbed (Anise/Cinnamon) Bluefish Cakes with Hot Pink Pickled Cabbage and Dill Garlicky Yogurt.
Intermezzo: Locally-made Apple Sorbet and Pomegranate Seeds
Entrée Course: Butter Lamb Onion Stew and Spinach Peas Rice
Dessert: Fragrant Orange Cookies
Digestif: Warming Cinnamon Tea
Throughout the meal, I was constantly impressed by the exotic yet alluring flavors of the various dishes that spoke of food beyond the usual Turkish fare that most of us are familiar with. The mussels were a surprise due to the sweet and allspice notes that one would never consider pairing with the seafood. The okra was devoid of slime due to a secret technique in the cookbook in handling this prickly vegetable, making the citrusy lamb-based soup even more appealing with its vegetal crunch. The fish cakes were another surprise with its pairing with anise and cinnamon which was an odd for fish, but somehow it worked. The lamb stew was buttery rich but completely delicious with the diners at my table wanting more. The fig pudding was deceptively simple in description, but it left us with a level satisfaction that any complicated French dessert would. Ultimately, it is the skill level of this kitchen that made each dish deliver the proper flavors with a level of refinement that kept the diner impressed and feeling properly bestowed upon throughout each course. Judging by the dishes we savored that night, I am definitely tempted to return to this restaurant for their regular fare which I can assume will live up to my expectation. It was a wonderful evening indeed, as I nightly leaf through Robin Eckhardt’s amazing opus to continue discovering this unchartered cuisine and to revisit that night’s gastronomic reveries.