The Fourth Estate

Istanbul and Beyond

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:

Rice-stuffed Mussels - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Appetizer: Ari’s Rice-stuffed Mussels with All-Spice, Raisins, and Pinenuts.

Zucchini Dolma/Chile Cheesebread - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Appetizer: Zucchini Beef Dolma and Soft Cumin Pepper Paste Cheese Flatbread

Purple Basil Cooler - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Cocktail: Purple Basil Cooler

Lemony Okra Tomato Soup - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

1st Course: Lemony Okra Tomato Soup with Garlic Toast

Herbed Mackerel Cakes - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

2nd Course: Herbed (Anise/Cinnamon) Bluefish Cakes with Hot Pink Pickled Cabbage and Dill Garlicky Yogurt.

Apple Sorbet and Pomegranate Seeds - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Intermezzo: Locally-made Apple Sorbet and Pomegranate Seeds

Butter Lamb Onion Stew - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Entrée Course: Butter Lamb Onion Stew and Spinach Peas Rice

Creamy Fig Pudding - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC.
Dessert: Creamy Fig Pudding

Fragrant Orange Cookies - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

Dessert: Fragrant Orange Cookies

Cinnamon Tea - The Fourth Estate, Washington DC

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.

Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cazbar

Cazbar, Baltimore, MD Cazbar, Baltimore, MD

In 2015, I stopped over in Istanbul on my way to and fro Southeast Asia – see photos.  I fell in love with the city and the charming people, but I was quite disappointed by the eating offerings as I pretty much stuck to the touristy areas that was limited to kebaps. When I returned back, I brought back a bunch of typical Turkish spices from the Spice Market sitting next to the Bosphorus River separating Europe from Asia. The dried herbs and peppers were bought with the intention of helping a cookbook author test some of her recipes from this region. In the process, I discovered that there was a delicious unchartered territory that was definitely worth exploring. So, when I got wind of a Turkish restaurant located on a main street in Baltimore, I visited it a few times before writing this review.

Lentil/ Pumpking Soups, Cazbar, MD Ayran, Cazbar, MD

Walking into the Cazbar, you notice the rich-colored walls illuminated by the store-front window in the front and beautiful Turkish stained-glass lamps towards the back, reminding me of seeing them in a bazaar on my trip. The menu was easy to navigate and we honed on the set lunch specials that is available everyday including weekends for $14. After placing our order, we got our soups quite quickly. The first was Lentil Soup. It was made with red lentils and it was quite thin with the lentils pureed in it. It had a hint of dried mint that added some interest but it didn’t manage to wow us.  The Pumpkin Soup was interesting as it was quite orangy in color but its sweetness was a bit too much for my dining companion. It exuded a dark spice that was later confirmed as cinnamon, but not the usual American type. Not a bad start, but no surprise that these were not impressive since they were starters for the set lunch.  A glass of Ayra, yogurt drink, was quite refreshing as it was ice-cold, quite salty, and paradoxically light and creamy at the same time, and the brass container it came in exuded an Old World charm.

Babaghanoush/Ezme, Cazbar, MD

Hummus, Cazbar, MDThe appetizers were next. There was quite a variety to choose from but we focused on the familiar and a recommendation. The Babaghanoush arrived in a beautiful metal container, and one dip into it revealed its smokey, vegetable sweet, and smooth silky nature that has been enriched by some tahini.  The recommended Ezme was a surprising discovery. It is a vegetable dip made from finely chopped cucumber, tomato, onion and parsley, all brought together by some spicy pul biber pepper spice and sweetened with a recent discovery of mine, pomegranate molasses, that added a sweetness and tang to the delicious mix – my friends raved about it throughout the meal. The Hummus on another visit proved to be extremely smooth, tasting rather rich from the tahini and perfumed by a hint of cumin that didn’t overwhelm the palette, an opener that pleased everyone at the table. Worth mentioning is the fantastic bread that was used to mop up all the above goodness with its freshly baked, crusty, and pillowy light inside qualities. I have heard of good Turkish bakers, and this was an epitome of such standard.

Adana Iskander, Cazbar, MD Chicken Pirzola, Cazbar, MD

Kofte Kebap Sandwich, Cazbar, MDA trip to a Turkish restaurant would be amiss if one didn’t taste the famous Döner Kebap. The version here is worth raving about: crispy bits with a softer inside (an indication of the proper rotisserie cooking), and a well-seasoned mix of lamb and beef with a faint taste of the gaminess that was appealing. The side salad that came with most dishes was well-dressed with a vinaigrette scented with dried mint leaves, served along with a buttery rice pilaf studded with toasted orzo-like pasta that was good enough to satisfy. A supped up version of the above is Adana Iskander that is the same meat placed on pieces of light bread moistened by an amazingly light and fresh tomato sauce, and topped with a tangy yogurt sauce. The gestalt effect of each bite was extremely tasty and satisfying, making each forkful irresistible. An order of Chicken Pirzola arrived looking like Chicken Tandoori with its bring orange color as a result of its marination in fresh oregano, Turkish paprika and issot red pepper spice. No one spice stood out but the overall effect was a tasty one paired with the smokiness from the grilling that kept the chicken still moist while having a slight char. The side cucumber and fresh dill yogurt sauce was completely up my ally with its tangy, creamy and herbaceous quality. A lighter bite was Köfte Kebap Sandwich that composed of minced beef that has been seasoned with some spicy pepper, well-seasoned, but it was a bit tough. The french fries were a bit limpid but that was made up by the spicy French sauce-like dip that I couldn’t get enough of.  The kitchen really knows how to operate the grill properly judging by these well-executed dishes.

Cyprus Pide, Cazbar, MD

Lamb Moussaka, Cazbar, MDThere were a couple of non-grilled meat dishes that we had to try. The first was Cyprus Pide. I had the pizza-like long bread in Istanbul, but unfortunately, it was rather greasy and unimpressive then. The version here was freshly made and far better than my first experience. The baked dough was soft and light with a yeasty scent, with fresh slices of red onion, pickled artichoke, brined olives, fresh spinach, all held down by some soft stringy cheese. The fresh slightly charred vegetal qualities were perfumed by some fresh oregano or marjoram that made each bite interesting and equally satisfying – an order of only this bread would have sufficed due to all its goodness. The other order was Lamb Moussaka. It arrived baked in a metal ware looking like regular Italian lasagna.  Breaking into it, you could taste the meat that was coarsely ground, slices of soft potato, a slightly spicy tomato sauce that tasted rather fresh, and soft melted cheese that was not overwhelming in flavor or amount.  It was not the usual moussaka that the Greeks make, but my friend was happy with his selection and he disposed of it in no time.

Combo Kebap, Cazbar, MD

Lamb Three Way, Cazbar, MDA couple of Combo Kebap dishes were savored on the last trip. My order was a combination of whole shrimp and chunks of lamb. The seafood was well-grilled and the shells managed to keep them still rather moist while tasting well-seasoned and sea sweet. The lamb was a bit tough due to either the cut or its well-done state, which is common for cuisine from this part of the world.  However, the meat was well-seasoned paired with a smoky char that added a tasty dimension to the chunks. My friends order was Lamb Three Ways: lamb chop, lamb kebap (like above dish), and ground lamb köfte. The latter was a bit spicy and had a hint of sourness in the ground meat, and the chop was still moist and had a slight scent of lamb gaminess that is to be expected, along with some good smoky char from the grill. My friend seemed completely sated from this lamb heaven indicated by his gnawing the chops down to their bare bones.

Turkish Tea and Baklava, Cazbar, MDCazbar is a great find, even though it is not in proper DC region. I really like this place for its location on the main street Baltimore where parking is free after 6 p.m. weekdays and all of Sunday. But what makes it worth visiting is its strong suits of the well-seasoned grilled seafood and meats (not too salty like many grill establishments), the amazing appetizers of babaghanoush, hummus, and that to-die-for Ezme, the thoughtful sides and sauces that balance each plate well, and the pide stuffed-bread and moussaka that are worth trying. For $2 more, you can finish your meal with a glass of Turkish chai that was both slightly bitter and aromatic (reminding me of sitting by the Bosphorus sipping many cups of it), and the flaky nutty not-too-sweet Baklava that would give the diner a truly happy ending.  To boot, the decor and service were both charming and extremely appealing, especially the congenial waiters we had on our visits. Cazbar is definitely worth many more visits with expertly cooked food like this, and it is high on my recommendation list.

Cazbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Zaytinya

Zaytinya, D.C.

A call from a long-time friend for dinner was immediately returned with an affirmative answer, especially when it was an invitation to Zaytinya in Washington DC.  I had known about this buzz-filled establishment recommended by many foodies and friends.  However, I dared not make a visit to its location in the very busy and restaurant-filled 9th street corridor due to the logistical obstacles set-up by the DMV, that is the DC Motor Vehicles – speed cameras, limited street parking, expensive garage parking, and metered street parking until midnight, if you can find one.  Well, I could not forgo this opportunity of visiting this Mezze-style eatery, owned by José Andrés, who owns the veteran tapas Spanish restaurant, Jaleo.  After finding free parking a few blocks, I knew I was in for a good experience.

Fresh Pita and Olive Oil/Balsamic Dip - Zaytinya, D.C.Zaytinya’s menu is filled with small sharing dishes from the lower Mediterranean, notably Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon. Perusing the menu can be quite daunting with the dishes labeled in the original names.  But reading the descriptions gives the diner a general idea of what to expect and a picture of the flavors and dish itself, perhaps jolting a memory of the dish from the recesses of the mind. I recognized a few that I have eaten over the years and was adventurous enough to try a few new ones, mulling over them as I munched on the complementary pita bread which was light and well-baked, but lacking a sense of character, like yeast and wheat bran notes that I would expect from a good Mediterranean bakery.  But I was quick to overlook it since I was anticipating the dishes that would make up our dinner.

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Fattoush - Zaytinya, D.C.The first to arrive was Fattoush.  It is a Lebanese salad that usually consists of lettuce, cucumber, red onions, green peppers and topped with baked pita croutons.  The version here had in addition pretty slices of red radish and mouth-popping pomegranate that added its sweet and fruity notes along with some toothsome texture.  The pomegranate vinegar dressing was a departure from the usual lemon and olive oil dressing; however, the use of the sour Sumac powder didn’t venture far from the traditional.  This salad was a fresh meal opener with the very fresh ingredients and the various flavors and textures waking the mouth up with these appealing elements.

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Batijan Bin Laban - Zaytinya, D.C.The next to be served was Batinjan Bil Laban. Three rings of deep-fried battered eggplant arrived sitting on a pool of roasted garlic yogurt sauce and a piece of mint leaf.  One bite into them revealed a skillful kitchen with the perfectly fried and nearly grease-free pieces.  The batter was light and crispy at the same time, revealing an ethereally light and melting eggplant inside sans any bitterness.  The yogurt sauce was the necessary companion that added some creaminess, acidity, mild garlic notes, and a depth in flavor.  I could not get enough of these crispy/melting bites with their perfect pairing of textures and flavors.

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Mushroom Lebanese Couscous with Brussels SproutsContinuing in the vegetable department, the next to arrive was both vegetable and mushroom inspired – Mushroom Couscous.  The evocative brass bowl arrived with a mound of large Lebanese couscous, studded with large pieces of mushroom, leaves of Brussels sprouts, and topped with garlic tourn, a type of sour cream.  Wow, this dish kept my spoon returning back to this bowl.  The pearl grains were perfectly cooked without being too firm or mushy, tasting savory having been cooked in some stock.  The mushroom pieces added its boschiness that elevated this dish beyond boring starch, along with the creamy sour cream that added the necessary lusciousness to the whole mix.  The pieces of Brussels sprout did nothing to this dish since its mild flavor barely made its presence known.  But, I was quick to overlook it since everything else was “on point.”

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Fried Squid - Zaytinya, D.C.To round off the meal, we chose a couple of non-vegetable dishes.  One order was Fried Squid.  Pieces of the seafood arrived with some garlic-yogurt sauce on the side.  I was expecting the usual from these morsels, perhaps due to me having my fair share of this.  Each piece was not only perfectly battered and fried, but the squid was tender and fresh tasting.  The fresh dill on top provided the fresh herbaceous note to the seafood that added more interest, as well as the pungent garlic-yogurt sauce that lent more flavor and creaminess to each bite.  My eye was zoning in on the last few scrumptious pieces, to which I made my move before my dining companion could – checkmate.

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Pork Belly Special - Zaytinya, D.C.

The other savory dish was a special – Seared Ossabaw Pork Belly.  The beautiful alabaster plate arrived with two pieces of pork belly, potato confit, grain mustard sauce, and orange gliko.  One bite into the belly pointed towards a quality ingredient that has been prepared well, with the mild tasting pork fat and meat exuding a its rich porcine flavor.  Equally strong were the pieces of potato, perhaps Yukon Gold, that were full of flavor and character, and they were competing for this diner’s attention.  The mustard sauce was the right match for the fatty meat, as well as the orange gliko, a type of Greek marmalade, that was peaking my gastronomic curiosity with its faint bitter orange and sweet notes that also matched the fatty pieces well.  But this was a rich dish which I enjoyed more than my friend, who took only a small bite.

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake & Matisha Ice Cream - Zaytinya, D.C.Just as we thought we were done with the meal, we decided to look at the dessert menu, and we ended up ordering the Turkish Coffee Chocolate Cake.  The plate arrived with a molten chocolate cake (fondant) with some sea salt grains on top, dressed with some caramel, pistachio nuts, and ice cream.  One break into the cake revealed its hot gooey interior, tasting of the slight bitter notes from the rich coffee and dark chocolate, and complemented by the salty element. The caramel sauce was called for to add the sweet balance to each bite.  But it was the ice cream that got my attention most.  There was a unique flavor that I had never come across, and my mind was racing through mental archives to find its origin.  After making a query to the waiter, I was told that it was pistachio sap used in the ice cream, which was quickly filed in my mental notes.  What a interesting ingredient that reminded me of maple syrup, and I was tempted to lick every melted drop from the plate.  My friend’s cup of cappuccino was more than adequate with its bold flavor without the bitterness usually found in American blend.

Zaytinya, D.C.Well, that was a visit well over due.  What I appreciated about this establishment besides its swanky space is the variety of flavors found in this Mediterranean-inspired menu which not only showcased quality in the cooking but also the ingredients themselves.   Yes, you sense the respect for the traditional dishes, but a bit of creativity has been infused into the usual to give them some new interests.  Furthermore, I was titillated by the new flavors found in the use of certain ingredients, as in orange gliko with the pork belly, and mastiha in the ice cream.   Even with only 5 savory small plates and dessert between two, my friend and I were more than satisfied with our orders.  To top it off, the bill only came up to $55 for the both of us, which, in my estimation, is very reasonable for this calibre of cooking and for the DC restaurant scene.  Now, that is Good Eats!
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