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Sunday
Feb012015

Our Favorite Meal of 2014: Breakfast at Cafe Privato in Istanbul

Turkish breakfast was always a mystery to us. We'd never been to Turkey, but heard from more than one source on more than one occasion that the morning meal there was an unrivaled one. We spent a week in Turkey, in Istanbul, in the hip and beautiful Beyoğlu neighborhood. One overcast morning, after a 15 minute walk up and down narrow streets lined with skinny sidewalks, past dozens of cats and fresh pomegranate juice stands, we stepped onto a small platform that stuck out from a green storefront. Large accordian doors were folded open. Above them, written in wood, was "Privato."

Cafe Privato is the definitive neighborhood restaurant. The decor, like the city itself, is a homey hodgepodge of things old and new. Modern ideas are guided by tradition, and the menu is rife with influences from the country's history. Privato's website boasts the pouring of wine made from Saperavi, a grape native to Georgia's 8,000-year-old wine making efforts. There's Georgian and Italian food to go with the wine during lunch and dinner. We'll go back for that. For now, here's what kahvalti (breakfast) looks like at Cafe Privato.

Service was never rushed, and the noise level never rose above an excited whisper. If you tried hard enough you could hear the familiar clank of plates and pots and pans crashing around in the nearby kitchen. The dining room was slightly cold, but that's the fault of century-old construction. In this case, it was thin panes of glass that line the back wall of the restaurant and permit diners a view of the Galata Tower.

We ordered food and coffee together. Coffee came first. Then a tray, four feet in diameter, rounded a corner. Our server was buried beneath it. Setting it on a nearby table, he revealed a dozen plates containing foods all unfamililar to us. The server's eyes were calm behind thin-framed glasses as small plates hit the table softly and steadliy, like drops of rain at the start of a storm.

Olives and fruits were among the first to land. Kiwi, apple, pear, and plum. Each fruit was slightly candied and sitting in its natural juices.

If you need proof that cheese making originated in Mesopotamia, eat breakfast in Turkey. Cheese is an integral part of the cuisine, and breakfast at Cafe Privato includes half a dozen varieties.

Beyaz peynir, or white cheese, is the most common. But varying production methods result in an array of cheeses of great diversity, complexity, and flavor. Taze kaşar, or fresh cheese, is not aged, and is usually made from cow's milk. It's subtle and delicate, not unlike fresh mozzarella. Dil peyniri is a fresh, white, stringy cheese that must be consumed within the first few days after production. It's a mild cheese that reminded us of legitimate versions of grade school lunchbox string cheese. Eski kaşar is an aged cheese from the city of Kars and is usually made from a mixture of cow and goat's milk. It's firm and crumbly and, because of its higher salt content and maturation, resembles Pecorino Romano. Tulum is one of Turkey's great products. It's a goat's milk cheese aged for two to three months in a goat hide. It's not a subtle cheese, but fans of goat's milk cheese will, for lack of a better phrase, have a cow.

The plate in the foreground (from left to right) has taze kaşar, dil peyniri, and tulum.

Cafe Privato introduced us to ezme. It's the fiery, brick-red condiment in the above picture and the culinary takeaway we haven't really stopped thinking about since we landed Stateside. It's an incredible condiment, simple and basic, of the why-didn't-I-think-of-that variety, but packed with flavor and complexity. It's tomato paste-based. Variations are born from there, but most frequently you'll find a mix of garlic, walnuts, and sumac. At first glance it's familiar. Up close and personal, and eaten with the mélange of breakfast stuffs served with traditional kahvalti, it's the stuff fond memories are made of.

After the assault of small cold plates came pancakes and gözleme, hand-rolled dough that's stuffed and cooked over a griddle. Our gözleme were filled with spinach and cheese. There were two pancake varieties; sweet, made with a fair amount of sugar in the batter, and savory, favoring salt in place of sugar. Each type of pancake was a perfect vehicle for the array of foods before us, but the combination of soft pancake and crunchy, sweet findik ezmesi (hazelnut butter) is one of our favorite food memories from the trip.

The French aren't the only masters of the egg. Menemen, a well-seasoned egg scramble, is a flourish of kitchen wizardry and the sign of a chef's talent. At Cafe Privato, in traditional fashion, peppers and onions are cooked in butter, to which whisked eggs, tomatoes, and spices are thrown in for a quick sautee on lowered heat. The eggs are perfectly cooked, and they bleed a fragrant, red oil from the addition of tomatoes and the litany of said spices. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more soul-satisfying breakfast dish.

Breakfast took two hours. Not a minute of the 120 was rushed or unnecessary. We paid the check and stepped out to slick streets wet with mist. It felt as if we were leaving a friend's house. We were full, but had light feet and were ready for our next meal. It came sooner than expected, in the form of mussels, cinnamon, and rice. But that's a story for another time. We'd like the taste of menemen to stay with us for a while.

Cafe Privato | Şahkulu Mh. Galip Dede Caddesi No:3 34420 Şişhane Beyoğlu

90 212 293 2055 | www | map

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