Baklava has the power to seduce.
The layers of crisp golden filo dough with pistachio and honey playing peek-a-boo, glazed with a sheen of lickable syrup. Comparable to the most ecstatic ecstasy driven sensations of all time.
Which brings me to a city of enigma that few understand, but many visit. Some cities tend to languish in the shadows of more popular touristic counterparts. Others dismiss the need for zeal and affluence that world maps so often demand.
Not quite the Amsterdamaged touristic oversexed kitch that attracts green leaf eyed voyeurs from oceans away. Instead we have a city of juxtaposed architecture and hidden opulence in the form of food culture. And this is where the ironic anonymity of a bustling place on the corner of a deadened street hits you like a bolt, as its addictive charm seeps into your veins like intoxicating liquid from a shimmering vial.
A word that evokes images of colorful streets akin to Aladdin’s sets, cluttered with metallic pots and clanking knickknacks, and jewels hiding between fruits and secrets swaying behind sashes of gaudy fabric. An apt name for a characterful restaurant. Finally, a Turkish fusion restaurant to sway the notion that Turkish food is only fast food in Western Europe. And rightfully so.
Besides a boutique 27 room hotel which is always occupied owing to its whimsical Alice-like interior decor, it is the restauraunt-bar that grabs the eyeballs. What strikes one first is the glitterati of unevenly suspended stained glass chandeliers and lights that dangle themselves down the three floors of restauranters, centered and circled by eaters in a panoramic and sweeping way that makes perching in the corners a psychedelic experience. The design also makes things invariably private for all diners, despite being tremendously crowded. The lights are a focal point for conversation, photography, and story telling by those drowning a tired day in clinging cocktails, entranced by the kaleidoscope of red-green-blue and more. The music that waltzes through the air is a mix of Arabic and Bollywood, giving the ambiance a whimsical beat.
While I admittedly often cringe at the grass green wooden tables (sometimes a fisherman’s boat blue shade too) and wrinkle-like wax demolitions destructed by single flames on each table, the dimness of real light (despite the obvious sun-like quality of the chandeliers in this rotary solar system) gives Bazar a chat-inducing quality.
Who would have thought that an otherwise quiet street would lead to such a boisterous atmosphere, and that too a restaurant with no space for a dance floor, a lounge, and an excuse for a bar? When most places attract heel clicking lasses or Diesel clad lads with ample space, dark fumblings and alcoholic rivers, here is a restaurant that stands on its own to attract those looking for good food, celebratory ambiance, and lively conversation.
The food itself is swimming in flavors and colors, and Bazar takes credit to be one of the handful of places where I wish I had not given up meat an odd decade ago. Tender meats, skillfully darkened and picturesquely glazed in lemony saucy syrup can carnivorize any lettuce chewing mortal.
Meats, along with vegetables, cling sturdily to lengthy skewers, tickling the teeth and taste buds for a bit of the flavors and colors. Placing sautéed vegetables on a skewer makes for a charming accessory and conveys playful fun for eaters overwhelmed by the magnanimous portions of the servings. And oh the colors!
Reds and oranges simmering in between golden browns and blacks, juxtaposed with green and orange vegetables cooked to retain a succulent crunch, served on blue and white and yellow plates for visual treat! The glitterati makes one ignore small flaws like a chip in an plate or two, often more than just a crack in the clay.
I merrily glaze over a few such hiccups, thinking that indeed I am in a Bazar of sorts, where gleaming perfection seems out of character.
The rice sweeps me off of the Dutch lands and into the fields of India, for the perfectly cooked long grains of basmati rice stand in heaps of angels guarding the flavors of the foods. My favorite vegetarian dish is the Mosamma, a casserole coated in spicy red sauce, but veiling a mix of potato, cheese, whole hazelnuts and tofu. Simmering in shades of red and gold, served with white rice and a fluorescent green pepper on a yellow plate with ethnic black and blue designs, this is yet another monumental moment where the old saying of eating with your eyes first definitely rings true. Eyes first, lips second, tongue last.
For other palettes, Bazar tactfully infuses ethnicity into the likes of Portobello mushrooms by garnishing these with masala, cumin seeds and a garden of leaves, or by serving a well done steak with tamarind sauce and musky salad to form the perfectly concocted fusion. Even something as simple as fries is brought on platters flirting with lettuce, haydari, and three different types of sauces, making it a far cry from its French or American origins and blending seamlessly with the Middle Eastern ambiance.
Like traditional Turkish cuisine, each dish arrives with a very large and juicy pepper, ripe green and glistening with freshness. Often fun to pose with as moustaches and Pinocchio noses, these taste good as a palette cleanser for the otherwise rich and flavorful food, or as a delectable side munch.
The dance of disguise is Bazar’s forte. Besides the enigmatic lights in spheres and lanterns and cuboids and rhombuses of stained glass and flirtatious hues, or the mystic Aladdin lamp in the corner almost invisible in the misty frolic, or a sherbet canister in glass and silver eying the crowd from the walls, the food itself seems distinct from what one is used to. For instance, once I picked up what looked like a gleaming red tomato, which ended up being a watered down version of a sliced spherically beet. Or another time, what seemed like ordinary mustard was in fact a whipped up cheese with petite seeds for a satisfying crunch. Veiling food is one thing, but disguise is a whole new opera.
Tea with honey is an energy boost and throat clearing remedy for the contagious chatter that ensues the crowded place. The fresh mint leaves come swimming in a glass (reminding one that one was in the Dutch lands of tea lovers), often accompanied with a request for the best part of all – dessert. And this is where I once came to realize the seductive power of baklava.
Indeed, the layers of crisp golden filo dough with pistachio and honey playing peek-a-boo, glazed with a sheen of lickable syrup. Comparable to the most ecstatic ecstasy driven sensations of all time.
The gooey honey, speckled with pistachio bits and layered with walnuts, tasty cinnamon and a few exotic species of sugar infused goodness that my personal trainer would rather I did not mention the consumption of! Served with tendrils of what seemed like Indian soan papdi, the presentation again wows eaters, with golden baklava standing regally on a green pistachio carpet on an ethnically designed yellow platter perched on a bright green wooden table. Every bite exudes flavor, and the crunch of the nutty surface is mattified by the gooey suckle of the honey center. Whoever thought that a dessert sans chocolate could be a passport to heavenly desire?
The cheesecake does not quite evoke the same sentiment, but is still ornate with a mercifully tender slice, unlike its American counterparts, and is kept culturally intact with the Turkish ambiance by having a layer of date jam and walnuts floating on the gooey surface, breaking the cheesy taste marvelously.
A few drinks, desserts, conversations and shutterbugs later, this is one Bazar where one may easily slink away (or rather roll off the otherwise empty street), but beckoned back by a never similar aura of lights, pepper, and undeniably distinct action.
It is after all a colorful flurry of a memory.