Most of the time, company can be a good thing, but occasionally it is just as nice to be by oneself. Some signs you might need a self-date are: an incredible need to decompress, have the time to finish just one crossword, ideally with a glass of wine by your hand, or you may just happen to be in a completely new country where you know no one else. Provided, in the latter that it is safe to go out, do so. It is the best way to experience a country and get to know people.
I had narrowed my Istanbul self-date down to two choices. Dukkan, a steakhouse I covered in 2008 and which was started by Defne Koryürek and Emre Mermer, two Istanbulites who are local food advocates. Their premise for a restaurant multiple reviewers have called “Carnivore Heaven” was to instill pride in a national cuisine. Until 2007, the top two cuisines represented in Istanbul were Chinese and Italian, catering to the many businessmen who came through the city.
Modern Istanbul is the crossroads of four epicurean cultures: European, Asian, African and Middle Eastern. Historically, Constantinople was the imperial capitol of the Ottoman Empire (aka The Sublime Ottoman State, I kid you not – Look it up Thurman!), whose holdings arced from Southeast Europe all the way east through Sudan and South Sudan. The long history of culinary collusion left Turkey looking for a national epicurean identity.
The folks behind Dukkan thought locally grown products, including the freshest meat around was the way towards a clear Turkish cuisine. In principle, I was dying to go to the restaurant, as it involves social enterprise and steak, two things I love dearly. In reality, though, the restaurant is slightly north of the city and the concierge at my hotel was rather distressed that I wanted to go there and back in one day. He stressed the travel time (45 minutes to an hour) and the fact that I would then have to make a cab wait for me. Suddenly my steak for one was looking like half a hamburger as my meal money became cab fare.
The concierge, bellman and waitress at the hotel restaurant who overheard the discussion all suggested Topaz, a restaurant on a bluff overlooking the Bosporus.
Topaz, like Dukkan, celebrates both the Mediterranean and Ottoman influences on Turkish cuisine. Unlike Dukkan, Topaz was only a 20 minute car ride away – hello drinks and dessert!
The menu at Topaz is split between traditional Ottoman food and Mediterranean food, served in savory portions. After a short wait at the bar – which served some lovely white wine (truly enjoyed) as the maître d and I came to an understanding about the fact that it was a table for one, I was shown to a table overlooking the water. The view was Old Istanbul across the Bosporus at twilight and evening. I don’t think I’ve seen much that was prettier.
During the meal, I tried a daily special, a item from the Ottoman side of the menu and an item from the Mediterranean side of the menu. The daily special was octopus, which the waiters dared me to try. During the time I was there, I met three of the waiters (one had lived in Pelham and the other in New Jersey!) and two of the managers, as they all kept bringing by things for me to try as well – including drinks from the bar. They may have thought I was a food critic, as I noted thoughts on the food while eating (tip – while self-dating, if you’re shy, it’s good to have something to do besides eating, so that you don’t notice the people who wonder why it’s a table for one) and visibly enjoyed each item as well as every drink, and the comped dessert.
One of the waiters called his cousin, who was a cab driver, to come pick me up. On the way home, he kept showing me clubs and other bars where I would be all right by myself. Which was very sweet of him, but after all delicacies at Topaz, I was more than sated. It turns out, I’m a cheap self date.