A fan suggested the other day that Carpetblog has been too nice lately and that perhaps, due to unspecified reasons, the edge has dulled. We generally treat constructive criticism with absolute disdain and respond with harsh, but silent, judgment of the criticiser, but we paused to consider. Perhaps this is true. We pledged to try harder.
We had the most Istanbul of dining experiences at Unter, a trendy "gastropub" in Karaköy that's part of the Nu chain of popular awfuls, on Saturday night. For this, we take partial blame. We had high expectations. After six years of dining out in Istanbul, you'd think we'd know better than to think a "concept" restaurant might be good, even (especially?) if it serves pulled pork and even if people whose taste is generally impeccible recommend it.
The dining room, set in the corner of a nondescript building near the Turkish Orthodox church is bright and nicely designed. The menu, characterized by the "put a bird on it" graphic design aesthetic so popular these days, was well-written and lacked the common misspellings and malapropisms typical of people who think their English is fluent. Promising!
We ought to have left after the appetizer plate of prosciutto, because it was downhill from there. Our out-of-town friend made the first mistake by asking the waiter to recommend one of several dishes. "Oh, gosh, we should stop him from doing that," we thought, but we wanted to see what would happen.
The waiter, who had perfected the deer-in-the-headlights look characteristic of the Turkish service sector when faced with a request from a scary foreigner, scurried away to find someone who could speak English but still couldn't answer the question. Our friend ordered the beef tenderloin on green lentils. "Oh, gosh, he shouldn't have done that, either," we thought but didn't say. Beef orders can be risky in Turkey. (So, apparently, can dining with Carpetblogger).
We shared this beef tenderloin as it was the only dish placed on the table for, oh, about an hour. Apparently, the kitchen staff had to run down to the Karaköy fish market to get our sea bass, a rare delicacy in Istanbul, and, finding the market closed and the fishers on the Galata bridge retired for the night, set out a pole at the ferry dock.
After both of us had approached the kitchen (no point in bothering the waiters, who had perfected the "we have no idea how to solve this problem" shrug native to the Turkish service sector) to inquire, the sea bass, an overcooked scab, finally arrived. It lacked the other accoutrement (basil and onion jam) listed on the menu; just a few leaves of roka and a brussels sprout. We ought to have sent it back and gone down to the fish bazaar for a more skillfully prepared balık ekmek, but we were hungry and didn't want to appear high maintenance.
That, combined with the high prices and expensive (95TL) but OK bottle of Turkish wine, would have been enough to put this in the category of an unremarkably mediocre night out Istanbul. But the utter failure on the part of anyone in that restaurant to acknowledge that anything might have been amiss or admit fault really pushed Unter into the Peak Istanbul Dining Experience stratosphere.
Anyone seeking the experience of high-end dining in Istanbul could do worse than Unter.