If you know nothing about how to find a worthwhile Istanbul fish restaurant a good rule of thumb is look for one by a fish market or big water. That way you can be sure their kitchen receives the freshest catch from a high-turnover fish mongers or directly from the fishing boats.
That is why I felt so suspicious when Özgür suggested Sita Balık, place near his old house when we were in the area. The area is Mecidiyeköy, a busy residential and commercial center 2 metro stops away from Taksim. No fish market or big water, understandably.
I expressed my concerns and Özgür expressed his about me not trusting him. He always teases me that I trust other foreigners more than him and end up bring him to places like Tarihi Karakoy Balik Lokantasi and other miseries. While I must admit I was never disappointed by a single place where he brought me. But fish restaurant in Mecidiyeköy?..
“Welcome“, we were greeted by a middle aged man who does not look like your typical Istanbul fish restaurant patron. “You can sit in the garden or we have a sea view table“, with a soft smile he pointed to a few tables located outside amidst the tubs with flowers and then to a table along the wall inside with a huge poster featuring a marine landscape. We appreciated the humor and took a seat at the “sea facing” table.
Sita Balık looks as straightforward as it gets: a dozen of wooden square tables with jars of olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, salt and pepper – Turkish most essential food condiments, blue painted walls decorated by fishing nets, life belts and other marine artifacts plus the mentioned terrace with flowers in tubs.
Sita’s menu is the grandest I have seen in Istanbul. It takes a whole wall: a few large sheets of paper, each devoted to a different section on the menu – one for starters, one for mains, one for desserts, all filled with hand-writing. Individual sheets are clipped to inform you about specials.
Choosing our beverages I followed the invitation to have şira, slightly fermented grape juice – Ottoman legacy that curbs thirst as nothing else. Özgür’s idea of curbing thirst was a glass of Efes and as he asked for the beer we were told that at Sita they don’t serve alcohol attempting to be more of a family place rather than a neighborhood meyhane. Which I respect: I love places with attitudes.
We skipped the starters aiming at a rather quick lunch, ordered a seasonal salad and asked for recommendation on the main. “Cinekop (tiny blue fish), tekir (red mullet), somon (salmon), iskoprit (scorpion fish)”, the owner listed the oprions. “And we have levrek (sea bass) which of course is farmed like everywhere else” he added not without disdain. I didn’t want a farmed sea bass and subsided to his recommendation of the funky scorpion fish fillets prepared on the grill. Özge ordered her favorite fener kavurması – stew of probably the ugliest among the monkfishes. Özgür goes for the baby red mullet.
I did not have much expectations from the place and even less from the scorpion fish which I have never tried before. But when a plate with beautifully grilled pieces arrived I got enthusiastic: the first bite turned to be probably the freshest, juiciest and softest piece of fish I have tried in Istanbul to date. Özge’s fener kavurması is rather spectacular too: the monkfish pieced are stewed in a clay pot with onion, tomato, potato, green and red peppers and olive oil – showing so much more effort a regular Istanbul fish restaurant would put into their meal. Özgür’s red mullet was very fresh too but I couldn’t help getting back to my scorpion fish.
I got puzzled as I finished my plate though. Why all those fish restaurants with big names can’t do better than boring you to death with grilled sea bass and this place in the middle of no where fearlessly features scorpion fish and monk fish on their menu and does excellent job in cooking them?
Özgür, a regular for ages, was quick to answer (and characteristically, he did not share that information upfront – so smart not to build up my expectations). It appears, the place is run by two friends who studied fish biology: they were long busy with their other careers but in 2004 decided to materialize their knowledge and respect for good fish at a small neighborhood restaurant. This is why Tayfun Bey who greeted us did not look like a restaurant patron – because he is not in a way. But he knows about fish way more than an average Istanbul fish restaurant patron would and is not shy to put that knowledge into action by orchestrating the kitchen that prepares those exotic monstrous fishes into the deliciousness many posh Istanbul fish restaurants can’t boast.
Useful details: Mevlüt Pehlivan Sok. No:9 Eski Ali Sami Yen Standı, Gayrettepe. Phone: 0212 267 1687