If you pass by and glance at the window of Gram you would be sure it is a pastry shop. With gigantic meringues, with tiny sandwiches where pungent tulum cheese is hidden between the toasted buns and with best-looking brownies in Istanbul. You would think it is yet another Turkish take on foreign food which makes you long for the original. You would be so wrong. Because if you – with Alice-like courage to enter a rabbit hole – pass the meringues-graced counter you will see a small dining room and equally small kitchen. And this is an attempt to show how Turkish food can be exciting and trendy. This is Gram.
Didem Seğnol’ Lokanta Maya where familiar for every Turk ingredients and preparations result in something rather unexpected has become a success which proved that Istanbul is hungry for the dining Seğnol brought from New York – hip but serious food, as surprising as it is satisfying. So it was Gram’s time.
Meşrutiyet Caddesi in Pera is a perfect location for Gram without doubt. Chic hotels, large office buildings and the neighbors that have tested the waters: AuF by two female chefs behind the trendy Backyard in Bebek and Meze by Lemon Tree, first breath of fresh air at the contemporary Istanbul dining scene.
Gram resembles Maya in its simplicity but beats in its casualness. Gram is brick walks with glass screens serving as a menu board. Large communal wooden tables hosting hipsters and young professionals with a handful of iphones. Waiters that could be mistaken for the visitors. Kitchen open for the public to peak into. And books … many of then revealing sources of culinary inspiration for Didem Seğnol: sourdough makers of Tartine Bakery, legendary Chez Panisse and many others. And her own self-published book “Aegean flavors” that explores areas, produce and contemporary takes on the food of her home region in Turkey.
A highlight of the Gram’s lunch offering is the buffet featuring a dozen of seasonal specialties. A rare place in Istanbul where vegetarians can find the nirvana of Turkish meatless cooking. A young lady in a chef’s jacket will ask you whether you want 2 or 4 dishes and will make a plate for you.
This time of the year meant usual suspects – leeks, chard, cabbage, grains. I could not resist pumpkin with tahini sauce, salad of cooked and raw greens, roasted cabbage with kısır (bulgur salad) and chard rolls. And the house sourdough bread they proudly serve along your meal at Gram.
The execution of the dishes was as smart as the ideas behind them. Pumpkin – rarely seen in Turkish beyond its dessert existence – was cooked and served with caramelized red onion, cooked chard leaves and light tahini dressing. Layers of roasted cabbage leaves were altered with kısır: fine bulgur, tiniest possible squares of cucumber and tomato and pepper pastes. The chard leaves were stuffed – rather conventionally – with rice flavored with pinenuts, onions, raisins and mix of cinnamon, back pepper and allspice; yet they had a twist too – shreds of Black Sea anchovy inside!
This is what’s so characteristic about Seğnol’s cooking which was clear already in Maya’s menu: she has a strong base in traditional Turkish cooking and a great sense of technique that allows her to play around. And that appeals to anybody: if you have eaten Turkish for a while and well versed in the traditional dishes you will applaud to her witty experimentation; and if not – you will enjoy this seasonal cooking with a touch of Turkishness (the touch is more like a footprint though).
With a glass of wine there was nothing more to wish for. But should you wish for a heartier meal Gram also has an ever changing menu with fish and meat mains that are prepared on request at the small kitchen right in front of you.
However before you leave you should recall how you entered Gram. Right, through its pastry section. That’s why it would be fair not to skip the dessert. When I entered and inspected the offering I immediately knew mine was going to be almond and pear pudding cake (bademli armutlu ekmek tatlısı). That one was served with arabic gum (sakız) ice-cream – flavor so delicate that it always make me feel as I am savoring a treat from the Sultan’s kitchen.
Over a cup of espresso to round up the meal I called my husband and shared the excitement, “I am utterly happy with my meal! They have stuffed chard and they put anchovy inside! That’s like anchovy pilaf crawling into a chard leave!” – I was ecstatic. My husband asked bewildered, “Did you not eat a dozen of chard rolls you guys made (at our restaurant)?” “Yes, but they put anchovy INSIDE!” I could not believe he doesn’t get the point. “It’s like a revelation! It is the new Istanbul food!” – I explained. “Ok,” – he said after a pause. “I am going to cook THE new Istanbul food for you“. And that’s power of Gram – it is going to be viral! Very soon.
Address: Meşrutiyet Caddesi No: 107D, Beyoğlu. Phone: 0212 243 1048. Open 8.30 am – 6 pm as a bakery; lunch 12:00 to 15:00 (12:30 to 15:30 on Saturdays). Closed Sundays.