After two solid weeks of fish, we had a lust for red meat.
For fourteen days Dave and I had been ranging along the center part of Turkey's Black Sea coast, indulging our love of things piscene. (This journey you'll read about another time, in another place.) All fish all the time -- for seafood lovers like us, this was not a hardship. Especially not here on Turkey's northern coast, where the fish is so fresh (just an hour or two off the boat in some cases), so delicious.
But yesterday the weather changed. Around noon the breeze -- which has been bizarrely spring-like, warm and caressing for the last half month -- stiffened and chilled. The Black Sea went from marine blue to white-capped gunmetal. The clear sky darkened and gauzy gray clouds spat rain. By the time darkness fell (4 o'clock-ish this time of year, during inclement weather) we were driving through a steady downpour that smelled like snow.
On this night fish just would not do. Our chilled bones needed meat.
So we bypassed our favorite restaurant, which serves nothing but seafood, in favor of an old-style ocakbaşı, or restaurant featuring an open grill.
Sahil is a kendin pişir kendin ye (cook it yourself, eat it yourself) establishment within shouting distance of Sinop's harbor. The set-up is simple. On the ground floor seating is around a community "table" comprised of a marble countertop framing a big charcoal grill, all beneath a gigantic copper exhaust hood.
You walk in, grab a stool, and place your order. The restaurant offers beef (bonfile or pounded fillet steak, and kofte or mini burgers), chicken (pounded breast and wings) and seasonal fish. (Lamb isn't as relished on the Black Sea as it is in other regions of Turkey; locals often tell us that the smell is a turn-off.)
We ordered bonfile and kofte, which the son of the owners -- Mustafa Usta and his wife, a jovial middle-aged couple from Ordu, several hours east of Sinop on the Black Sea -- brought to the table along with sliced onion and tomato, long green peppers and bread. After giving the coals a good stir with a long poker he used a thick slice of onion to clean the grill of gunk and oiled it with a chunk of talo. His mother spread our meat over its center and formed constellations of bread and vegetables around it.
We asked for a salad and a plate of mixed pickles (most every restaurant in Turkey stocks some sort of pickle or other, often not listed on the menu -- just ask for turşu / TOOR-shoo). Then we sat back to make conversation with our fellow diners while monitoring the main attraction as it smoked and sputtered in front of us.
I was nominally in charge but in reality it was Mustafa Usta's wife, who (understandably, given the Turkish obsession with the BBQ) oversaw our dinner. Every 30 seconds or so she jumped in with her tongs, adjusting and flipping our patties and fillets and pressing the vegetables onto the fat-slicked metal. In under 5 minutes we were diving into our meat feast.
What's not to love about well-seasoned beef hot off the grill? What cut of meat -- or vegetable, for that matter -- doesn't benefit from a lick of flame, a crusty char, a hint of smoke?
The kofte, impossibly light, had obviously been chopped, seasoned and molded by a master. The beef fillet, while not the most tender I've ever eaten, boasted the full flavor of meat from a grass-fed cow (a luxury in the USA but a norm in much of Turkey). Pickled chilies with a good but not overwhelming bite made an excellent accompaniment to the juicy, fatty meat. The grilled vegetables, wilted but not without texture, were as delicious as vegetables always are in Turkey, where flavor hasn't yet been bred out of cucumbers, tomatoes, salad greens and the like.
We ordered another round, ate like king and queen for a total of 35 tay-lay (the equivalent of 20 US bucks) and, meat lust sated, waddled back to our hotel.
Sahil Ocakbaşı, Camiibekir Mahallesi Ortayol No. 12, Sinop (across from the mosque right in front of the harbor). 368-260-3645