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Pera Turkish restaurant in Midtown


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#1 Fat Guy

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 09:57 AM

Last night I attended a media event at Pera, which is an upscale Turkish restaurant on Madison Avenue between 41st and 42nd. Pera is a curious place because, on the one hand, it bills itself as "Pera Mediterranean Brasserie," calls its boreks "crispy phyllo rolls," and has a contemporary decor that would fit well with just about any upscale restaurant of any kind (in other words the place takes pains not to be "ethnic"); but, on the other hand, the Turkish food served at Pera is faithful to original recipes and techniques and could serve as the model for a whole better class of Turkish restaurants in America.

In any event, I wasn't there for a normal meal. I was there to sample the new line of mail-order products, which were excellent. But I also got to try several regular-menu items and was favorably impressed with everything -- I'm making it a priority to go back for a full meal.

The space is dominated by an open kitchen with a large grill and a bread oven:

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There's also a nice private dining room off to one side:

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The event was set up such that the press in attendance were invited to come into the kitchen to cook the products on the grill. At first only I participated. (This all happened while we were fed a lot of appetizers.)

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Co-Executive Chef Jason Avery (he's the American chef; there's also a Turkish chef, Sezai Celikbas) guided us through the cooking process, which involved burning the hair off our forearms and leaning over the incredibly powerful grill. After 10 minutes I was ready to collapse from heat exhaustion. The guys who work the grill do it all night and often barehand the skewers:

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Explaining that it's not a good idea to let the meat catch fire:

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So anyway, the big specialty item at Pera is Adana-style skewered meat (Adana is a place in Turkey). Sezai Celikbas, the Turkish half of the chef team, is according to the restaurant's representatives the only person in the city practicing the dying art of preparing Adana-style meat. The meat -- most notably lamb -- is butchered on premises from whole carcasses. As Shelley Clark, the publicist, explained it to me this process involves the surgically precise hand cleaning of meat, separating the fat and removing all traces of sinew, bone particles, nerve tissue/endings, etc. The pristine meat and its fat are then hand chopped/minced with a special knife called a pala. When the right consistency is attained, the fat is remixed into the meat, essentially re-marbling it, to the desired ratio of 25–30 percent fat. A blend of spices is added. Finally, the meat is molded around a flat wood skewer into a long narrow rectangle and cooked on an open-flame grill, during which much of the fat melts away. It is removed from the skewer for services and served with lavash.

In addition we tried some excellent, large, meaty (which is unusual) lamb ribs, as well as chicken kebabs. And we were given some other items in cryovac to take home, which I hope to cook tonight or tomorrow night.

Well worth a try.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#2 oakapple

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Posted 07 October 2009 - 11:47 AM

We dined at Pera a few months ago, and liked it better than we expected to.

#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 10 October 2009 - 08:06 AM

By way of follow-up, I cooked the Pera-to-go kebabs at home and our taster approved.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#4 Pan

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 12:28 AM

We dined at Pera a few months ago, and liked it better than we expected to.


How strong a recommendation is that? And did you think the food was a good value? Any other Turkish restaurants in the city that you'd compare it to, in food quality or/and tastiness?

#5 Fat Guy

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Posted 11 October 2009 - 01:51 AM

I have no idea how much the food costs but from the experience of the place I can virtually guarantee that it costs more than at Pasha, Uskudar or Bereket. The food I tried was also significantly more haute-elegant than anything I've had at Pasha, Uskudar or Bereket (or Turkuaz), sort of like the difference between a Little Italy red-sauce place and Babbo, or a typical Astoria Greek place and Anthos, although more in terms of refinement than creativity. That's just based on a limited sampling of the menu. I'll need to return in order to get a more complete picture.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#6 weinoo

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Posted 12 October 2009 - 06:45 AM

I also think we dined here when it opened (did it open a year or so ago?) and liked it a lot.
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#7 Fat Guy

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:11 AM

We finally had the chance to dine at Pera on Monday night. It was great. More on that later. (Note: we were guests of the restaurant, not paying customers.) The thing I wanted to report on right away is that I got to watch chef Sezai Celikbas prepare lamb Adana in the afternoon. His butchering skills are off the charts.

We were downstairs in the prep kitchen, so the lighting was not great, but I did manage to capture a little video. I've edited it down to three minutes. What you can see is Sezai first removing the silverskin, sinew and undesirable fat from some meat, then dicing the cleaned meat and a suitable ratio of clean fat, then hand-chopping all of it, seasoning and molding onto skewers. More later.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#8 Fat Guy

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 03:28 AM

These are the still photos illustrating the process. At the end is the finished dish as we had it at dinner. When it was served, I was so excited that I started eating before photographing. So the dish as I photographed it is missing a bite.

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#9 Fat Guy

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 01:15 AM

For a while now Pera has been offering a "Weekend Mediterranean Marketplace" menu. Whether it is accurately named or not, it's very good (just like the restaurant, which also may not be accurately named). The menu includes a variety of options (you can see it here) but the main attraction is the whole roast lamb. No, they don't give you an actual whole roast lamb. They give you a portion. And if you look in the kitchen, you can see they're roasting whole lambs. For $29 per person you get family-style service of three appetizers -- warm hummus with lamb bacon, roasted whipped eggplant, and Mediterranean peasant salad -- and individually plated portions of roast lamb with whipped sweet potatoes, sauteed fiddleheads, grilled lamb sausage, and oven-roasted cauliflower.

The appetizers:

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The lamb:

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As we were guests of the restaurant, the kitchen couldn't resist also sending us some other plates, one of which stole the show. "Turkish smoked lamb tacos" are surely some of the best bites of food being served in town right now. Whether you're a lamb lover or not, you'll be amazed how well lamb performs in this dish. (By contrast, only a lamb lover will love the whole roast lamb -- it's hardcore.)

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Over the past few months, I've been recommending Pera to more and more people. It's an excellent restaurant in an area of town where good dining options are less than plentiful. I always get good feedback from people who eat there. I can't pretend to be an expert on marketing, but for the ecumenical, food-loving set I run with I think the restaurant would be more appealing if it embraced its Turkish identity more fully. The whole strategy of calling things Mediterranean instead of Turkish ("Pera Mediterranean Brasserie," "Weekend Mediterranean Marketplace") and using a number of Anglicized menu descriptions ("crispy phyllo rolls" for boreks) makes the restaurant, on paper, sound generic. Yet on several dishes, no other Turkish restaurant in town can touch Pera.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)