Café life is a state of mind. It’s about knowing what is going on around you and taking it in- accepting it. It’s mellow, trance like. Café life revolves around good friends, great food, interesting conversation and something I just figured out- hookah! With seemingly hundreds of little cafes and coffee house Astoria, Queens is the epicenter of café life. Café Istanbul is primed to be the new leader!
Istanbul, is known as a global crossroads. It is where the West (Europe) meets the East (Asia). Istanbul is known for it’s unique culture and style. Café Istanbul is also a crossroad. This is where Asia, Africa and Europe meet. Café Istanbul provides the best of Turkish foods (things like Borek), with the best of Egyptian foods (like stuffed lamb). Food can help make the world smaller. A greater understanding occurs when you share a hookah.
The evening started with a bang. A platter of high grade hummus, three different types of borek rolled into cigarette shaped, babaghonush and both a fattoush and tabule salad, all served with grilled pitas. For those of you who have yet to try any of these, let me explain. Hummus is a chickpea paste seasoned with lemon juice. It is thick, creamy and finishes with a mild citrus note. Borek is rolled in Turkish Fillo dough made in the restaurant. Fillo is the same dough used in the Greek desert Baklava. The borek was stuffed lamb, cheese and chicken respectively. Personally speaking I loved the lamb the best. The lamb paired beautifully with the fillo. Babaghonush is eggplant, olive oil and onion and garlic. This dish is incredibly earthy. I enjoyed the Tabule salad the most. This was a mixture of cracked wheat, green pepper, tomato, onions, parsley and lettuce. The parsley dominated the salad but I happen to enjoy it.
The LIB team shared three well executed entrées. First entrée was a shrimp dish. Café Istanbul used jumbo grilled shrimp on the outside and filled the middle with their signature Tajin shrimp. The exterior grilled shrimp had a great grilled flavor to it, the Tajin shrimp was pan seared with mixed vegetables and had a subtle spice note. To accurately rate this dish I would have to pull it apart. The grilled shrimp was a 8/10 the Tajin shrimp was a 9/10.
We also split a whole Bronzino (European Seabass). This dish was very simple. I could have sworn my mother was in the kitchen while enjoying this. The light flakey meat just pulled away with the effortless flick of a fork. There was a refreshing citrus undertone and just a hint of a spice at the back end. Very well done. This was an easy 9/10.
The star of the night was the lamb chops. This bone in, popsicle styled lamb chop was quiet possibly the best lamb I ever tried. It was fresh, meaty, a touch of spice and incredibly satisfying. This lamb chop took “comfort foods” to a whole new plateau. There aren’t enough stars that I could give this dish. Café Istanbul’s lamb chop has earned my first ten out of ten review! Make sure you try it.
After a great meal, sitting back and enjoying life is lost on most of us. We shared a Sex on the beach hookah smoked out of a half pineapple. The flavor profile was complex and the taste was even better. Paired with a strong Turkish coffee or herbal tea, this was the best way I could of to end a night.
Café life isn’t for everyone… but it should be. There are a lot of options but Café Istanbul stands out. Their attention to detail is just as good as their food. Seemingly all decisions are made with the customer experience in mind. Items like the beautiful glass fixtures, ultra comfortable seating, they even thought of little moveable arm rests!
Astoria is a world onto itself. Café Istanbul will be a neighborhood stand out for a long time to come.
Cafe Istanbul is located at 25-47 Steinway St, Astoria.