Sunday, March 10, 2013

Istanblu, Tampa, FL

I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater, but nevertheless felt a a little skittish at the idea of a taking a Sunday afternoon course in Turkish Cuisine 101.  My "food fear" (which I hate to even admit that still sometimes exists) was borne mostly by trepidation when it comes to the unknown.  An unspeakable number of soul-scarring events could've resulted from this visit, including being reminded of the Tennessee redneck that I am when I couldn't pronounce the menu offerings (coupled with having no idea what some of the shiznit even was), not to mention the most horrible possible scenario...throwing away good money on bad food. Ummm....just like most things I worry my ridiculously angst-ridden self about, these concerns were completely unfounded.

Feeling emboldened (and generous) after the consumption of a couple of 32 oz. Miller Lites over the course of "Oz, The Great and Wonderful" at the Centro Ybor Muvico, I offered to treat my precious Super Hero Dawg to a light tapas repast at Instanblu...just to get a feel for things.  The chillaxing venue hasn't changed much since it was Sunday's Fine Dining a couple of years ago.  We arrived around four-ish so the place was pretty empty.  I found the soft, piped-in Eastern European music to be quite soothing....almost like being in a little Zen Garden.  Our server, Chris, was excellent...friendly, attentive, patient and quite helpful when it came to guiding us through the unfamiliar menu.

UD and I both ordered a couple of glasses of wine from the short vino menu, which were presented with a foodgasmic loaf of freshly baked, charred on the outside and tender on the inside bread which could've almost been a meal in itself.  We were warned upfront not to tear into it too quickly due to the high temp of the air inside, but I'll admit that I wavered a bit...third degree burns aren't that painful, are they?

We got started with cold mezes of grilled eggplant served in a moderately mild spicy sauce with fresh tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, parsley and olive oil, along with Haydari (a homemade yogurt thickened with garlic, feta cheese, walnut, fresh dill, mint and olive oil).  I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a fan of cooked and chilled veggie concoctions (salsa and gazpacho included), so you'll have to let your personal tastebuds decide on the eggplant thingy, but the luxurious Haydari was like tzatziki on steroids and will never be forgotten. Sadly, it did not photograph well...pretty much blending in with the plate.  Vampire dish, anyone?

Sigara Boregi (crispy, cigar-shaped pastry stuffed with feta cheese, Turkish cured beef pastrami, parsley and dill) totally delivered.  Yummo.

Tender, lightly fried and savory zucchini pancakes with yogurt dipping sauce were delightful.  This is a painless way for us to absorb a respectable amount of folates, Vitamin A, potassium and other unexciting nutrients, gurlz...especially if you're like me can't stand gagging down a jumbo vitamin capsule.

Our dessert portion of Baklava, which consisted of fine layers of crispy phyllo interspersed with honey and walnuts, brought the adjective "precious" to new heights and was beautifully accompanied by scoops of high-end vanilla ice cream.  The chef signed this exquisite presentation in caramel, so I guess I'll have to stalk him, now.  It's not like he gave me a choice.

While I'll be the first to admit that we stuck to some of the more familiar offerings on the menu, I do recommend giving Istanblu a whirl (even if you're not the most food-forward thinker).  Take your taste buds out on a limb and don't be skeered...everything we tried was quite pleasing and (as an added incentive) this would be an exceptionally accommodating destination for vegans and vegetarians. Not that I, personally, would ever associate with anyone like that.

Istanblu Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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