This weekend, Joanna was set to perform Friday night at Istanbul Sofra, a restaurant nestled along Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh's Regent Square neighborhood. This performance happened to coincide with Boyfriend's mother's husband's birthday, so a celebratory dinner of delicious Mediterranean fare was obvious.
This was both my and Boyfriend's first times visiting Istanbul Sofra and I was unsure of what to expect. While I have been better with expanding my tastebuds, I am still not very adventurous when it comes to cuisine. My disdain for vegetables is a huge road block in finding ethnic food that I'll enjoy, but I approached our visit to Istanbul Sofra with curiosity.
The restaurant is decently sized and had a moderate crowd for a Friday night. The hostess was extremely friendly and quickly seated Boyfriend and I at our reserved table while we waited for the rest of the family to arrive. The space is nicely decorated with Turkish influence and gorgeous light fixtures dangled from the ceiling.
We later found out that the lanterns are imported from Turkey through a company called Leyla's Lanterns and are available for sale online and through Etsy. They can be shipped directly to Istanbul Sofra for pick up. The pretty fixtures added to the overall ambiance of the restaurant and made me even more eager to try some of the menu items.
Upon the arrival of Boyfriend's mom and her husband, we poured some wine (Istanbul Sofra is BYOB) and ordered a large mixed platter, which is a combination of cold appetizers. We were soon presented with a pretty presentation of hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and spicy ezme salad (chopped tomatoes and peppers with Turkish spices) with a basket of soft, warm pita. We dominated the plate before anyone thought to take a photo, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the appetizer platter looked and tasted deliciously.
For our entrees, Boyfriend's family opted for the chicken mixed grill platter, which featured chicken kebab, chicken Adana, and chicken kofte kebab. This was served with rice and grilled vegetables. Both Boyfriend and I ordered Iskender kebab, sliced lamb in Turkish spices served on pita with a tomato and yogurt sauce. I felt that I could easily handle lamb on pita and prepared for a gyro-esque meal.
While we waited, the night's entertainment began her belly dancing performance. Boyfriend's sister weaved in-and-out of the tables to impress the diners, stopping occasionally to give personal attention to her admirers. She always impresses me and I encourage anyone in the city to seek out her solo performances or those with her company, Third Street Belly Dance.
Joanna the Fierce
Well into Joanna's set, our dinners arrived to the table and I was surprised to see that Iskender kebab was not served as a gyro, as I was anticipating. Instead, what we got was, for lack of a better word, a deconstructed gyro.
The lamb and tomato sauce was laid on a bed of pita bread pieces and bordered with the yogurt. I took a forkful of meat and pita, then swirled it through the sauces before taking a bite. Deliciousness. Pure deliciousness. The lamb was juicy and tender, while the two sauces combined for an unexpected blend of flavors. The soaked pita was chewy and soft. Everything about this meal blended so nicely and so interestingly; I devoured almost all of it while Boyfriend the champ left nothing behind but a few smears of sauces.
Boyfriend's mom and the Birthday Boy shared their large platter of various chicken dishes, each spiced with Middle Eastern flare. I tried some of their chicken Adana, ground chicken marinated in Turkish spices, and it was very tasty.
After we stuffed ourselves and declared our bellies full, we quickly changed our tunes as our exceedingly sweet server brought a dessert tray. Each couple ordered a dessert to share. Revani for Boyfriend's family and Kazandibi for us.
Revani is a semolina cake with orange syrup glaze and walnuts. I did not sample this treat, but it looked good. My and Boyfriend's dessert was a milk pudding with a carmelised sugar coating. It was so incredibly sweet, but I honestly think that I could have devoured the whole thing myself. It would have been in poor form to lick the plate, so I refrained.
The performance ended and Joanna sat down to enjoy her meal of soup and Mediterranean salad while the rest of us sunk into food comas. Despite my "what will I find to eat" attitude going into Istanbul Sofra, I left with a happy belly and a new spot to visit if ever I find myself in Regent Square.
The pretty decor, the attentive and genuinely kind staff, along with the palet pleasing menu makes Istanbul Sofra a must-visit for anyone seeking Mediterranean cuisine and a great atmosphere.
... And I may be a bit biased, but the entertainment was also fabulous.