Turkish-born restaurateur Hakan Ilhan announced the May 2 opening of his new 160-seat restaurant, Ottoman Taverna in Washington, D.C., which will open for dinner service with lunch and brunch following shortly. Atlanta-based Matt Norris of Norris Design is the design firm of record for Ottoman Taverna. The design scheme for the restaurant’s distinctive interior pays homage to the turn-of-the-century casual restaurants found throughout the arrondissements of Istanbul.
Ilhan has also tapped Nuray Karatas as the general manager and Istanbul native Ilhan Erkek as the executive chef for Ottoman Taverna. Erkek relocated to D.C. from the Forbes 5-Star, AAA 5-Diamond Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida, to accept the position. His experience cooking award-winning Turkish fare was garnered at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Istanbul, where he created the menu and handled the daily operations of Çintemani, the hotel’s exceptional Ottoman restaurant for two years under his mentor, the well-known celebrity chef Aydin Demir. He has also served as the executive chef of the popular Tryst Gastro Lounge in St. Petersburg, Florida, from 2011 to 2014.
“Both the design scheme and menu of my new restaurant reflect the empire that ruled a large swath of Eurasia for hundreds of years,” explains Hakan Ilhan. “Instead of forcing its way of life onto the conquered, the Ottoman Empire absorbed other ideas and practices to create one of the world’s great cultures. Food is no exception to this rule. The cuisine of the Ottomans is influenced by all the great ingredients and techniques found throughout the region, melded into a complex flavor profile that is familiar to all, yet unique at the same time.”
At Ottoman Taverna, the menu will be comprised of classic dishes that incorporate traditional cooking techniques to pay tribute to the true flavors of Ottoman cuisine. Ottoman Taverna's dinner menu will feature, soups and salads, cold and hot meze, flats breads, and entrees. Small plates will range from $7 to $14.95, and entrées from $16.74 to $24.75. Highlights from the dinner menu include Kırmızı Mercimek Çorbası, red lentil soup with onion, tomatoes, and paprika oil; Grilled Calamari Fattoush Salad with pearl couscous, tomatoes, cucumbers, and crispy pita chips; Confit Garlic Hummus, chickpeas, garlic, tahini, paprika and served with pita bread; Ímam Bayıldı, roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and basil oil; Çerkez Tavuğu, Carcashian chicken with walnut, garlic, and paprika oil; Karides Güveç, shrimp stew with a saffron tomato broth, garlic chips, and fresh herbs; İçli Köfte, bulgur wheat köfte stuffed with ground lamb and beef, walnuts, and parsley sauce; Sucuklu Pide, flat bread with spicy lamb sausage, cows’ milk cheese, arugula, and marinated red onions; Adana Kebab, char grilled lamb and beef kebab seasoned with red pepper and herbs; Karnıbahar, cauliflower stew with tomatoes, cipollini onions, and parsley; Hünkar Beğendi, slow braised lamb shank served over eggplant puree; Tavada Levrek, pan-seared Branzino with mashed fingerling potatoes, capers, tomatoes, olives, and sautéed spinach, as well as Moussaka, eggplant, potato, ground beef, and béchamel sauce.
Additionally, guests will want to experience Ottoman Taverna's Happy Hour offered Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the bar. One can anticipate a featured menu featuring hot and cold meze, as well as select flat breads for half the regular menu price. Happy Hour menu highlights include Midye Dolma, mussels stuffed with herbed rice, pine nuts, and currants; Hummus, chickpeas, garlic, tahini, paprika, served with pita bread; Muhammara, red peppers, walnuts, olive oil, served with pita bread; Şakşuka, crispy zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers served over tomato and mint yogurt sauce; Sucuk Şiş, grilled spicy beef sausage; Sigara Böreği, homemade dough wrapped with feta cheese and parsley; Falafel, chickpea fritters with tahini sauce; Lahmacun Flatbread, crispy thin flat dough topped with ground lamb, special spices, and served with lettuce and tomatoes, as well as Kekikli Keçi Peynirli Pide, flat bread with goat cheese, fresh thyme, oven roasted tomato served with arugula and marinated red onions. Happy Hour menu items range in price from $3.50 to $6.
Guests will also find an eclectic list of wines showcasing Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and California with more than 20 selections available by the glass.
Special attention in the design scheme is being paid to the beautiful cooking presentation that will take place daily at the exhibition kitchen visible from the dining room. The charcoal pit and doner grill will be placed front and center to show the authenticity of the Ottoman cuisine. There are three private dining rooms within Ottoman Taverna that will be separated by folding doors. The rooms can accommodate up to 40 guests each for a seated dinner, or up to 90 when the rooms are combined. There is also a Sultan’s Table with seating for 12 guests, and an outdoor patio, which will seat 46 guests (weather permitting).
Guests will find design elements and materials from Turkey throughout Ottoman Taverna. The bar will feature a backlit onyx top, mined in Turkey, fronting the copper-clad back bar, which will serve beers and wines on tap. One will also note more touches of the Mediterranean with blue glass pendants and the use of arabesque shapes to reinforce the Turkish design theme. The ceilings and floors will sport an old world appearance, as if the building was 500 years old with new, sleek elements recently installed. A light color palate will be enjoyed throughout the interior as will the hexagon, honeycomb-shaped patterning found throughout the dining room as a cohesive anchor for the design. It is the formative design motif found in Islamic art that guests will see repeated on the custom light fixtures overhead, the wine cellar rack, pantry doors, and the cased openings to the bar and the exhibition kitchen. All of the wood used in the space is distressed and stained to look sun-bleached reminiscent of cliff-side homes in the Mediterranean region of Greece and Italy. A large mural featuring the Hagia Sophia church is also a focal point in Ottoman Taverna, along with the laser cut steel screen dividing the dining room from the bar, with its hexagonal pattern and Kilim rug-influenced cutouts.