With a glazed, ceramic decor of deep blues, wispy greens and faint reds, there is an Aegean sensibility to Lokanta Kru, even in the midst of Istanbul’s humid, dark winter nights, when the moon is obscured by dense cloud cover and sprinkling, misty rain. Inside the eatery, informal tables are set much like a living room, with a wide glass display and broad counter that gleams with the latest inventions of its hard-working chefs.
During the chill after sunset, a pianist might arrive dressed in a warm sweater, to sit and play beside fellow patrons out for a quiet evening, to let down the worries of the day gently, easily over sumptuous plates of home-cooked meze and a round of recipes that seem to fit snugly somewhere between starters and main courses. Its mashed vegetables, thick leaves and dense roots are peppered and thickened with oily yogurt sauces.
Among its dishes and plates, bowls and glasses, there are quite rustic numbers on the rotating list of nourishing eats. For one, its palate has an endearing plainness, healthful as the Mediterranean sun that breaks over the seaside pasture of its world-renowned agriculture. Whether it's broccoli suffused with delightful cheeses, spiked with herbs, or potato, lightened by spring onion and served cold, the fare is deceptively simple, resourcefully artful.
A printed menu is not entirely needed at Lokanta Kru, as people come from the street, wearing their business casual in the typical style of Istanbul’s more European quarters, quick to use the power of their sense of smell and taste before reading, or even asking. They then awe in wonder at the mesmerizing fusions of color that meld together, issued from plant-based visions of vitality in a city that demands constant health-conscious choices to stay positive.
As is common almost anywhere, one of the immediate offerings of the place is a soup made with artichoke, a classic piece of the culinary puzzle in Turkey, generally seen hawked on street corners anywhere for its thistle-like flower head is a versatile foundation to many recipes. From Istanbul to the Thracian reaches of Greece, artichokes are seasonal for winter, a perfect time for soup, and overlap into spring, made with lemon, olive oil and fresh dill.
The watery sweetness of artichokes are fitting complements to specially made broths, and Lokanta Kru exercises the magic of its natural potency with a straightforward sensibility. Food is sometimes best kept basic, as the Turkish kitchen excels in home cooking, with its infinite variations on the theme of comfort. Artichokes are also prepared at Lokanta Kru in a strawberry salad, leaning toward the arrival of spring, and its eruption of biodiversity.
There is a summery version of the traditional Turkish dish “kısır” made with a fine bulgur, sometimes compared to Lebanese tabouleh for its use of cracked wheat. But unlike the Levantine variety, “kısır” in Turkey is lighter on the greens and steeps its main ingredient in a savory tomato or pepper sauce. It can evoke the sensation of its disappearance on the tongue, as someone floating in a zero-gravity space, making it perfectly suited for the hot season.
After having arrived at Lokanta Kru, the very amenable waiters bring out a small saucer of olive oil. With a single bite of a cracker dipped in its pool of emerald, golden liquid, it is possible to experience a change of moods. And as plate after plate comes out, replete with ricotta cheeses and such blends of custom and inspiration as okra and quinoa, they might precede oven-baked items, a healthier approach to sour zucchini, stuffed or as a pancake.
When talking about Lokanta Kru, locals have said that it is like going to a French bakery, adhering to an overall conceptual approach that is aesthetically tied to its seasonal, culturally specific kitchen, something that a weary wanderer might come across in a windblown, breezy town on the Aegean coast as much as in the heart of Istanbul. It attracts people from the neighborhood and across town who want to get away, without traveling too far from home.
One of the allures of Lokanta Kru is its profuse and varied portions. And the fact that its menu rotates means that a single individual might never taste everything. That is where community comes to encompass the breadth of its cooking. After tasting to abandon, its many main courses are sure to satisfy to the end of the evening, when the last of the ivory keys have been played, and the song of the spheres goes silent to the sound of footsteps walking home.
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