Turkish Delights

Afrim Pristine lifts the lid on many Turkish delights.

It’s over! I had thought we all had til Monday to get to Cheese Boutique (45 Ripley Avenue, just about where the Queensway meets the South Kingsway – but you know this) in order to taste some pretty spectacular stuff. The Pristine family had flown in three chefs from one of Istanbul’s top hotels, the Çiragan Palace Kempinski, courtesy of Turkish Airlines, to show us how profundly amazing very high-end Turkish food can be. They had a gala evening at the Boutique last Thursday with hundreds of guests enjoying the treats provided by the chefs – almost all ingredients flown in from Istanbul. The quality was astonishing. I was particularly mesmerized by the olives. They had obviously been picked early for they were an almost yellowy green, like the palest peridots. They seemed to glow as they lay in their ornate bowls, each one stuffed with a slivered almond as white as snow. Beside them, hidden under beaten silver cloches, were tiny pastries, amazingly fresh, made from phyllo and various nuts, slightly sweetened with honey. There were dishes of Turkish delight dusted with confectioner’s sugar, little cylinders of emerald green pistachio paste or cream-coloured almond paste like the marzipan apotheosis. Such dainties… They put everyone on their best behaviour.
The Pristine family understands how to throw a party. In one corner, a table groaned with grilled vegetables, pickles and barrel-aged feta. Students from Niagara College, led by chef-professor Mark Picone and his colleagues, helped the visiting artists prepare the goodies and carried them out for the hungry hordes. There were many canapés but some caught my fancy in particular. Tiny, crispy cones held a moist mixture of finely minced chicken and crushed walnuts. Baby ravioli were stuffed with braised duck flavoured with thyme and rosemary and served in Chinese spoons over a citric cream. Savoury pastry cups cradled grilled eggplant garnished with rocket and pomegranate seeds. Best of all was the basterma, cured and spiced beef striploin sliced into translucent, tissue-thin, crimson ribbon, tasting of isop pepper and a hint of garlic. Marbled like porphyry, the meat was Venetian red, as tender as silk, unforgettably beautiful.
We drank perfectly brewed tea from hot little glasses and then Vineland Estates sparkling Riesling, off dry Riesling and Elevation Cabernet Franc (spiked with a trace of Cabernet Sauvignon). I recalled long-ago family trips to Istanbul, Ankara and Gordion – how we stuffed ourselves each evening with a myriad refined, complex, irresistible appetizers so that we could barely face the substantial main courses of pilaf and kebab. (It’s still the best way to eat in Turkey).
I asked Fatos Pristine (who knows Turkey well – he keeps an apartment in Ismir) what is the best Turkish olive oil he carries and he showed me a bottle of Zei. It comes from Ayvalik on the north-eastern coast of the Aegean and is pressed from the same olives we were eating – gem-like green drupes, picked in their childhood before they have developed much oleic acid at all. The oil is denied sunlight or air once it’s pressed, so it stays (dare I say it) pristine. It’s fresh, fruity, green, not as tangy as the pungent oils of Tuscany or the Douro and without that little finishing hook of bitterness that is the hallmark of central Italy. Smooth as butter, in other words. I love it.
Cheese Boutique’s Turkish extravaganza was a huge success. I hope it encourages more such adventures. We are so rarely exposed to the splendour of Ottoman culture.

  1. I was incredibly excited to hear about this! Unfortunately I called the Cheese Boutique this morning to make sure before driving over with some other lovers of the cuisine, and the Turkish celebration at their store ended on Saturday. However the visiting chefs can be found somewhere in the Niagara Region today (was not told where, but hopefully it can be found online). Very disappointed to have missed Saturday’s tasting – I agree, there should be more of this type of cuisine in Toronto. Thank you for the reporting on what sounded like a delicious event.

  2. Also, if you know of any good Turkish foodstuffs markets in Toronto to recommend, that would be fantastic. I had been hoping to stock up on Turkish specialties at the Cheese Boutique today while they are featuring Ottoman cuisine but unfortunately I found out that I was too late.

  3. Turkish treats are hard to find in Toronto. Cheese Boutique is still your best bet. Closer in, Ararat on Avenue Road specializes in yummy things from that part of the world. And Marche Istanbul, even farther north on Avenue Road, has the best sujuk sausages in town and some awesome cheeses among other things.

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