Any Turkish gourmand knows that Gaziantep, a city close to the Syrian border and legendary for the spicy intricacy of its stews and kebabs, is the source of the country's best cooking. Most restaurants featuring Gaziantep food in Istanbul tend to be grill houses (such as Develi) or populist joints (like Çiya), but at Mabeyin (129 Eski Kisikli Cad., Kisikli, Üsküdar; 90-216/422-5580; dinner for two $50) this intriguing cuisine has a sultan-worthy setting. Fitted into a 19th-century wooden villa that once belonged to a pasha, the restaurant tries a little too hard to replicate a Michelin-starred auberge. It's best to claim a table under a pine tree in the idyllic bahçe (garden) and let bow-tied waiters ply you with delicacies. Here comes the complex yogurt soup with chickpeas, minuscule rice dumplings, and aromatic swirls of minted butter. Now an exotic dried-eggplant dolma, plump with a pomegranate-tinged rice-and-lamb stuffing. Içli köfte, crisp bulgur torpedoes with moist centers of sweetly spiced meat, give way to succulent minced lamb kebabs laced with pistachios. Getting to Mabeyin is something of an adventure—you take a panoramic ferry ride to Üsküdar, then a short cab drive—but the smoky wafer-thin lahmacun (Turkish pizza) topped with grilled eggplant, along with the delirious syrup-soaked walnut rolls, would be worth a trek all the way to the Syrian border.
Istanbul is being touted as Europe's new capital of cool, and 360 Istanbul (32/309 Istiklal Cad., Misir Apt. K8, Beyoglu; 90-212/251-1042; dinner for two $60) epitomizes the city's newfound worldly glamour. Imagine a sleek concrete-and-glass spaceship plunked down on the terrace of a 19th-century apartment building with a heart-stopping view of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and Hagia Sophia. Now imagine the spaceship colonized by Istanbul's gilded youth, who are sipping ornamental margaritas and Turkish muscats instead of the traditional raki and eating thin-crusted pizzas with toppings like "Bollywood chicken." The globe-trotting menu is the handiwork of chef Mike Norman, who was born in South Africa, ran the kitchen at the Çiragan Palace Hotel Kempinski, and could moonlight as a male model. With a deft hand and a sense of fun, he whisks diners from Spain (sautéed sardines with a creamy, garlicky almond sauce) to Lebanon (juicy kibbeh drizzled with yogurt) to China (spicy, fragrant duck dim sum), and then back to Turkey with a deliciously updated version of rice-filled zucchini flowers. Heartbreaking as it is to see the atmospheric old tripe joints on Istiklal edged out by high-street accessory shops, places like 360 make globalization a little more palatable.
In Amsterdam you'll sooner find great kebabs or curry than decent stamppot or erwtensoep. So Schilo van Coevorden, the forward-thinking chef at the Dylan Hotel (formerly Blakes), had an inspired idea: Why not go Dutch?Mission accomplished at the College Hotel restaurant (1 Roelof Hartstraat; 31-20/571-1511; dinner for two $95), the Dylan's sister, housed in an 1895 brick school building near Museumplein and staffed almost entirely by hospitality-industry students. But with comfy chairs upholstered in sage-green velour and Delft blue china on the tables, the soaring, casually stylish space is worlds away from a school cafeteria. And the kitchen's creative riffs on Dutch classics bear little resemblance to anything ever cooked by the grandmothers of the fresh-faced apprentices who deliver your dinner. A fan of Ferran Adrià, van Coevorden recasts heavy Dutch pea soup as a collage of emerald foam, pork-belly ravioli, sausage gelée, and brown-bread ice cream. He indulges the Dutch craving for eel with warm smoked fish lacquered with dark apple molasses and set on a bed of crunchy, thinly sliced radishes. And he excels in brawny dishes like roast wild duck, presented with a brûlée of peaches, and a rich, bacony oxtail hotchpotch, a vegetable and bacon stew. Judging from the satisfied crowd, this curriculum is just what the city needed.
Sleek multipurpose lounge-club-restaurant extravaganzas are the latest dining trend in design-crazed Amsterdam. At industrial-cool Onassis, music, celebrity-spotting, and bacon bruschetta come with a sundeck and moody river views from the terrace; the swank Odeon, in a former concert hall, offers updated Burgundian fare followed by dancing. Envy (381 Prinsengracht; 31-20/344-6407; dinner for two $75), which debuted this summer on one of the city's most stately canals, modestly bills itself as a "wine bardeli." Well, it's a delicatessen as could only be conceived by the impresarios behind the terminally hip Supperclub and Concrete Architectural Associates, a trendy design firm—both intent on turning the space into a visual showcase. Here, ceiling spotlights cast a sexy glow on the dark wood "tasting tables," which contrast theatrically with the gleaming stainless-steel show kitchen. Twenty-six eye-level refrigerators display the oysters, cheeses, hams, chutneys, hand-dipped chocolates, and liqueurs you'll be having for dinner. The blond, preening crowd of models and cool kids is probably more prone to pride and lust than to gluttony—which isn't to say that the cuisine takes a backseat to the scene. It's hard to go wrong with cured meats, especially ones as fine as lardo di Colonnata ripened in marble and Sanchez Romero ibérico ham. Equally crowd-pleasing: the chef 's vodka-marinated salmon with vermouth foam; quail tempura accompanied by a spicy papaya salad; and saffron-tinted monkfish served with a cauliflower couscous and sage mayonnaise. The portions may be tiny, but that's no excuse to hoard the jamón-wrapped scallops with truffle mousseline. Greed doesn't become you.
Anya Von Bremzen is a T+L contributing editor and the author of The New Spanish Table (Workman).