Ottoman Taverna is a unique Turkish cuisine restaurant in D.C., located close to Capitol Hill. The place is exquisite and brings a complete and unique Turkish experience to D.C. “Elegance” is the word that comes to mind when you first walk into the restaurant.
You will find small cultural Turkish decoratives in the entrance: a wall of “Nazar” — eye shaped amulets believed to protect against the ‘Evil Eye’.
Adjacent, is a well lit and beautifully designed bar. In the cellar behind the bartender, you’ll find bottles of Arak and a variety of mediterranean wine from Turkey, Bekaa Valley, and Greece. The owner’s seat is towards the end of the bar, and he had a glass of red wine in his hand and was greeting customers as they walk in.
Restauranteur — Hakan Ilhan — opened Ottoman Taverna in 2016 and hired Turkish-native Chef Ilhan Erkek to provide authenticity to the cuisine influenced by the region as well its conquered lands. The décor takes motifs from the rich Ottoman empire.
As you walk in the dinning area, there is a wall with a beautiful modern turning drawing covering the entire wall, and straight ahead you will see the all bronze traditional Turkish oven which is used for to bake the fresh pita. The copper hooded affair was imported from Turkey and probably costs more than most of the small Turkish restaurants nearby.
Also, look around as you walk in because you may find congressmen, senators or even former First Lady Michelle Obama, who was spotted in Ottoman Taverna last year.
As we sat down, the chef sent over “Chi Kefta” as compliments of the chef. Chi Kefta is traditionally made from raw meat (usually lamb) and spices mixed together and topped with onions and olive oil— think of a mediterranean steak tartare. However, the chef had a vegan twist to it.
When I heard vegan, I was skeptical, but since it was specially sent over by the Chef, I gave it a try. I’m glad that I did as it was absolutely amazing! The chef put together a combination of bite sized spices mixed together with what appeared as a tomato paste. The Chi Kefta was then served on a small baby lettuce. It was a great preview of what was coming ahead.
If this is your first time at Ottoman Taverna, I recommend to order the “Ottoman Experience”, which is an all-you-can-eat option but everyone at the table must participate!. The majority of the favorite dishes are included on that menu, and this gives you the chance to try many dishes.
The pide or pita bread is made in-house and brought to your table straight from the oven.
The “Muhammara” was excellent. It is a walnut chili spread mixed with feta cheese. The flavor of the feta mixed with the walnuts and the spices gave this dish and earthy crunch with zesty feta finish. It was absolutely amazing!
Kodze Patlican Salatazi.
Eggplant salad. A smoked eggplant salad, with chili peppers and topped with fresh herbs. A perfect salad, with an enriched smoky flavor and finished with a kick. If you like eggplants, you will enjoy this.
The “Ezme” was also very tasty. It’s made from chopped sun-dried tomatoes, pomegranate molasses and chili flakes.
I would recommend to pair these dishes with a crispy fresh Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
We started with a Bekaa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, a 2016 Domaine Wardy, Sauvignon Blanc. It is a region in Lebanon that is historically known for its deep roots in agriculture and wine making. It is also an area where the Romans built the great Temple of Bacchus, who is the god of wine. This wine was young, but it was fresh and presents a floral bouquet with citrus. A perfect spring wine, and it went exceptionally well with the Ezme and Mouhammara. Exceptionally crispy and with a very fresh finish.
We then went on to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a 2009 Domaine du Pégaü “Cuvée Réservée”. This was a very exquisite wine and is perfectly paired with a meaty dish. It presents a dense rich red berry fruit with a woody/smoky finish. This 2009 vintage is drinking really well now, but I think will get better with 5+ years of cellaring.
“Findik Peymacun” is a crispy flat dough topped with kashkaval cheese, roasted tomatoes, onions and arugula.
For the meat dishes, I tried the “Iskender”, the beef and lamb kebab, the “Ilci Kofte”, and the branzino.
The Iskender is thinly sliced pieces of lamb and beef served together with tomato sauce and yogurt. According to the waiter, the Iskender is cooked in a pizza like oven with wood chips. The flavors were all there. Just the perfect amount of spices and then cooked to perfection. The meat was very tender and juicy. The mix of lamb and beef complimented the dish well as and it significantly added to the flavors.
The Ilce Kofte — deep fried version of the kibbeh — was also delicious.
The “Levrek” branzino was also a 5-star dish. The skin was nice and crispy, and the fish was very juicy and tender.
Hunkar Begendi – Braised Lamb Shank
This lamb casserole was meltingly tender on a bed of smoked eggplant puree. usually served with either steamed white rice of a bulgur pilav, this hearty fare of the mountains represents the gentrification of peasant food.
“Karides Guvec” Shrimp Casserole
This shrimp stew in a saffron and tomato broth, garlic chips and herbs showed that Turkish food is not all about the grill and barbeque. From a region straddling the Mediterranean and Black Seas at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, this dish is an example of ultimate fusion and warming fare.
The pistachio ice cream. An absolute stunner. A scoop of this delicious ice cream was a perfect way to end the meal. A creamy filled pistachio ice cream. I would recommend to have with a classic cup of Turkish coffee.
Ottoman Taverna received a Bib Gourmand from Michelin Guide, which equates to good quality, good value cooking. I can vouch for that with an equitable AlphaLuxe Two Thumbs Up rating.
425 I Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 (between K & I on 4th St side)
Telephone: +1.(202) 847-0389
Anthony Nehme joins us as a contributor with extensive knowledge of wine. Anthony is a trial attorney and a forensic toxicologist. He is also a food and wine enthusiast and a wine collector.
Anthony lives in Downtown Los Angeles with his fiancé and his French Bulldog, Frank. In his spare time, you can find him jogging on the streets of Downtown Los Angeles with Frank, watching soccer, and touring California wineries.