Galip Ozbek is the man behind the culinary genius at Savann Restaurant, a quaint Turkish eatery on the Upper West Side. A Turkish native, Galip brings truly traditional dishes to the table at 414 Amsterdam Avenue. What makes Savann so special is the love and compassion evident in each and every dish. His food has a homemade warmth to it that makes the dining experience at Savann comfortable and, most importantly, sincerely delicious.
Savann’s cozy atmosphere and warm colors make a great first impression as you walk in. Rich hues of burgundy and colorful ornamental ceiling lamps fill the space, and the gorgeous wine rack is hard to miss. As guests of the restaurant, my friend and I started off our Turkish feast with an apple-tinged 2010 Majestik Sauvignon Blanc, hailing from Sevilen, one of Turkey’s best winemakers
As these refreshing glasses of wine were brought over, Galip served some traditional Turkish bread with oil-marinated olives. Starting with the Mezze Platter was a nice way to incorporate this delicious bread into our first course. The mezze platter included smoky baba ghanoush, roasted eggplant, sweet grape leaves, and pilaki — a mash of red kidney beans, potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic cooked with tomato and olive oil and sprinkled with sumac, a dry onion and pomegranate spice. It was fresh and delightfully herbaceous, a perfect complement to our amazingly fresh bread.
Our next appetizer, a shepherd salad, quickly appeared before us after we demolished the mezze platter. This was a healthy dish that combined chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, parsley and dill tossed in a pink vinegar and olive oil. Similar to a cucumber salad, this shepherd salad was light, flavorful and one of my favorite vegetarian dishes of the evening. As Galip came over to check on us, he insisted we also try a Turkish zucchini pancake, and I’m glad he did. Covered in a yogurt sauce with garlic and mint, this pancake was warm and perfectly crispy. It was a delight!
Onto our first main dish, the Manti. For those of you who are not familiar with this dish, manti archetypically consist of spiced meat, either lamb or beef, covered in a dough wrapper. These manti were homemade and melt-in-your-mouth good! Forget those freezer burned dumplings at your corner store, these manti are the real deal. Covered in a rich tomato sauce, this dish was a standout of the meal.
Next we sampled Savann’s signature Turkish kebabs. Galip marinates lamb and chicken chunks in herbs and spices and then perfectly grills them with the kofte kebab, a less spicy lamb burger patty. This meat was high quality, tender and juicy. The chicken Adana kebab had a subtle sweetness to it, and the lamb version was just as flavorful.
Before our dessert arrived, my friend and I took a moment to take in the romantic ambiance that Savann creates with their intimate candle-lit tables and their French-inspired music. I would definitely come back with a date, but catering to a larger group might be a bit of a challenge. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I indulged in a Turkish Crème Brulee, which was infused with Turkish coffee, while my friend sampled their baklava. What a hit! The crème brulee was absolutely perfect, and the added Turkish coffee infusion gave it a unique taste. While the baklava was delicious, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite of the two. The crème brulee definitely won the dessert race.
Galip created a wonderful evening for my friend and me, and I thank him for being a wonderful host and chef. He not only spends time in and around the dining room, but he also plays a rather large role in the kitchen itself. From designing the menu to going to the farmer’s market every Sunday, Galip ensures his diners the best Turkish culinary experience on the upper west side.
414 Amsterdam Avenue (betw. 79th and 80th)
Photos by Chelsea Herman