The two Pierre Loti locations in lower Midtown seem worlds apart, with Union Square serving as the barrier separating the laid-back vibe of Gramercy (which I swear is always pleasantly rainy every time I visit) from the constant motion of Chelsea. The division is not just a matter of zoning, either: while the Pierre Loti location in Gramercy prides itself more on being a tapas wine bar, the Chelsea location offers full wine, appetizer, and meal services straight from the Mediterranean. Turkish food is one of my favorite world cuisines, up there with Indian, often overlooked for reasons I still can’t fully understand.
Turkey serves as a crossroads for many remarkably different worlds, using this mix to forge its own national identity. A small portion of the country lies in Europe, while most of it is in Asia. Just to its south is the Middle East, giving a link to the Muslim world. This blend of European sophistication, the exoticism of Asia, and Islamic culture has made Turkey one of the most unique countries in the world. The food – and drink – is an obvious result of this.
For our pre-meal drinks, Chelsea had a cocktail called the Confession, a blend of grapefruit juice, vodka, and simple syrup. The addition of simple syrup makes it different from the Greyhound, one of my all-time favorite cocktails, but it helps to take some bite out of the grapefruit.
I impressed our gracious hosts by asking for a glass of raki, an anise-based aperitif. It is similar to Greek ouzo, but not quite as sweet. The chemical makeup is similar enough that the clear beverage is turned milky white when mixed with ice.
There were some offerings on the appetizer menu that were the same as the ones at the Gramercy location, so we chose some new items to sample. For those who like it simple, the Pierre salad is as delicious as simple can get: a dish of diced tomatoes, cucumber, red onions, and parsley, tossed with a bit of oil. It packed a flavorful punch, requiring no additional seasoning.
The scene-stealer of the appetizer order was the bulgur patties, stuffed with minced lamb, pine nuts, black currants, and walnuts. This savory treat was paired excellently with my wine, a 2008 Cinsault de Thrace from Angora, Turkey. A red wine, the Cinsault is a dry and peppery complement to the unique taste of the lamb and bulgur wheat patty surrounding it. It paired well also with the Pierre salad.
We enjoyed three entrees, starting with veal sausage served with a Turkish bean salad. The sausage was served in link form, tasting remarkably different from ordinary beef sausages. The bean salad was an excellent counter to the bold flavors and seasonings of the sausage.
Our second entrée was pan-seared scallops, served over what is called “Anatolian salsa,” a Turkish tomato sauce. Tomato sauces are a rare, but not uncommon, pairing with shellfish (witness Manhattan clam chowder). That said, fans of dishes that combine the complexity of tomatoes with the delicate sweet/salty nuances of shellfish would adore the scallops.
As with the appetizers, we had another showstopper with the Turkish beef dumplings. Served in a garlic-based yogurt sauce, these pearl-sized dumplings were packed with flavor, seasoned with mint, balanced by the tart and creamy yogurt.
The ambiance of the restaurant is different than the Gramercy wine bar, featuring portraits of various New York celebrities and boasting a somewhat more formal vibe that sacrifices none of the romanticism found at the other Pierre Loti locations.
The Chelsea location does offer a similar wine list and the same meat and cheese platters like the ones we sampled at the wine bar, sorted by source animal (cow, sheep, goat) and with full notes on their national origin. Come for the tapas treats, but stay for the Turkish specialties.
Photos by Chelsea Mann
Read Alex DiBlasi’s review of Pierre Loti in Gramercy Park.