Tuesday, April 4, 2017


For twenty years Uskudar squeezed itself into a tiny freckle of a space on the Upper East Side, but its popularity allowed for expansion into the adjacent space recently gone vacant.   Both share rusty exposed brick walls and warm, glowy lighting, with white-clothed tables lining the periphery to maximize every possible inch of seating.  So the new addition provides a welcome increase in square footage, but creates an odd dual-entry scenario that needs to be addressed.  So too do some menu items, which too often take a safe and lazy route rather than capitalizing on a sparsely represented cuisine in our city.

Uskudar is a bit expensive for what it is, a rustic traditional Turkish that aspires to something somewhat more sophisticated.  Most strikingly, however, is a lack brightness and pizzazz.  A braised artichoke appetizer special was bland and gummy, a single deflowered choke served stem-side-up in a pale, cloudy sauce with muddy peas and steamed "baby carrots", those whittled plugs of the real deal.  Better was the Imam Bayildi, but still, it tasted more of charred green pepper than the rich roastiness the dish is famous for- no imam would faint in
 delight over this eggplant.  Do take advantage of the warm puffy pide alongside, however, which also serves to bulk out the smallish portions. 

For mains, grilled branzino is plated whole and amply charred, flavorfully fresh but unimaginatively sided with generic mesclun greens- a missed opportunity to impart a stronger Turkish impact with a native salad like Coban, fresh with cucumbers, or Piyaz's white beans and zippy onion.... anything but generic mesclun.   Chef's Mixed Grill provides good meaty variety, tender hunks of lamb and chicken and juicy, crumbly sausages, all flavorful but too mildly seasoned, garnished with a tidbit of pepper and wan tomato.
Saucier options are significantly more enticing, like Etli Bamya's lamb cubes simmered with okra and tomatoes, or Manti, poached beef dumplings in a rich garlicky yogurt.

The wine list is rife with well-priced bottles, most in the mid-$30 range, in addition to a smattering of cocktails. Or skip the booze with a citrusy Camlica soda, sour cherry juice, or the Ayran, a salty yogurt drink, frothy and frosty, which could also serve as a not-too-sweet finale.

That said, if you are jonesing for dessert, they too have greater appeal in writing than reality.  Kayisi are but plump dried apricots, chilled, tucked with an almond and fresh whipped cream.  Rice pudding is noticeably sturdy, denser than cheesecake and dusted with cinnamon, but with a milky flavor and subtle sweetness.  This pairs well with a strong coffee, but ironically an Americano is a smoother, richer brew than the Turkish coffee that was more grit than joe.

The potential is here, the ingredients are premium and Chef Ibrahim Ozdemir exhibits as deft hand in many of the dishes he concocts.  But there is an unnecessary timidity that too often displays itself, making much of the menu simplistically lackluster.  With the added space, and the imminent completion of the Second Avenue subway line, now is the time to push the envelope, and go for bold.

      1405 Second Avenue
                                                                   tel. (212)988-4046

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