Some of the best restaurants in Istanbul are, more or less, quick service lunch counters: You go point at dishes in a glass case (or meat sizzling on a grill or turning on a spit), a cook nods in assent, and a waiter brings you a platter once the kitchen — if you can call it that — has finished putting it together. The food is stellar, and you’re in and out quickly enough to get back to work before your lunch break ends.
Those restaurants are few and far between in New York City (at least the variety that serves Turkish food), but you can find a good one in the Upper East Side: Francela (1429 Third Avenue, 212-335-0022), opened by veteran Turkish restaurateur Orhan Yegen a couple of months ago.
Yegen has owned 13 different establishments over the 22 years he’s been operating in the city, and he currently presides over Sip Sak, a more formal paean to Turkish fare located in Midtown.
At Francela — which is right next door to another Turkish restaurant, Beyoglu (where he used to be a proprietor) — he’s turning out a slew of vegan and vegetarian options in addition to octopus salad, grilled lamb, and Turkish meatballs.
That octopus salad, by the way, was one of the best we’ve had anywhere in the city, quick service or no: The tender tentacle was accompanied by juicy slices of tomato and coated in a peppery citrus dressing. We sided it with a little lavosh (the pita-like flatbread) plus a platter of vegetable options, the best of which were the smoky baba ghanoush, a cracked wheat salad, and cacik, a blend of yogurt and cucumbers.
There are six counter seats at the restaurant, but Francela also packages food to-go (plus offers a cold case full of takeaway treats). It’s worth lingering just so you’re enticed into finishing your meal with a little baklava — the version here, crisp and honey-coated, comes inundated with pistachio.
Don’t miss the fresh lemonade, either — equal parts tart and sweet and immensely refreshing on a warm spring day, it comes in mason jars, so you can pack it off to the park if you’d like.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 14, 2014