Taksim’s Lokma mocktail ($11) tastes like you’re drinking the sap of an iced cold pine tree. The ingredients listed in the concoction include cucumber, basil leaves, lime, agave, apple juice and soda water. Nothing in that combination accounts for the piny taste. But Chef Daniel Gribble says that the kitchen is using mastic gum in the raki palace pudding ($13).
“Mastic sap is piney. When it’s in play with the anise in the raki, it really showcases different Mediterranean ingredients and flavors,” he said before adding: “We do use carob molasses [in a whiskey drink] and that does have pine flavors to it.” Maybe someone slipped a spoonful of one or the other in my Lokma.
Raki is the national drink of Turkey but, the chef says, Taksim is making Mediterranean cuisine with some Turkish influences. Located in an alley off 4th Street, it used to be the home of Chris Cosentino’s Cockscomb. There are subtle changes in the décor—a long row of well-worn pots and pans hangs above the kitchen—but the interior retains the feeling of an urbane, urban hideaway. The same owners run Lokma on Clement Street. Gribble explained the difference between the two restaurants: “Lokma has always been family style. With Taksim, they wanted to go more fine dining.” There are plans to do a chef’s tasting at Taksim with a prix fixe, several course menu.
Gribble’s background includes stints working at Alinea and Atelier Crenn, but his time at The French Laundry left a lasting impression on the chef. Collaboration was one of the lessons he took away from Thomas Keller’s celebrated and occasionally maligned Yountville restaurant (Oh Governor Newsom!).
“We work with each other as a team, respecting one another, and realizing you have to leave your ego at the door when you walk into the kitchen,” Gribble said. “You’re here to serve others.”
When the team behind Taksim hired him, Gribble says they had a concept in mind but trusted him with the freedom to improvise. Butter poached king shrimp ($18)—an exceptional start to the meal—was an existing recipe. The chef took that concept and asked, “How can I make this work as fine dining?” Originally, the recipe called for crunchy fried shrimp. The chef thought about how he could incorporate Turkish ingredients. Instead of breading it, he wrapped the shrimp in kadaif, which is similar to phyllo dough and often used in desserts.
“I said, ‘How does kadaif bake? Will it crisp?’” Gribble discovered it would crisp up with butter so he wrapped the shrimp in thin, noodle-length strips, taking care in designing a pleasant presentation. The end result is elegant, plenty crispy and precise. He made a pretty pattern out of pomegranate molasses, looping it around the plate. The shrimp were perfectly poached and tender against the knife.
We sat near the wood oven where a sous-chef was kneading bazlama ($8) dough before baking it. Traditional bazlama is a flatbread, but Taksim’s version looks more like a honey wheat roll. Dark brown, the outer layer cracks open to a soft, comforting center. It’s served with a quenelle of sumac butter, the spice running through it in pale red ribbons. Eating only two rolls felt like an inadequate response. I imagined waking up to a plate of them in the morning, all smothered in jam.
The tomato salad ($17) genuflected toward the Mediterranean with slivers of grilled artichoke hearts dressed in a sheer, balsamic glaze. Between the two entrées—scallops ($38) and lamb chops ($48)—the table swooned for the scallops. One side of the mollusc was seared to a fine golden brown; the underside white and delectable. Gribble adds fancy flourishes too. Pattypan squash showed up on the plate, bright yellow, in two preparations, simply sautéd and little puréed dollops.
The lamb chops come with a variety of sharp, tangy sides: grilled halloumi, homemade manti (Turkish dumplings!), romano beans and a red pepper bearnaise sauce. When paired with a bite of meat, they compensated for the blander chops. In and of themselves, they needed a stronger sear and more seasoning.
California, Gribble believes, is a great place to showcase what’s local and fresh “from our terroir.” He sums up his approach at Taksim as, “Using ingredients from Turkey and fusing them with the best seasonal ingredients here to create dishes that make culinary sense.”
564 4th St., San Francisco