A meal at Taksim is an experience of watching time slow down – so you can enjoy every bite and sip
In a city rich in quality Mediterranean cuisine, only Turkish restaurants make up a shortlist. I’ve long hit A La Turca for hole in the wall, Troya for Turkish breakfasts and Fillmore meals, Tuba in the Mission, Lokma in Outer Richmond and my long time favorite Kitchen Istanbul – plus superb Meyhouse in Sunnyvale, focused on Anatolian Turkish cuisine.
The aforementioned Lokma opened a partner restaurant in February 2022: Taksim. I was thrilled to have not just a Turkish newcomer, but a top of the line, though it was with a heavy heart that I visited Taksim in Chris Cosentino’s former Cockscomb space at SoMa. In my top 3 (out of 10) new restaurants of 2015 as editor of Zagat, Cockscomb was a bold showcase of Cosentino’s singular talents. I really miss his cooking in our town, even though he’s still above the charming, albeit more low-key than his norm, Acacia House in Napa Valley. Nowhere do I miss Cosentino’s cooking more than at Incanto, which defined my early days in SF: we spent New Year’s Eve and birthdays feasting on offal and its lush chocolate blood panna cotta. .
The characteristic audacity of Consentino still persists in the striking and noble industrial space that is now Taksim. But space is decidedly colder. It’s still modern and understated, with that balcony overlooking an open kitchen and dining area below, a new bar in the back. While Middle Eastern music wafts through the room in soothing pendant lights, the spirit is more romantic than high energy like the days of Cockscomb.
Taksim takes its name from a historic district of Istanbul lined with architecture from the 1800s and global channels. The food here follows suit: it’s Turkish, of course, adhering to tradition but taking a modern approach, alongside cocktails and wines, including natural and Turkish wines, as they strive to import more of these. I sipped wines like a balanced natural orange from Germany – 2020 Enderle and Moll Weiss & Grau – or an earthy yet fruity-acid red wine 2016 Sevilen Öküzgözü and Bogazkere from Turkey.
Owners Serkan Sozen, Birkan Dogan, Emre Kabayel and Neslihan Demirtas have teamed up with chef Daniel Gribble who has cooked at establishments like French Laundry and La Toque in Napa. It felt like most of the staff were Turkish and we had an engaged conversation about Turkish wines with a waiter covering other tables while she cleaned our wine glasses. Besides feeling immediately transported to Europe, I felt the passion and care of talking to her like I did with the bartender while checking out their selection of raki and spirits.
Raki is the grape-based spirit of Turkey (also common in the Balkans), heavy on anise, often silky, shiny, intense, cloudy (luge) like absinthe when water or ice is added. Around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, you’ll find aniseed liqueurs, each with their own distinct styles, including arak, sambuca, pastis and ouzo. Growing up hating the flavors of licorice and anise, when I first came to absinthe over 15 years ago, I fell hard. I’m crazy about all anise liqueurs. When I last visited, they stocked four raki in Taksim – including the popular Yeni Raki – working to bring some to the US.
The milky, aniseed hit works in Taksim’s Raki Martini, featuring Efe Classic Raki with pomegranate liqueur mingling at the bottom of a zigzag stemmed glass with aniseed clove garnish. The glass – and the overall mixing style – looks a bit like the 1990s. This is not today’s cocktail revival. But it’s serious. Even stirring the pomegranate didn’t make the drink too sweet, though it did darken that pleasant, invigorating anise, which begged for a flavor counterpoint. I would like to see more raki cocktails here with a tight focus showcasing the range of raki. I think of Amoura’s all-too-ephemeral arak collection in south San Francisco, an example of the unique position Taksim could occupy if they tightened up and showcased that rich spirit in fine cocktails.
Let’s talk food now. A series of dips and breads is an ideal start. The wood-fired oven in space now bakes Turkish breads, including bazlama flatbread with sumac butter, or homemade pita bread, my top bread being pita bread glazed with roasted garlic oil. There are plenty of dip choices, served in small cups, including sweet tomato marmalade, whipped labneh, urfa pepper aioli and my favorite Middle Eastern dip: muhammara, loaded with nuts , red peppers, pomegranate molasses and breadcrumbs. The breads are neutral and comforting with spices (like za’atar) or pita-enhancing oils, with the breads essentially serving as a backdrop for vibrant dips.
Eggplant stuffed peppers cooked over a wood fire are tasty with manchego cheese, shallots, sherry vinegar and parsley. Sweet, vegetal and earthy, this is a light yet nourishing starter. Another worthy vegetarian dish is za’atar roasted carrots, a game of contrast with creamy avocado and whipped kefir, crunchy nuts, nuggets and sesame seeds, sour citrus and sweet currants. , under a mound of pea tendrils, making it a salad.
I was curious how octopus with sauerkraut, golden lentils, rye melba, pickled mustard seeds and dill in kefir sauce would play together, but chose to go in a different direction tasting thousands of dishes from octopus over the past 20 years. The rice pilaf comes in the form of a small round adorned with anchovies and branzino fish, playing with grilled sea beans and glazed turnips. Butter-poached sole comes in a white-on-white dish with sprigs of broccoli as green punctuation. Milky white sole rests in tall crispy chicharrones-style rice, swimming in marcona almonds and frothy bubbles of almond milk. Pieces of meyer lemon provide a tangy contrast. Although I enjoyed the seafood variations with nutty and citrus notes, the fish smelled a little intense – as a lifelong fish lover who wasn’t afraid of ‘fish’ , it felt out of character for a normally sweet sole.
All went well with the dessert. Raki palace pudding seemed like a ‘must’ being a more traditional Turkish dessert touched by the anise notes of raki. The creamy pudding is pink under a layer of rosewater syrup, artfully topped with glazed apples, pistachio crumbles, pomegranate and ground almonds. It’s a lush but understated and elegant take on Middle Eastern puddings. The Turkish tea arrived on a hanging gold tray which our waiter brought to the table. With our chronic insomnia, caffeinated tea at night is absolutely off limits, but a small sip gave a cleansing and comforting finish.
There is a sincere authenticity here that is heartwarming, even necessary. The noble industrial space is warmed by the friendly attention and seriousness of the staff, baking breads, brewing teas. In some ways, the slightly 1990s element evokes a simpler time. I could see a sharpened and focused vision taking Taksim to the next level, towards the more innovative direction of what Abaca is for modern Filipino cuisine, for example.
But I wouldn’t want the authenticity of Taksim to be lost and that may not be their mission. Here, it’s reminiscent of dining in Europe in my early food-obsessed youth, understanding a culture first by what’s on the plate or in the glass, even though ever-increasing restaurant costs mean that our choices in a silly city with excellence push towards the most consumed experiences. What a restaurant communicates through its service, food and drink is important. And what Taksim says about Turkish culture is family and nurturing, welcoming to all and full of hope for better days ahead.
// 564 Fourth Street, www.taksimsf.com