Taksim’s Lokma mocktail ($11) tastes like drinking the sap of a candied pine. The ingredients listed in the concoction include cucumber, basil leaves, lime, agave, apple juice, and sparkling water. Nothing about this combination captures the taste of piny. But chef Daniel Gribble says the kitchen uses mastic gum in the raki palace pudding ($13).
“Mastic sap is pine. When he plays with the anise in the raki, it really brings out different Mediterranean ingredients and flavors,” he said before adding, “We use carob molasses. [in a whiskey drink] and it has pine flavors. Maybe someone slipped a spoonful of either into my Lokma.
Raki is Turkey’s national drink but, according to the chef, Taksim offers Mediterranean cuisine with some Turkish influences. Located in an alley on 4th Street, it was once the home of Cockscomb by Chris Cosentino. There are subtle changes to the decor — a long row of well-worn pots and pans hang above the kitchen — but the interior retains the feeling of an urban, urban retreat. 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 do more gastronomy. There are plans to do a Chef’s Tasting in Taksim with a fixed price, multi-course menu.
Gribble’s background includes stints 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 learned from Thomas Keller’s famed and sometimes maligned Yountville restaurant (Oh Governor Newsom!).
“We work with each other as a team, respecting each other and realizing that you have to leave your ego at the door when you walk into the kitchen,” Gribble said. “You are 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 Prawns ($18) – an exceptional start to a meal – was an existing recipe. The chef took this concept and asked, “How can I make this work like fine dining?” Originally, the recipe called for crispy fried shrimp. The chef thought about how to 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 do you cook the kadaif? Will it be crisp?’ Gribble found it would be crispy with butter so he wrapped the prawns in thin noodle strips, taking care to craft a pleasing presentation. The end result is elegant, very crispy and precise. He made a pretty pattern with pomegranate molasses, wrapping it around the plate. The prawns were perfectly poached and tender against the knife.
We sat by the wood-fired oven where a sous chef kneaded the bazlama dough ($8) before baking it. The traditional bazlama is a flatbread, but Taksim’s version is more like a honey wheat roll. Dark brown, the outer layer opens to a soft, comforting center. It is served with a sumac butter quenelle, the spice running through it in pale red ribbons. Eating just 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) kneels towards the Mediterranean with slivers of grilled artichoke hearts dressed in a transparent balsamic glaze. Between the two entrees – scallops ($38) and lamb chops ($48) – the table swooned for the scallops. One side of the mollusk was burnt to a beautiful golden brown; the underside white and delectable. Gribble also adds whimsical flourishes. Pattypan squash appeared on the plate, bright yellow, in two preparations, simply sautéed and in small spoonfuls mashed.
The lamb chops come with a variety of zesty and tangy sides: grilled halloumi, homemade manti (Turkish dumplings!), Romano beans and red pepper bearnaise sauce. When paired with a bite of meat, they make up for the more bland chops. By themselves, they needed stronger cooking and more seasoning.
California, Gribble believes, is a great place to showcase what’s local and fresh “from our land.” He sums up his approach at Taksim as follows: “Using ingredients from Turkey and fusing them with the best seasonal ingredients here to create dishes that make culinary sense.”
564 4th Street, San Francisco