Machka, Turkish Cuisine With French Accent
Named after a bustling trendy neighborhood in Istanbul, Machka is a new kid on the block of San Francisco’s restaurant-rich Financial District.
Farshad Owji, the proprietor of Machka, and his wife Sibel, both immigration attorneys by day, dreamed up the concept and even the architectural design of the modern Turkish-cuisine restaurant, aided by the well-known San-Francisco restaurateur Jocelyn Bulow – the man behind Chez Papa Bistrot, Chez Maman, Papito, Plouf, and other hip popular places.
Dark full-bodied Durrigutti malbec from Argentina, and velvety translucent District 7 pinot noir from Monterey represent the enticing international wine list at Machka, where the boutique selection includes the best vintages from Turkey, France, Spain, Germany, Greece, New Zealand, and California. Mezes, or Turkish appetizers, also tend to include a number of international influences, just like in any modern eatery in Turkey.
A seasonal plate of bean salad shines with all shades of green and includes fava beans, English peas, snap peas, cilantro, and mint, all spiced to perfection with sumac, lemon, and smoked paprika vinaigrette.
Grilled baby octopus with just a touch of lemon and olive oil is unbelievably tender, garnished with chick peas and celery. With that, my dining companion and I had some excellent Riesling, Dr. Loosen, or “Dr. L” from Mosel, Germany – the kind of wine I could drink forever. While it is hard to pick a favorite on a mezes menu, lamb tartar deserves a special mention for its amazing texture and fresh mint undertones.
Chef de Cuisine Reynol Martinez and his team operate in a fairly small space that combines bar with an open kitchen at Machka, but the assortment and quality of kebabs and entrees that come from it is rather astonishing. There are several meat and vegetable kebabs on the menu, so when in doubt, ask your efficient server for a suggestion. Adana kebab, one of the most popular dishes, is made of ground marinated beef and lamb, which gives it unparalleled flavor and texture. The meat is ground with onion, garlic, and parsley, and is served on a bed of rice pilaf.
Beef kebab comes in cubes, marinated with smoked paprika, and skewered along with bell peppers and onions. Vegetarian kebab, which might sound like a contradiction in terms for a regular carnivore, is made of tofu and marinated seasonal vegetables, and is very satisfying. Between the courses, the diners entertain themselves by studying the old Istanbul photos placed over the tables on a red brick wall; or by watching a large screen TV, seen through a glass wall, and showing a loop of Turkish black-and-white films from the bygone era; or by admiring the wine selection smartly placed on a wall rack in a narrow hallway by the bar. By the time entrees arrive on the table, the majority of patrons feel right at home here.
On the night we dined, seared branzino was served with pureed cauliflower, roasted fennel, cherry tomatoes, and balsamic pomegranate reduction. Mediterranean sea bass is one of my most favorite fish courses, but I could never imagine roasted fennel tasting this good. Coriander seed-crusted rack of lamb was another winner, complimented by creative feta-potato gratin and whole grain mustard sauce.
For dessert, I thoroughly enjoyed künefe – a dish I’ve never tried before, and the one that far exceeds the definition of dessert. It is made of a layer of mozzarella inside shredded filo dough, fried and soaked in sugar and rosewater syrup, then topped with roasted pistachio. I had to split it with my dining companion, who then proceeded to consume a wonderfully light chocolate fondant with Turkish coffee crème Anglaise. I had my real Turkish coffee – rich, dense, and with a beautiful bloom of foam, in a white porcelain cup,
Besides food, wine, service, ambience, and décor, one more undeniably engaging feature of the new restaurant is that in its cozy 32-seat dining room it is easy to make new friends.
Machka is located at 584 Washington Street, San Francisco. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. For reservations call (415) 391-8228 or go to their website.