Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tokyo Girlfriends & Turkish @ Istanbul Konak

When my brilliant and lovely friend C from Tokyo came to visit me recently in Osaka, we had very clear plans about balancing work and play. Like me, C is an American freelance writer married to a Japanese man. Combining our long histories of meeting editors’ schedules with marriage into a culture where arriving five minutes late makes you grievously tardy, we both understand the importance of being punctual. The week C came to visit, we each had writing deadlines looming, so we solemnly swore that we would work much, play little, and get everything done on time.

Just after C arrived—with hugs and sighs that it had been far too long, and then some bonding over each other’s accessories—we settled down to work at our laptops. We spent 10 minutes in intense concentration. We each typed a few words. We remembered our deadlines. And then we gave up and went shopping. After all, we had dinner reservations in five hours; how could we possibly clink kampai without new purchases to toast?

After a very productive afternoon in Horie (new gray open-toed heels for me, vintage Prada flats for C), we arrived at our dinner destination: Istanbul Konak, where my husband T was waiting. It was a Tuesday night, but the place was full. Ensconced in a low corner table surrounded by Turkish lamps and embroidered pillows for lounging, we settled in with glasses of crisp, white Turkish wine for me and C (¥650) and a bottle a Turkish beer (¥650) for T, who tried hard to look interested as we recounted in careful detail all the highlights from our day of shopping. But when the appetizers arrived, he perked up for real.

We started with spicy tomato salad (¥650) and yogurt cucumber dip (¥450), spiced with dill, garlic, and fresh mint. We had Turkish pizza (¥1100), a leaf-shaped dough with crispy edges, layered in rich cheeses, herbs, and fresh tomato slices. Then I ordered the “Tavuk Guvec” (¥900), a hardy vegetable and chicken pot, while T had “Beyti Kebab,” spicy lamb and beef wrapped in warm, delicious Turkish bread with a light pepper sauce (¥1400). Meanwhile, C had ordered a course meal (¥3150), including a rich bean soup, garlicky mousaka, white fish simmered in tomato and dill, and more. Since dessert also came with her course, I naturally didn’t want to make her feel left out, so I ordered dessert too—two, actually, and then encouraged T to order his own.

Then, just as we realized we needed a serious break before the sweets, the lights dimmed and the music started. After a moment of mild panic (was this the buildup to some announcement congratulating the two gaijin girls for eating more than previously thought possible?), out came a beautiful Japanese woman, dressed as a belly dancer in flowing robes. She had a sexy little rounded tummy, and as she shook her midriff and beamed her gracious smile, the very best part of the evening occurred: the table of 15 Japanese salarymen across the room went bonkers. They clapped. They sang. They snapped photos with their cell phones. And then to our infinite delight, they got up to dance. It looked a little like the hokey-pokey with suits and ties and a dash of metabolic syndrome, but it was totally entertaining.

T and C and I giggled and hooted and watched with delight, and by the time we were done, we were ready for our final course: two Turkish puddings infused with lemon and cardamom (¥530), one for me and one for C; two fresh-made Turkish ice-creams (¥530), one for me and one for T; and thick, unfiltered coffees, layered with sugar at the bottom (¥400)—just the shot of sweet energy that C and I needed. After all, we were on our way home, a full night of writing ahead of us before our 9am deadlines.

B Kurimoto Kensetsu Bldg., 1-11-1 Minami Horie, Nishi-ku, Osaka 550-0015 (2 min. walk from Subway Yotsubashi Line Yotsubashi Station Exit 5 or 6; 7 min. walk from Subway Midosuji Line Shinsaibashi Station)Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11:30-15:00; Sat, Sun, Holidays, 12:00-15:00Dinner: Mon-Sun, 17:30-22:30Tel: (06) 4708-0020http://www.instanbulkonak.comMap & coupon at in Japanese and English; Staff speaks English