I often get caught in my own contradictions when it comes to what I want in a restaurant. When dining at an ethnic spot, authenticity is usually at the forefront of my expectations. Yet, some of my favorite restaurants are the ones that can successfully fuse the authentic and the new. While fusion cooking is not a new phenomenon, Asian fusion being a long-standing institution of its own, the practice has been slowly diffusing into different ethnic cuisines.
Enter Machka, a contemporary Turkish restaurant owned by Farshad Owji, in San Francisco’s Financial District. Farshad was born in Iran, and spent the better part of his youth in Istanbul, surrounded by the rich Turkish food culture. Upon coming to the United States, Farshad started a career in immigration law, working in an office building around the corner from where Machka now stands. When the space was vacated, the allure of the renovated 19th century building peaked his interest, so much so that visions of a small plates and wine bar restaurant filled his thoughts. The idea was to develop a Turkish restaurant that went beyond the kebab house for a more sophisticated dining experience. A lease, a restaurateur, a wine consultant, and one Turkish executive chef later, Machka was brought to life.
When asked about his favorite dishes, Farshad exclaimed that the best part about this restaurant is: “I love all the dishes here!” You really can’t go wrong. The menu is eclectic, like Farshad; his lawyer turned restaurateur background shows the debility of boundaries. That’s why this Turkish restaurant serves lamb tartare, in addition to the traditional kebab that you would find at a Turkish kebab house. Ground lamb is further adapted into the delectably juicy lamb burger with goat cheese and caramelized onion. My favorite was the sweet and savory blue cheese and chorizo stuffed dates, on a crunchy bed of endive.
While food is the focus of any successful restaurant, the businessman in Farshad is adamant when he says that keeping clients happy is the key to success in any business. He realizes that his food is different than what most Middle Eastern restaurants offer, so his focus is on getting his customers to try a dish outside their comfort zone. “I dare you to try the lamb tartare!” Farshad exclaims. You don’t like it? You don’t pay for it.
But chances are, you won’t be disappointed. In a city where entrance to nearly any ethnic enclave is a short taxi ride away, Machka seems a perfect endeavor for any food savvy San Franciscan.
- Machka is the name of a trendy neighborhood in Istanbul. Farshad says, “It’s like SOHO in New York City.”
- The Machka trademark is actually a symbol from a tribe that inhabited the Turkish Empire, before the Turks conquered it. Farshad wanted a trademark that had historical depth.
- Everything you eat at Machka was purchased that morning; nothing is frozen and all produce is brought in from a local vendor.
- After a few difficulties with a design firm, Farshad took control and is responsible for the interior design of the restaurant.
- The wine list was carefully chosen after 3+ months of research and tasting. While Machka gives preference to small production wineries in California, the wine list isn’t geographically bounded. And the wine wall in the back holds 1,000 bottles!