Couple Berk Güldal and Katrina Schult stunned the Seattle dining scene with Turkish food unlike any the city had experienced before when the pair left the three-Michelin-starred SingleThread restaurant in California to start a Seattle pop-up called Hamdi in the summer of 2021.
At the pop-ups (most frequently held at Ballard’s Fair Isle Brewing), Güldal would roast whole lambs over a wood fire and serve kokorec (lamb sweetbreads stuffed in lamb intestine) sandwiches and meltingly tender hand-minced lamb kebabs, Hamdi’s signature dish. Cooked medium rare and brightened by a salad of tomatoes and onion, the kebabs shared only a name with the dry kind found at many of the gyro shops in Seattle. Lines quickly formed at the pop-ups, and the food sold out quickly.
Now, Hamdi is turning into a brick-and-mortar restaurant sometime this month in Ballard on Leary Avenue, seeing up in the former space of Tarsan i Jane, a critically acclaimed fine dining Valencian restaurant that closed in 2020 after four years of business. With a permanent location, Güldal wants to share Turkish and Anatolian culture and cuisine through every aspect of the restaurant.
“We want to represent Turkish cuisine. We want to show how big and diverse it is,” Güldal says.
Though Turkish food is vast, having been created by Ottoman chefs with access to flavors from Greece, Syria, and beyond, Güldal says it is underrepresented among fine dining restaurants in the U.S. Güldal grew up in Istanbul, went to culinary school there, and trained at one of the city’s oldest restaurants, Haci Abdullah Lokantasi, established in 1888, where he learned traditional Ottoman cooking techniques and recipes after a stint on the Turkish national rowing team. He then moved to New York to work at some of the world’s best restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park. At Hamdi, Güldal says he wants to serve those traditional recipes, filtered through his experience in fine dining and incorporating the ingredients of the Pacific Northwest.
Hamdi’s restaurant space is one room fitting 46 seats, including a 10-seat semi-circular chef’s counter facing a wall with a large charcoal grill and a wood-fired oven. There is no gas range in the restaurant, and every dish — from the many cold vegetable dishes to the signature kebab — will be cooked with wood or charcoal, imparting a hint of smoke to every bite.
The menu will be a constantly rotating selection of around ten dishes, with mezzes as well as larger meat and seafood dishes, dessert, and some side dishes. The freshest seasonal vegetables will be prepared as zeytinyagli, vegetables cooked with herbs then served cold with lots of olive oil. Güldal will also serve fish like Turkish branzino and turbot, grilled whole, and incorporate local mussels (served stuffed with rice and herbs) into the menu. Ducks from Preservation meat company will be ready for Güldal’s grill in March. And Hamdi will still roast a whole lamb outside every month and plate it with rice. Entrees will run $20 to $30, with exceptions for larger dishes meat to be shared, and mezzes will be $10 to $20, an accessible price point considering the owners’ elite backgrounds.
Turkish flavors will also prevail in the cocktail program, which is being created by Otello Tiano, a bartender from SingleThread. Herbs like sumac, isot, thyme, anise, and mastic in clean, refreshing drinks will balance out the intensity of flavor in the food. There will also be a nonalcoholic cocktail program with similar flavors, and raki, an anise and grape spirit that’s the national drink of Turkey, served with a pickled beet juice called salgam suyu.
“Our food is already rich, there’s lots of spices, rich fat content,” Güldal says.
“So we don’t need really heavy-bodied drinks,” Schult explains.
The same ethos will go into selecting wines for Hamdi, which will come from Turkey, former Ottoman-ruled countries like Greece and Syria, and the Pacific Northwest. The ceramics, too, will be Turkish — made by Istanbul-based artist Defne Samman.
Schult, who will be running the dining room, is used to working in Michelin-starred restaurants like The French Laundry, where the servers where uniforms and the service style is extremely tight. But at Hamdi, she’ll be trying out something a little more casual, hoping to bring all the attentiveness and consideration of a three-Michelin-starred experience without the stuffiness.
Same goes for food: though Güldal wants the restaurant to maintain a solid base in fine-dining and Turkish and Anatolian techniques, he’s open to incorporating flavors from all over the world and taking ideas from his three-person kitchen team (Nick Chiaro, a former Canlis sous chef who was the opening chef of Greenwood’s Autumn restaurant has already announced that he’s joining Hamdi’s staff). For example, though Güldal says Turkey doesn’t have a steak culture (outside of the theatrics of the Turkish restauranteur known online as Salt Bae), he’ll be serving a big tomahawk steak from Preservation meat company, grilled over charcoal, finished in the hearth, and served with herbs.
In another break from tradition, Güldal is not naming a sous chef or head chef at the moment and is simply hiring good chefs who are excited to work with him. Schult is doing the same for the dining room staff, valuing passion over experience.
“There’s not going to be rules,” Güldal says.
Hamdi is located at 410 Leary Way. Check Hamdi’s website for hours once its open.