Judging Charles Taylor

special court for sierra leone

Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, displayed a talent for troublemaking from a young age. Convicted on April 26 by a United Nations-backed tribunal for numerous counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Taylor appears to have kept up his bad behavior for most of his 64 years. As a boy in rural Liberia, … Read more

Schnitzel and Sides Ward Off the Midtown Fray

Austrian food NYC

Ever since a long-ago family vacation to Vienna, I’ve wondered about schnitzel. Why take something as expensive and bland as a scant slab of veal and pound it even thinner, drown it in breadcrumbs and fry it? At Schnitzel & Things, a small, stylish new restaurant and carryout on Third Avenue between 45th and 46th … Read more

Le Specialita: A Touch of Rome on 42nd Street

Cipriani's Specialita

Cipriani is an international restaurant and catering firm whose holdings range from Harry’s Bar in Venice to Yotto, a Japanese eatery in Abu Dhabi. The business may be best known in the UN neighborhood for its 42nd Street party palace, an ornate, cavernous space housed in a converted old-fashioned bank building that is rented out … Read more


A Search for Truth Behind UN Motives in Africa

lumumba and congo

“How can a beret colored blue … vaccinate against the racism and paternalism of people whose only vision of Africa is lion hunting, slave markets and colonial conquest; people for whom the history of civilization is built on the possession of colonies?” The question was asked by Patrice Lumumba, the Congolese premier, who was worried … Read more


Desi Shack, Serving Elements of South Asian Style

Desi Shack Restaurant, New York

Nothing gets in the way of a satisfying South Asian restaurant meal like hidden fat and unfamiliar names. What was that dish you ordered the last time, the one that took the skin right off your lips? A biriyani or a korma? And while you may no longer remember its name, can you ever forget … Read more


Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine, Post-Revolution

The traditional stews may be hit and miss ventures, but two sandwiches, roast pork

The same armed revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959 drove other Cubans to flee to America, where they opened many excellent restaurants that have been teaching us ever since about the garlicky charms of their homeland’s cooking. One of these, however, was not Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine, which started in 1997 near the … Read more


Alfama, Portuguese Tradition in Modern Digs

Sure, Portugal may be best known these days for the complaint that its slacker economy is weighing down the euro. But when it comes to the kitchen, Lisbon has always punched above its weight. And that is reason enough to be thankful that Alfama, a little gem of a restaurant that dished out fine Portuguese … Read more


The Elusive Great Sandwich: Potbelly Takes Manhattan

When it comes to grabbing lunch in the UN neighborhood, you can’t say there’s nothing to eat. There are lots of choices. It’s just that few of them are inspirational, particularly when you need to run out and grab something to eat at your desk. This is particularly true of that most noble and time-tested … Read more


Soba Totto: Slurping Up Flavors With a Side of Noodles

With cold weather setting in, what better lunch than a soothing bowl of soba (that’s buckwheat noodles to you Anglophones) swimming in hot broth? Now chase that with a good-size bowl of rice topped with stir-fried chunks of beef short ribs, or maybe fried oysters or thick slices of black cod, or maybe flakes of … Read more


A UN Perk, an Autumn Pick-Me-Up

One of the greatest unsung pleasures of working at UN headquarters is the marvelous greenmarket that springs up on 47th Street east of Second Avenue every Wednesday year round. Over the years the market, known officially as the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza Greenmarket (, has gotten better and better, stretching closer and closer to First Avenue … Read more


Bi Lokma: Turkish Delights That Do Not Include Water

This bright and casual restaurant, which opened last spring on East 45th Street, offers an artful array of authentic and impeccably prepared Turkish dishes at pretty reasonable prices.

Just don’t ask for a glass of water!

When I did so after ordering a lovely lunch of moussaka and a side salad of red beans and potatoes, the manager simply refused my request. At Bi Lokma, she said, I had the choice of bottled water, a small glass of lemonade or nothing. I chose nothing and marveled out loud that any restaurant would stick to such an unfriendly policy.

Imagine my surprise when the owner, a veteran crusty New York restaurateur named Orhan Yegen, showed up 20 minutes later, just as I was finishing my meal, to deliver a lengthy speech to the entire restaurant – true, it’s tiny – on the audacity of a customer who would dare to question Yegen’s judgments.

He once had a complaint box, he said, but had done away with it because he was tired of listening to customers’ criticisms.

Bi Lokma, NYC
At Bi Lokma, on E. 45th Street, the Turkish food delights, but the service can be dismissive.

While he, an educated man who was proud to be born in Turkey, provides his customers with china, flatware and a chair and table, “ignorant” Americans get just paper wrappings on the “dog food” they eat at McDonalds, he went on.

Certain at that point that he was speaking to me rather than to the house at large, I asked him if he meant customers were “ignorant” to ask for a glass of water.

“You are not a customer,” he said, finally looking me right in the eye. “Please be careful on your way out.”

I guess I was lucky to have polished off my lunch by then, and he was lucky that I had already paid my bill – required when you place your order. The moussaka, beans and potatoes and a Turkish coffee came to just under $17.

But the unpleasant incident was really a pity because Bi Lokma offers some very good Turkish cooking; better, in my opinion, than much of what you get in Turkey itself. I would have enjoyed a return visit, even without the tap water!

Yegen, who is also the chef and owner of the older and larger Sip Sak on Second Avenue between 49th and 50th, is famous for dissing his customers, a strange policy for a chef who has burned through a long string of Manhattan restaurants. But in Bi Lokma, he has created a gem a short walk from the United Nations.

The place seats only 18 people at seven unadorned tables. Its strong point is lunch, but there is a smaller menu at dinner, and you can also do carry-out. No alcohol is served.

At the rear stands the stern manager, who informs you that the restaurant does not provide table service at lunchtime but instead is “self-service.” This is how it works: Cold dishes and desserts are displayed in a refrigerated deli cabinet and hot dishes keep warm in big pots on a glassed-in steam table.

You look over the offerings, check out the prices on a blackboard above the kitchen – there is no printed menu – and tell her what you want. The staff dishes out your food, hands you a plate and you pay for it before taking your dishes to a table, along with silverware, napkins and slices of puffy Turkish bread.

The cold dishes, which on a recent visit included slow-simmered leeks, a celery root salad, sautéed spinach, hummus, stuffed grape leaves, Cacik (thick yogurt with garlic) and an artichoke salad, are like eye candy and range from about $4 to $7 each.

A few hot soups ($4) are also available daily, as well as meal-sized Turkish ($9.50) and Greek ($10.50) salads.

The main hot dishes, equally photogenic and generally priced at $8.50 to $9.50, included lamb with beans or spinach, a tender-stewed chicken with vegetables, grilled meatballs, a vegetable casserole, cabbage stuffed with ground lamb and kebabs, not to mention the savory moussaka.

Desserts like baklava, almond pudding and butternut squash are about $4. A well-executed Turkish coffee is available unsweetened, semisweet or sweet for $3.

Bi Lokma is located at 212 E. 45th St., between Second and Third Avenues, and is open Monday through Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. It does not take reservations, but the phone number is (212) 687-3842.

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