It is quiet as a chapel in Aya Sofia on this late weekday afternoon. Finally finished with our errands, we are having a much-needed restorative meal of warming, fragrant Turkish food. Our booth is separated from the one behind it by a dark wooden screen, and shimmery, sheer cranberry curtains across the booth's opening give even more privacy.
We are sipping cay, Turkish hot tea, from a delicate handleless glass cup with gold filigree around the rim. Our boyfriend is having Turkish coffee, like espresso, but served on the grounds. It is brewed with sugar, if any is desired, so he was asked his sweetness preference when he ordered. Offhandedly, we say we think the leftover grounds can be used to tell your fortune. What we don't say is that we gleaned this bit of info in the lamest possible way, from an episode of CSI: New York.
When our server, John, comes to check on us, we jokingly ask if he knows how to read coffee grounds. He gamely offers the talents of Alicia Aboussie, who learned from her husband, chef Mahmet Yildiz, how to read them. He takes the demitasse cup away and comes back a minute later with instructions for our companion to swirl the cup three times toward himself, then place the saucer over the cup and upend the whole thing. Though inexperienced in these matters, he manages it with a minimal amount of spillage.
We were already impressed with John's professionalism, for making helpful suggestions as we ordered and fastidiously refilling our tiny teacup, but his willingness to indulge us in this way goes well above the call of duty. After a while (the grounds must be given time to settle and the coffee residue to dry against the cup before they can be read) he returns and dutifully reports the results.
"First, she says you're stressed out, because there is a clump that stuck to the bottom of the cup." This rings true, as he has recently taken a promotion at work that is putting extra demands on him.
Then: "There is a baby coming into your family."
Your columnist chokes on her tea. (We think, "Well, if he wasn't stressed out before....")
Last: "Someone is watching over you."
He hands the saucer with the spent grounds and the empty cup to our companion, who did not know what he was getting himself into when he ordered this cup of coffee, and tells him to dump the grounds back into the cup and make a wish.
He wishes for a day off.
After lunch we linger for a minute over Aya Sofia's warm, honey-sweet baklava, filled with a mixture of pistachios and pecans, not wanting to leave the serenity of this place and go back out into the world. John brings us each an Evil Eye bead, attached by a safety pin to a card explaining its significance, saying dryly, "This is for doing all that Turkish voodoo."
The dark-blue glass bead with light-blue eyes painted on it is an ancient symbol, thought to protect the wearer from evil. We leave feeling happy and at ease. Maybe our new talisman is warding off evil thoughts, or maybe it's just the combination of good homemade food and gracious hospitality that have worked their magic on us.
Aya Sofia 6671 Chippewa Street 314-645-9919