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Chef Couple From Saison, Mourad Opening Casual Middle Eastern Restaurant

They’re aiming to open by the end of the year

Istanbul Modern SF

Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz, a couple whose culinary resumes are downright intimidating, have scaled back their pop-up, Istanbul Modern, to focus on opening a casual restaurant called Noosh with John Litz, a co-founder and partner in hit restaurant (and former pop-up) Lazy Bear.

Litz secured a space at 2001 Fillmore Street (the old Thai Stick space in a large Victorian building at the corner of Pine) and tapped the couple for the project after dining at Istanbul Modern last May. At Noosh, he envisions “really elevated casual dining,” and his goal is to open by the end of the year.

Istanbul Modern has served about 10,000 San Francisco diners since Laura and Sayat arrived in San Francisco in 2016, hosting eight events a week while also working full-time restaurant jobs — he at Mourad and she at Saison. “We work together, we do absolutely everything together, we push each other in every way,” Laura says of their relationship.

Sayat’s worked at restaurants in Mumbai and Istanbul as well as Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Le Bernardin, while Laura’s cooked at Cafe Boulud, Mugaritz, and Eleven Madison Park. “You get the best training at the Michelin-starred restaurants,” says Sayat. “They have the discipline, the ingredients, the technique. But Laura has always had the vision of doing something casual.”

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Noosh, Laura says, will serve “really good Californian ingredients with this amazing Middle Eastern perspective.” Her philosophy is “no tweezers allowed; real food only.” No doubt they’re both dexterous when it comes to plating micro-greens, but Laura says that she and Sayat are “a little burned out of Michelin food... [We] want to make food we want to eat every day”.

At Noosh, that will include baking their own pita bread, making their own yogurt and halloumi, and even roasting their own spices. Laura is from Mexico but has had a long love affair with Middle Eastern flavors: At Noosh, she says, those will expand beyond Turkey to more geographies influenced by the Ottoman Empire like Israel, Greece, and Armenia.

For the Noosh space, Litz hired architect Keith Kirley of Kirley + Architecture and builder John Boswell of Colling Design + Build. And it’s possible — although a bit early to say — that Noosh could be the beginning of something that extends beyond a single space.

“The model will be built to scale,“ Litz told Eater SF in March before announcing Laura and Sayat’s involvment, “so the long-term vision is to have multiple locations.”