I don't know much about Turkish food, besides the doner kebab I ate a lot of in Berlin, which I think even more highly of than roast pork sandwiches or cheesesteaks. But the food I had last night at this new Turkish place in the neighborhood (22nd and Carpenter, of all places!) was damn good.
They've only been open a little over a week now, but you'd hardly know it from the crowds, food, and service. At 9:30, there were only two tables open that I could see in a nicely sized place, but I was surprised there weren't any serious hiccups in the service or food. Really, the only way I would have known the place had just opened was the earnest interest from all the staff at what we thought of our food. It's really refreshing to hear those questions when they're not perfunctory.
I had heard very good things about the food going in, but everything we had far surpassed what I expected. We started with the mixed appetizer plate which, along with a bunch of crusty bread, could probably serve as a whole meal for two people with light appetites. It comes with a piece of stuffed grape leaves cut in two along with a half dozen or so spreads and purees served in generous proportions. The Tzatziki sauce was easily the best I'd ever had with a rich and fluffy yogurt that you could almost eat with a spoon. There was also an excellent, smokey Baba Ganouj type thing, another coarser eggplant puree with milder flavors, hummus with a really delicate tahini flavor (I wondered if they make their own tahini paste), a dense and spicy red-colored puree with the texture of tapenade but the taste of cucumber and spicy pepper, and a delicious serving cup of what seems to me like a sort of Turkish ratatouille, with cold stewed chunks of vegetables and some big tasty bits of roasted garlic. I only wish we had had more bread, which is doled out three smallish chunks at a time by a server.
I kind of doubted the entrees would be better than the appetizer platter but I was wrong. I had the "smokey eggplant puree served with a chunk of baby lamb on top." The heated eggplant puree was one of the tastiest things I've had in a while, ultra-smooth and creamy. I think it was mixed in with sour cream or yogurt. I could eat pints of this stuff. On top were tender pieces of lamb stewed in a tomato based sauce with green peppers and some other things I don't recall off-hand. My girlfriend had grilled lamb and beef patties, which were also delicious and served with more of that amazing Tzatziki sauce, raw spiced onions that matched the grilled meat perfectly, and a bit of grilled tomato and (Anaheim?) chile. On the side were thin, delicate pieces of pita for wrapping and some really terrific rice, loaded with butter.
We definitely leaned hard on eggplant and lamb, since they're two of my favorite things, but there are a decent number of vegetable and fish dishes that I'm looking forward to trying. Almost all the entrees are between 10 and 15 dollars, which is good value considering the quality of food. The place is BYO as well, at least for the moment. (I saw a dozen or so bottles of wine behind a bar-type area, but there is no liquor license).
We finished up with a round of Turkish coffee, really good baklava, and a quince desert that involved stuffed fruit (quince? I really don't know much about this fruit) with a quince paste and whipped cream, dusted with crushed pistachios and a couple other spices.
It seems like it's going to be a terrific restaurant, and man is it surreal to be sitting in a cozy, white-table-clothed restaurant at 22nd and Carpenter. I can't wait to go back, and am hoping to do so a couple times before a review comes out and the place gets packed.
918 S. 22d St., at Carpenter St., 215-545-5790