I just went to Efes for the first time tonight. It was about 7pm when we got there, and pretty quiet. My mom & I chose the "Turkish" side, in the back corner of the restaurant, where you're seated at a low, round table on comfortable cushions. They also have a seating area with Western tables and chairs, but the Middle Eastern side is not only more exotic and fun, it feels more cozy and intimate as well. The room is bright, clean, and attractive, with warm burnt-orange painted walls and a friendly, neighborhood-place vibe. The only thing I didn't like was that it was a little bit too cold at first, but our server had the air conditioning turned down when we mentioned it, and after that I was fine.
Because I was cold when we walked in, I started out with a pot of Turkish tea. It was warm rather than hot, but it was DELICIOUS. I'm still having a hard time pinning down what was so good about it -- the flavor was just of black tea, although I kept feeling like the aroma and aftertaste reminded me of something on my spice rack -- I can't think what, though (I have the rest of the night to stay up and ponder it, because I drank two pots).
My mom and I shared the ispanakli borek appetizer, which is like a Turkish version of spanikopite. It was good, and the pastry was light and fresh. It was served with a slice of lemon, and I found that I preferred it with a spritz of lemon juice to offset the richness of the phyllo and feta.
My mom was going to get the lamb shank special, but they were sold out, so she got the turlu instead. This is a "mixed vegetable stew, prepared with our chef's special sauce and seasonings served w/ rice" (I'm copying from the takeout menu I brought home). I didn't say anything to my mom at the time, but I thought it sounded a little bland from the description. Was I ever wrong. It's heavenly. It's a combination of roasted vegetables in their own gravy, mostly eggplant and red bell pepper, and the flavor of the red bell pepper dominates. It's definitely not a one-note dish, though -- it was beautifully seasoned, I wish I could say what with, but the flavors blended too well together for me to pick out anything other than the red pepper.
I got the iskender doner, which is "rotisserie beef & lamb w/ a mix of special herbs and seasonings" (i.e. really good gyro meat), "served over butter coated tandoori bread with yogurt and special Efes tomato sauce topped with sizzling butter." Though the menu didn't say, either the yogurt or the butter had a pungent but not overpowering garlic flavor. The proportion of meat to bread was very generous, so my first bite was of the meat with the tomato sauce. That was very, very good. My next bite was of meat, tomato sauce, and garlicky, yogurty, butter-soaked naan. That was FANTASTIC, and kept me entirely preoccupied with my own plate for several minutes, until I remembered how much I liked my mom's dish and sampled some of that again.
We both ate to our hearts' content and still had food to take home. We were going to pass on dessert, but our waitress changed my mind when she said the baklava had been made just that day and was really fresh and delicious. Yes it was! I'm not picky when it comes to baklava, but fresh IS better. I enjoyed the baklava very much and got a piece to bring home.
With tea, an appetizer, two entrees, and dessert, the bill was under $40. We gave the waitress a big tip, however, because she was attentive and friendly and had a nice little conversation with us about the tea (she loves it too). My verdict on Efes: it's welcoming, it's affordable, and the food is wonderful. Best of all, it's only a quarter mile from my house. It's expanding, too (the restaurant, not my house) -- on our way in, we saw them renovating the space in the adjacent office, which will then be annexed to the main restaurant. I guess that means they're doing well, which makes me happy.
Here are the details, if you want to go: Efes is located in the shopping center on the SW corner of McClintock and Guadalupe in Tempe; the restaurant faces onto Guadalupe. Phone number is 480-897-3017. They're open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. According to the back of the take-out menu, there's supposedly a "coffee fortune teller" (she reads coffee grounds?) every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7 to 9:30, though my mom & I didn't notice her tonight. On Friday night from 7:00 to 9:30, there's live Turkish music, and on Saturday night there are two belly dancing shows at 7:30 and 8:30. Go, and have fun!