Cruising on Stony Point yesterday to avoid holiday traffic on the ride home, I pulled into Petaluma's Washoe House for a lunch stop. While the bar was still open and fairly busy, the kitchen had just closed lunch service.
As I continued north, it dawned on me that I'd be passing right by Cafe Cabano/Real Gyro in Santa Rosa. I decided to drop in to try the cooking of the Real Gyro "imitators" to see how it might compare. While I wanted to be objective, clearly I was looking for bear and bristled when I saw the old menu posted in the window with Vahit's name on it as well as the positive review from the Press Democrat. Pretty cheeky to ride off someone else's reputation, I thought to myself. The interior looked just the same. The furnishings and casements that I saw being hauled off when Real Gyro closed had been restored.
When I stepped up the case to browse the cold dishes and skewered raw meats, a young Turkish woman approached me to see if I had questions. She said that Real Gyro had been closed for four months and had reopened the day before (Sept. 1). I asked her if the same people were making the food. She nodded and said that everything was the same.
I pointed to the man standing behind the counter and said, "That's not Vahit."
She replied, "That's right. Vahit's busy in the back cooking."
With eyebrow arched, I said, "Really? Could I speak with him?"
She said, "Don't worry, he's in the kitchen."
I pressed further, "If he's not too busy, I'd really need to talk to Vahit."
There was a pregnant pause, then she spoke in Turkish to another woman standing near by who went into the kitchen. Feeling that I was about to call her bluff, I wondered how they were going to spin this next.
Imagine my surprise when Vahit walked out from the back! He broke into a smile and said, "Hello! You came back! How are you?", and shook my hand heartily. I blurted, "I had to see with my own eyes, and I still don't believe it! Aren't you opening a restaurant on Fourth Street?" He shrugged and explained that he had been working on setting up the new restaurant, Anatolia, for three months, getting the permits, picking the name, and developing a new menu with two partners. Everything was ready to open this week. He had already ordered the ingredients and supplies, but had not come to terms with his partners. He had kept in touch with the owner of Cafe Cabano, who offered him a partnership agreement this week, and he set up shop again in his old location putting the food and ingredients to work.
As I was savoring into my lunch, Mr. Cafe Cabano stopped by my table to introduce himself, saying, "Vahit tells me that you came from San Francisco to eat here." I nodded and asked him how this new arrangement came to be. He explained that he had lined up a Turkish chef to reopen Real Gyro, adding that he was good but nothing like Vahit. He had wished Vahit well in his new plans to open downtown, and was happy that he decided to come back to his place.
I used a credit card to pay for my lunch and the take-out for later. The charge slip was for Cafe Cabano, whereas Real Gyro used to have separate accounting. The phone number in use, 707-575-8792, is Cafe Cabano's. The cashier and the kitchen helper that I saw Vahit training in slicing meat off the gyro cone appear to be Cafe Cabano staff, so it seems that the restaurant is integrated and not running two operations under one roof as it had before.
How was the food? I was THRILLED with my lamb and beef gyro (doner kebab) served on homemade bread (pide). Business must have been brisk earlier, as the meat was pink and rarer than usual with less roasted edge pieces, and even more deliciously seasoned. The yogurt sauce was a bit more piquant than I recall, and I loved the extra lift that the fresh dill lent. The pide was a little low in salt and not as chewy, but still wonderful. Vahit offered me a plate of hummus on the house and a glass of ayran while I waited for my food, and those were as good as before. (I "paid" for it by leaving an extra $5 in the tip jar.)
I got piyas, dolmas, and sutlac (rice pudding) to go. The white beans in the piyaz were a touch too hard but the flavor was fine. The dolmas were as outrageously good as I remembered, studded with pinenuts, currants, and whiff of fresh mint. The sutlac was still hot from the oven, so Vahit packed it for me in the ceramic casserole that I'll need to return. It was excellent too. And, the baked-on pudding crusted ceramic was in the test run for my new Kitchenaid "Superba" dishwasher delivered today, and I was happy that on the regular cycle nearly all of it washed off. (g)
Yesterday, I did drive by Anatolia restaurant and it does look like its all ready to open. Let's keep an eye on it for the next chapter in this story.