Monday, September 6, 2010

Istanbul not Constantinople

For years, I thought about trying Turkish food at Anatolia Cafe, a restaurant located within a strip mall on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights, until we noticed the mall had been leveled. They relocated to Lee Road, a road we seldom travel along, so the thought was filed away in an "out of sight, out of mind" pile, despite being less than 2 miles (~4 minutes) away from its original location.

In July, the Taste of Tremont introduced two new restaurants to the neighborhood, Istanbul Turkish Grill and La Fuega.

Istanbul Turkish Grill
Taste of Tremont

Several weeks after the Taste of Tremont, Bug and I peered into the storefront window of Istanbul Turkish Grill and noticed stirring within. Diners! We had already prepared dinner so we decided to eat there the next day.

Upon entering the restaurant, my eyes were immediately drawn to the long, elegant bar. This was formerly Hotz Cafe, a bar that opened in 1919 and relocated a few years ago to a spot a couple blocks away.

Reading the descriptions of the skewered meats and starters offered, we sat there dumbfounded, unable to decide what to order.

We wanted to try everything.

We debated what to try until we came upon the perfect meal listed under Dinner Specials.

Dinner for Two $39.00

The special included a mixed appetizer platter, mixed grilled meat combination platter, and two desserts. Aside from buffets, mixed platters are a great way to taste a broad array of food a restaurant offers, especially with new cuisines.

Our appetizer platter included several of our Mediterranean favorites along with new dishes we were curious to try. Humus, yalanci dolma, barbunya pilaki, patlican dip, soslu patlican, kisir, ezme salad, crumbled feta, and olives.

Humus was made to my flavor, appearance, and textural ideal -- a luxuriant paste with an intense flavor of garbanzo beans and tahini with just the right nudge of garlic and citrus.

I can't emphasize how garlicky the patlican dip, similar to baba ghanoush, was. When Bug exhaled, I was accosted with garlic fumes. Knowing this, he took every opportunity to speak with Hs and Fs.

We have made and ordered stuffed grape leaves, but the dolma served here surprised us by its mild sweetness in addition to the expected piquant, spiced, and nutty flavor. I prefer the rice and leaves to be firmer; otherwise, I expect this to be our new way of making dolmades.

I took a small sample of the soslu patlican and ezme salad due the inclusion of raw onions. Yes, it's a childish peeve. Soslu patlican consists of eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, onions, and parsley. Ezme salad is made with tomatoes, walnuts, onions, peppers, parsley, and lemon olive oil. The addition of nuts provided an unexpected flavor.

Kisir, similar to tabbouleh, is a blend of cracked wheat, parsley, scallions, red and green peppers, olive oil, and lemon. While this also had onions, the other vegetables helped to dilute its sharpness, so I ate few bites.

A few minutes after we gobbled up our appetizer and a second basket of pita, a heavy, large platter of chicken adana, lamb chop, beef and lamb adana, döner, pilaf, and vegetables made its way toward us.

Lamb, beef, and goat are my favorite meats. I am not quite as fond of poultry; however, the chicken this evening was my favorite.

The lamb and beef adana was fantastic, but I am still tickled by my excitement for the chicken. Adana is a process where a mixture of minced meat, chopped red bell peppers, parsley, and seasoning is grilled over charcoal along wide, flat skewers. Onions and paprika are added to lamb and beef adana. Adana-izing resulted in flavorful and juicy morsels akin to eating stew in one small bite. It was Willy Wonka magical.

Döner made of lamb and beef, similar to gyro meat, was served in slices. What is not to like about juicy, marinated grilled beef and lamb? The skewered lamb chops were impressively tender and juicy. Bug was swooning by this point.

Grilled tomatoes, onions, and red bell peppers were firm and added a color to the dish and helped to lessen my guilty conscience.

I have had pilaf served 100s of times, and find it mind boggling that I almost always leave feeling underwhelmed by the texture and/or flavor. The pilaf was moist, fluffy, and flavorful such that it could be served on its own, but not so robust where it detracts from the main ingredients.

The owner stopped by to chat with us as we were partway through our meal. We passionately expressed how impressed we were with the quality and the chef's skill in preparing our meal. We found out it was their second night open. He also mentioned that the meat is butchered on site, which he felt greatly affects the quality of meal preparation.

I remarked how fortunate we were to have a nearby Turkish restaurant as the nearest one that I knew of was Anatolia Cafe. He was interested to hear of our experience there. I confessed that we never got around to trying the place despite being urged by my eastern European coworkers. He then revealed that the chef was the head chef of Anatolia.

Shortly after Bug packed the leftovers, our table was cleared for the generous portions of kadayif, a luscious haystack of shredded wheat stuffed with pistachios and a ladle of honey, and kazandibi, a milky pudding with cinnamon. The pudding is more appropriate for a subtle conclusion to a meal, while the shredded wheat is a perfect cure for a sweet tooth.

On the way home, all I chattered about was our return visit.

- Cassaendra

Istanbul Turkish Grill
2505 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 298-4450

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