Saturday, November 22, 2008

What's for dinner? Turkish delights!

Last night we were faced with the perennial quandry, "What's for dinner?'' Our first thought was to try the new Kumo Japanese restaurant that opened downtown. It's the second location for this sushi, hibachi and Japanese steakhouse in the New Haven area, the original being located on Skiff Street in Hamden. I wanted a show. I wanted entertainment. I wanted veggies. But I just couldn't get past the "Steakhouse" part of the name, so we opted instead for Istanbul Cafe, the cozy Turkish restaurant on Crown Street.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Lotsa lamb. Exactly. I mean, it's nearly impossible to eat at a Middle Eastern restaurant without being surrounded by kabobs and animals roasting on a spit. But it's so cozy in there. And with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees and a windchill making the air much more frigid, this is what came to mind. Plus, they make a delicious vegetarian red lentil soup.

I recommend their lovely Soquk Meze platter, which offers a sampling of most of their vegetarian appetizers: Nohut Ezme, Patlican Salata, Antep Ezme, Ispanak Ezme, Yaprak Dolma and carrot salad. It is arranged beautifully on a decent sized plate in a thick, colorful ring, almost like a painter's pallette. Note, however, that the Ispanak Ezme and Carrot Salad are made with yogurt, so you'll have to let the non-vegan in your party indulge in those. Everything else is suitable for a vegan. These tasty spreads are served with a basket of warm, crisp and chewy flat bread that I was forced to sample in spite of my gluten sensitivity.

Along with the red lentil soup, I ordered the Imam Bayildi, which is technically an appetizer, but the two together combined to form a perfectly satisfying entree. The Imam Bayildi is a tender baby eggplant served at room temperature that has been roasted in olive oil, stuffed with a blend of green pepper, sautéed onion, garlic, tomato and parsley, and sprinkled with pine nuts. According to the website, "legend has it that a Muslim cleric once ate this dish and was so overwhelmed by its splendid taste that he fainted. It is a rich vegetarian choice." I very nearly swooned each time I took a bite.

As we sat back after our meal in the cushioned and silky festooned booth, to sip some wine and gaze around at our fellow patrons, we noticed a woman reaching for an accordian. "Does she really have an accordian?" I asked. Indeed, she did. And her dining companions matched her musicality by pulling out a clarinet, hand drum and trumpet. For the next half an hour, they seranaded us fortunate few souls brave enough to be out on such a chilly evening with wistful Turkish delights that had many of us clapping and humming along.
Now THAT'S entertainment.

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