Here's the thing: I don't know much about Turkish cuisine. But here's the other thing: You don't have to know much to know that Bosphorous, a new Turkish restaurant gracing Park Avenue, has exceptional food. After being initiated into the world of Turkish food by Bosphorous, I daydream about a culinary journey to Turkey. Aren't daydreams what good ethnic cuisine should inspire? Shouldn't foreign foods hold adventure with a healthy dose of curiosity to wash it down?
When thinking about Turkish food, think ancient fusion. The crescent-shaped region lies on a swath of land that juts out between the Black and the Mediterranean seas, dividing Europe from the Middle East. Turkey was touched by all the major spice routes in the 15th century and was a major hub of other trade during its heyday under Ottoman rule, which lasted 600 years. Not surprisingly, Turkish food is an amalgamation of the many people who have passed through. I noticed hints of Italian, Lebanese and Greek, yet this food has a style all its own. It's rich in eggplant and lamb and spices of all sorts; citrusy red sumac is served alongside verdant dill, while zesty coriander, cumin and cayenne are also likely to make appearances.
We started with lavas ($4.99), an unleavened, griddle-baked bread. This oversized, hollow pocket puffed up into a feathery pillow and was served with a light smattering of butter and sesame seeds. The flavor was superbly sweet with a pleasing sour tang. I loved tearing off small pieces and dipping it into one of the many cold appetizers scattered across our table. We tried three different eggplant appetizers: One grilled, with a heavy dose of dill, called patlican salatasi; another, soslu patlican, was made with fried eggplant in a tomato sauce; and a third was smoky and garlicky and familiar baba ghanoush ($7.50 each). In addition, we got tarama ($7.50), an emulsion of olive oil and lemon juice whipped with orange caviar, and haydari ($6.95), a creamy yogurt dip made with lemon, walnuts and fresh dill. Oh, and some of the best hummus ($6.95) I've ever tasted.
Among my favorite entrees, there were many made with dšner kebab, a spiced mixture of ground lamb that originated in Anatolia and was the predecessor of Greek gyro and Arabic shawarma. I especially liked the iskender kebap ($18.95), which featured this spiced lamb meat served with a delicate tomato sauce and a heap of yogurt. The beautiful and popular C. got etli manti ($15.95), a Turkish-style ravioli stuffed with lamb (what else?), squash and onions. A whole section of the menu is dedicated to pide, a pizza-like Turkish pastry that is stuffed with various ingredients. We tried the spinach pide ($12.99), which came with a hearty mix of feta, onions, tomatoes and spinach.
Special mention should be made of Bosphorous' wine selection from the Turkish Kavaklidere winery. A deliciously tannic red paired well with the olive oil-rich cuisine, while the white variety was refreshingly fruity. I also couldn't get enough of the nonalcoholic beverages imported from Turkey, especially the mouth-puckering cherry juice ($2).
After making our way through the surfeit of victuals that Bosphorous has to offer, we went outside so that some of my friends could smoke the nargile, or water pipe, while I chowed on some homemade baklava ($5.50) and Turkish coffee ($2.50). Wafts of apple-scented smoke piled up around us as straight-laced Winter Parkers passed with mouths agape at this beautifully derelict form of entertainment taking over the block. The owners of Bosphorous fell in love with Park Avenue and moved down from New York, bringing four Turkish chefs in tow, just to open their restaurant. I'd go a lot further than that for this food.