The delightful couple joining me on this foray to the shabby sector of College Park to review Zeytin Turkish Cuisine won the privilege at a fundraising event for A Gift For Teaching – a charitable organization aimed at improving public education by distributing school supplies and materials to teachers for students in need. I can only assume the pair paid good money for the opportunity and so, naturally, I felt bound by a certain duty to ensure their experience was worth every donated penny.
So, pants were worn; off-color ramblings were tempered (reduced to the odd quip); and engaging repartee consumed the better part of our meal even as we consumed a racy ezme salad of tomatoes, peppers, pomegranate molasses and walnuts with our lavash ($3.95).
Delighting in the doughy dirigible with my new friends broke the proverbial ice (and tore the literal bread). We spoke of the heavy-handed orientalist charm of the restaurant's decor; wondered why servers are so eager to take our drink orders seconds after we're seated; then went off on the bootless and benighted reviews on Yelp! and TripAdvisor.
The discussion turned to the inevitable struggles mom-and-pop ops like this one face on a daily basis, and those struggles seemed manifest in the moussaka ($16.95). The sad casserole lacked substance and girth, and the acrid finish gave rise to contorted countenances. Then the okra sauté ($16.95): "It's very simple and plain," said one of my guests. "The tomato tastes canned," said the other. If anything, our discussion compelled us to look for positives – "The okra itself is nice" and "It's a very homey dish" were the more complimentary affirmations.
Another observation we made: Prices weren't exactly commensurate with quality or, in the case of the mixed grill, quantity. For $34.95, we expected a bit more than what appeared on the plate: shreds of lamb doner (think gyro), four cubes each of lamb and chicken shish kebab, and one roll each of ground chicken and ground lamb adana kebabs. At the very least, the kebabs could stand to be more substantial but, nevertheless, the shish were succulent, both ground chicken and lamb adana were satisfactorily spiced, and the doner hit the mark. I have to say that the rice offered at Zeytin is not my favorite – in fact, on previous takeout occasions, I've asked them to eighty-six the rice in favor of more onions and tomato-cucumber salad, and they've been happy to oblige. By the time I get home with the food, the rice I set to cook is ready to eat.
Roasted beef pide ($14.95) was, by far, our favorite dish of the evening. The plush meat on this boat-shaped kneaded wonder had us throwing decorum to the wind and pawing for every last bit of it. It made the proceedings all the breezier, so that by the time the kunefeh ($9.95) rolled around, we all spooned morsels of the cheese-filled, syrup-topped, shredded-wheat pastry from the same plate. It's warm and lovely and made all the more comforting when enjoyed with a demitasse of Turkish coffee ($2.50). There's fine baklava ($5.50) to be had as well, but beyond the hit-and-miss affair my dining comrades and I experienced, we concurred that diversification of our food scene was by and large beneficial and, by virtue of that alone, Zeytin was worth a visit.