Turkish Delights in the Passage of Time

March 26, 2009 Updated: May 8, 2009

The hidden secret   (Jonathan Weeks/The Epoch Times)
The hidden secret (Jonathan Weeks/The Epoch Times)
In New York, Turkish food is becoming very popular, and Turkish restaurants are popping up all over the city. Turkish food is simple, diverse, and very creative. It is also vibrant, tasty, fresh, and healthy. Its foundation is grains: from bread to börek (thin paper sheets of dough and stuffed with meat mixes or cheese) with wheat flour dough, to cracked wheat and rice pilaf. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts are major staples as well. Eggplant is an abundant vegetable in Turkey and is prepared in numerous ways. It has been said, “If you want to frustrate a Turk, ask how to prepare eggplant.” Turkish food also has many varieties of “kebab,” delicious grilled meats that go back thousands of years to when nomadic Turks grilled and roasted meat over campfires.

Turkey is surrounded by many seas and has a multitude of choices regarding fish dishes. The emphasis in Turkish cuisine is on taste first, then balance and harmony. When you are in a Turkish home or a Turkish restaurant, allow yourself ample time to savor the fare of unusual and tasty dishes. Most Turkish restaurants have the same menu. What changes, is the style of the chef and the signature touches he can put on those traditional items.

Ali Baba’s Terrace

The interior      (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)
The interior (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)
Fresh and zesty leeks     (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)
Fresh and zesty leeks (Nadia Ghattas/The Epoch Times)
A new addition to the midtown neighborhood, housed in a one-story building at
862 2nd Avenue, (212) 888-8622.

The menu offers a wide selection of hot and cold appetizers, salads, and, of course, grilled meats and fish.

Strongly recommend from the endless list of appetizers the zeytinyagli pirasa (leeks) ($7.50) in olive oil and carrots and lemon juice, a zesty and tasty dish; the babaganush ($6), smoked and pureed eggplant; humus, mashed chick peas blended with fresh garlic, tahini, and herbs ($6). If you like hot and spicy go for the acili ezme ($6) and imam bayildi, ($8) a whole baby eggplant stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and herbs cooked in olive oil.

The chef’s special dish, hunkar begendi (eggplant puree with lamb for $18), has tender and tasty meat, slow-cooked with tomato sauce. The eggplant in this dish had a nice smoky flavor, but the cream or cheese was a bit excessive. And for the grilled meats, the chicken shish is recommended ($17). This is a tender and juicy dish. And the lamb shish kebab was nicely marinated before grilling, well-done on the outside but juicy on the inside and almost melts in your mouth. For dessert, the slightly caramelized milk custard called Turkish custard ($5) is light and not too sweet.

Outdoor dining is available with the open rooftop terrace. A nice selection of international and Turkish wines can be nicely paired with the meal. The open rooftop terrace is open for guests to enjoy the outdoors.

Ali Baba

212 East 34th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenue), (212) 683-9206

This is more traditional with more authentic signature dishes.

This location opened about 11 years ago as a small place for Turkish pizza (lahmacun) and Adana kebab (gyro) by Ali who later asked his father (baba in Turkish) to work with him, hence the name. A few years later, they expanded and turned it into a rustic-style restaurant. The fireplace in the dining area and the enclosed garden gives this restaurant a feeling of old charm and coziness.

The food is authentic and very similar to home-style cooking. The signature dishes available at this location are a must have, including the lahmacun (Turkish style meat pizza) and 10 different types of pides. The bread dough (lahmacun and pides) is specific for each pizza. The service is good. Plates and silverware change after each course and the staff are discreet, providing the diner with privacy.

Crispy hot sesame flat bread sticks  (Jonathan Weeks/The Epoch Times)
Crispy hot sesame flat bread sticks (Jonathan Weeks/The Epoch Times)
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