On Saturday, my Opera-Loving Friends and I had tickets to see "Madame Butterfly," the final show in our season ticket package. None of us are particularly keen on this particular opera (it lacks common sense, even more so than most other operas, as well as a serious round of face-slapping for their idiocy), but who are we to turn down the opportunity to get out of town for an evening to hear good music?
And who are we to turn down the opportunity to eat good food?
This, I think, is quite possibly the biggest reason I love going out on the town with these friends: their willingness to try different restaurants and different ethnic foods, as well as their willingness to go completely veg for the night so that we can all share all the food on the table.
Our dinner destination this time around was Anatolia Cafe, which is being billed as "the first and only Turkish restaurant in Cleveland." The presence of a number of (presumably) Turkish families that evening, as well as the constant flow of customers, guaranteed that we would get an authentic and satisfying meal.
We started with a mixed appetizer platter that included:
hummus (not particularly exciting, but good)
babagannush (the best I've ever had; the eggplant tasted smoked)
ezme salad dip (with minced tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, spices, oil)
eggplant with sauce (with tomatoes, peppers, spices; very creamy chunks)
kisir (cracked wheat with vegetables)
stuffed grape leaves (with rice, pine nuts, currants, fresh herbs)
haydari (homemade yogurt with walnuts and dill)
Of all these, the babagannush, the haydari, and the grape leaves stood out as superlative. I could easily make a meal just on those items (and perhaps one of the mixed vegetable "salads" from this platter).
We followed this with two entrees: a vegetable stew filled with eggplant, potato, and peppers; and sigara borek, long cylinders of filo dough wrapped around feta cheese and herbs, and served with a very fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions in a light vinaigrette.
By this time, I concede that I was approaching that happy state of repletion, but I would never consider NOT having dessert at a new restaurant! We ordered three different desserts and shared them all: baklava that was quite simply the best I've ever had (and I took mental notes as to how to experiment with my own), a baked rice pudding/custard that was simple and creamy, and kadayif, which looks like shredded wheat with nuts soaked in honey and tastes fantastic.
While one of my friends ordered plain coffee to keep himself awake (for the opera and the drive home), we two ladies enjoyed tiny cups of thick, ground-laden Turkish coffee that was brewed sweetened for us. Though the coffee was indeed strong and bitter, the sugar helped to bring out the rich flavor, so that even I, coffee wimp that I am, could appreciate it. (I did stop before I could stand a spoon up in the grounds, however.)
What a sublime feast! Everything is prepared fresh each day, and you can really tell the difference as the vegetables are all firm and crisp (or tender, if cooked) and full of flavor and sunshine. What's not to love?
I am almost jealous now of my friend Mitch Heat and his plans to travel through Turkey before returning home this summer. Almost. In the meantime, I can find excellent Turkish cuisine only an hour or so away.
And I'd be happy to lead the next dinner expedition there myself.