Wednesday, January 05, 2005

spectacular turkish food in Toronto

I was going to use the title 'turkish delight' for this piece, but how bloody clichéd can you be. I mean titles like that just provoke bleeding nausea no matter how potentially witty. Anyhow.
After a week of festive gorging, my mum found a review in a local paper by Joanne Kates, the primo restaurant reviewer in the city. Now this woman, I respect her reviews. She goes to the restaurants in disguise, none of the 'Look at me, I'm a restaurant reviewer' feed me and kiss my arse for free. Plus her reviews are ususally on the ball. The restaurant is in etobicoke. Think New York. Now think living in Manhattan, and going to dine in New Jersey. This is the Toronto equivalent, i.e. the back of beyond, 1/2 an hour car ride, i.e. this better be bloody good. Well, it was, and I would have driven another 15 minutes, except for the fact that I wasn't driving, mum was.
The dishes:
4 Mezzé. Imam Bayildi, a poetically named dish (look it up) of incredibly soft whole baked eggplant, stuffed with strips of onions, peppers and other good stuff. Lovely, soft, vegetal and with enough olive oil to make everything just so good.
Red Lentil soup. This was the first dish we had. Nice, with dried mint on top a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and yum, a pretty standard lentil soup. Hardy and tasty.
Lahmacun. Paper thin pita with ground meat garnish. Good, standard stuff, also known as Armenian pizza.
Meyhane Pilavi. Bulghur pilav with tomatoey sauce and butter. Side garnish of salty cabbage pickle and marinated onions with sumac. Like mexican rice but with bulgur, but well cooked, not toothsome and nasty like in many bulgur dishes.
We also got some hommade thick pita with lovely super garlicky hummus.
I started to realise as we ate on that this is food that grows on you. My brother, who had eaten in Turkey, was adament as to how the food was underseasoned and he was not lying. It would be under salted by most peoples standards, and up to this point in the meal was a little bit oily, balanced out by a predominance of vegetables and lots of garlic. All this was about to change.
Firstly, my brother Robin's dish. Manti. Think of mini, handmade, meat tortellini, about the size of small olive. now smother these with super tart yogurt, sprinkle with mint and spoon on some nutty, melted butter. Looking at it you would think that this would be totally overpowering from the grease, and yes, it is very rich, but but it was also delicately flavoured, perfectly cooked and extremely well balanced.
My mum had the Beyti. A thin crèpe, wrapped around a ground beef and lamb filling, served with a bit of tomato sauce over top and sprinkled with ground pistachios. Served with an ultra yogurty garlic to dab on top, just like the manti this was a dish that could have been totally stodgy, but the meat filling was surprisingly light, underseasoned to be sure, but as a whole a delightful dish with some wonderful flavours.
Vaughn, my brothers childhood friend in from London, had the Ali Nazik. Sliced lamb sevrved on a plateful of grilled eggplant purée. Was it the most outstanding dish of the meal? Probably not. Would you be unhappy if this was what you ordered? No, and he wasn't. It was probably also one of the lightest of the dishes we had.
Myself, I would have gladly had any of the dishes above. But, as people made their choices I had been shuttled back and forth across the menu to end up with Adana Kebabi. Simple, ground meat kebabs, served with well buttered rice, a chopped tomato sauce and some side veg. Simple and well done.
Having started out feeling that this food was rather bland, I was, by the end of the meal, thoroughly seduced. And we hadn't even had dessert.
We made three choices. Kunefe and Baklava, both based on lovely phyllo (is that hommade?) with lots of butter and pistachios. This is nothing like the crap baklava you buy at the supermarket, this is crispy and light with a mildly sweet syrup. Not sodden and goopy shite. Keskul is a creamy, milky pudding with almonds, pistachios and coconut sprinkled on top.. mmm it was ok.
Mum had a turkish coffee. The rest of us had apple tea.
It should be emphasised that although the food is rich, the pertions are good, and the prices are reasonable, no one felt bloated after all that, full, to be sure, but in no way uncomfortable.
Ahhhh I'm in love.

Anatolia Restaurant 5112 Dundas Street West. © 2005 Anatolia Restaurant (416) 207-0596.


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