Review: Istanbul’lu

by Adam Bezigian on January 25, 2011

coban salat

Middle Eastern cuisine is too often pigeonholed as kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, and “Greek salads.” This leaves little room for the pigeons themselves, which are both misunderstood and fairly delicious in their own rights.

(The pigeons of Davis Square are completely exempt, though, as they are 45 percent condoms [“they are what they eat”]. They are foul and poorly tempered since they do not understand macro economics.)

Instead,  Istabul’lu in Teele Square offers extremely attractive Turkish fare at reasonable prices. The simple and sparse accoutrements belie the delicious food and quick service. It’s unfortunate that no alcohol was served, but let’s be realistic: I have problems and can drink any time I want (I always do this).

The most difficult task was to get around the kaleidoscope of largely non-English menu items, all of which sounded delicious and most of which featured many of the same combinations. Lamb atop baked eggplant? Eggplant… above the lamb? A mix of both, featuring garlic?

The many options confusedly coalesce into one, but you will not be disappointed. I can’t say that I’ve eaten the entire menu, but I don’t feel bad having made one entrée choice.

beyti kebab

The Turkish tea was strong and fragrant, while the Turkish coffee was the gritty, sweet slurry that I’ve always loved. While waiting for the rest of my party to arrive, I tried the sigara borek [$5.50], which was similar enough to mozerella sticks to arouse my interest, but dissimilar enough to actually taste good. The haydari [$5.50] was everything that a refreshing yogurt dip should be. This coupled very well with the house bread that came out fast and steaming alongside the delectable red pepper and eggplant dip that arrived at our table as a courtesy.

Yogurt made an appearance basically everywhere and just went nuts. The yogurt kebab [$16.50] was a favorite, decked out in pepper sauce and, go fig, yogurt. The mantarli tavuk buftek [$15.00] was a tasty baked chicken-y treat, though the stuffing was too mild to make it truly interesting.

Let’s make matters clear: this is coming from a grumpy and disenfranchised Armenian-American who has had his share of tasty food from similar roots. I laugh in the unthinkable faces of dry, joyless dolmas or uninspired hummus. The firinda patlican [$15.50], an ab fab eggplant, lamb, and beef dish, cut awfully close to home in terms of its simplicity and dinner-in-one-pot pragmatism.

This is no hole-in-the-wall falafel “palace” or generic Mediterranean restaurant. This sort of food is what I tend to cook when I’m thinking only of feeding myself, and that jibed with me. Istanbul’lu is beautiful Middle Eastern home cooking with its feet firmly planted on the ground.

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