Cumin might be the coziest, homiest, most appetizing smell in the world. The first time I remember being enveloped by its aroma was at Mamoun’s, the legendary falafel shop on New York’s Lower East Side. It was a late-night, post bar-hopping stop which was as busy at 2 in the morning as it was at lunch time. Suffice it to say, my visit was closer to 2 in the morning and I was feeling … let’s say … joyful. And hungry. After a long wait in a lively queue, I was soon both joyful and satiated. Now, the scent of cumin gives me an almost Pavlovian feeling of contentment. It’s like a portal to a memory evoking happiness and hunger in equal measures.
Which brings me to Turkish Delight, a much-loved Midtown restaurant, which recently re-opened under new ownership. I was a fan of the previous iteration, which was small, intimate and family-owned, and I’m happy to report that the new iteration is also small, intimate and family-owned. Siblings Engin and Zeynep Kilic, born and raised in Turkey, took ownership from the previous owners with plans to continue the mission of providing a culinary portal between Alaska and Turkey. The mission remains the same, as does the evocative, comforting smell of cumin that pervades the restaurant.
I invited a friend for dinner — another longtime fan eager to check out the restaurant’s new face. The early autumn evening held a nip in the air and walking into the comforting aroma of spices and grilling meat was like a warm embrace.
The dining room has undergone a facelift, doing away with much of the dark Turkish décor in lieu of a lighter, more modern feel. The white walls are lined with bright modern paintings. It’s an open, friendly space allowing you to casually eyeball everyone else’s plates. It takes some willpower not to lean over a stranger’s plate and inhale.
The menu has many familiar favorites, featuring classic Turkish dishes and delicacies, plus a few fun new twists. What’s notable about it is its versatility. If you’re a grazer, you could make a lovely meal with a tasting of assorted meze ($32 for a selection of three) and a glass of wine, or two, alongside a cheese plate with crusty sourdough, assorted olives, nuts, dried fruit, and rosehip marmalade ($28).
Of course, if you’re more of a steak-and-potatoes kind of diner and think grazing is for sheep, there’s plenty of lamb, chicken, beef and shrimp on offer. Ground and grilled, skewered and stewed, there is plenty here for the avid carnivore.
In fact, there is something for everyone including vegans, vegetarians and the gluten-averse. Zeynep, a food studies professor at UAA, takes special care to explain each dish’s ingredients and suggest ways they can be customized to comport to the needs of individual diners.
We started with the meze platter opting for hummus, sigora borek, dolma, ezme and patlican salata. No shade on those cold cups of grocery store hummus, handy for dipping our baby carrots into, but I think we have all collectively forgotten how good hummus can be. Hummus at Turkish Delight is soft, silky, and garlicky, with a fragrant slick of olive oil floating on top and the nutty undercurrent of tahini shining subtly through. Similarly, the dolmas shamed some of the slightly stolid versions of stuffed grape leaves that you’ll find in a salad bar or in tins. These have a lighter texture, a little bit of fluffiness to the rice, and the lemony tang of the dressing makes for a perfect bite.
Sigora borek is … well, it’s fried cheese. Do I really need to say more? Personally, I’ve never met a fried cheese that I didn’t like. These crisp little cigars of salty, savory cheese, jacketed in yufka, similar to phyllo, and fried to a golden brown are delightful. Crispy outside, gooey inside, this is an appetizer that requires discipline to keep room for your entrée. One day, I might have the Herculean strength to keep from eating them all. This was not that day.
The patlican salata is similar to baba ghanouj — a mild, creamy dip of roasted eggplants that is, if I’m honest, the only way I enjoy eggplant. And the esme, a mildly spicy tomato stew, is so versatile it almost serves as a condiment. Eat it alone with a spoon or pile it on top of any of the other dishes you order that night.
For our entrée, we hedged our bets and decided to share the mixed grill, which features tavuk sis, adana skewers, doner and kofte ($49). The tavuk sis, grilled chicken thighs served on a skewer, are tender and flavorful. The adana are spiced ground beef and lamb skewers — you can ask for added Turkish red pepper flakes and the restaurant’s special hot sauce if you want to add spice to this dish. This dish is so savory and well-seasoned, especially dunked in the accompanying cacik. The doner, a lamb and beef rotisserie dish, is a robust dish, full of flavor and smoke. And finally, the kofte, a dish of grilled meatballs which are aromatic, well-seasoned, and comforting.
The platter comes with a variety of sides including esme, piyaz, a white bean salad in tahini sauce, served with hard boiled eggs, and ample amounts of cacik, pronounced ja-jik, which is extremely similar to tzatziki but a bit thinner and saucier. It’s tangy, yogurty, garlicky and just plain addictive. It’s also the perfect companion to the spicy, smoky, fragrant proteins on the plate.
Service is warm and friendly, attentive but leisurely. And while the dining room bustles, the meal doesn’t feel rushed. Which is good because you definitely shouldn’t snooze on a cup of Turkish coffee at the end of your meal — served, of course, with a piece of Turkish Delight.
At the end of the meal, I felt, as I did many years ago, both joyful and satiated. At the bottom of the menu is the following: “Our spices, pomegranate molasses, lokum (Turkish Delight), coffee, special cheeses, yufka (sigara borek dough), pistachios, hazelnuts, dried fruit salep, olives, red pepper paste, tahini come directly from regional producers in Turkey. They make a world of difference in our opinion.” To this, I say, trust the experts. I am now eyeing my Safeway-brand tahini with suspicion.
Turkish Delight boasts another secret ingredient, also imported from Turkey, which is the warm sense of welcome you feel when you dine there. It’s a family-owned restaurant that makes you feel like you’re part of the family.
If you go:
2210 E. Northern Lights Blvd., Suite 110
Tuesday-Saturday: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 4:30-10:30 p.m.