Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Turkish Delightful

Unbelievable to find a quiet restaurant in Houston on a Friday night. Yet here we are at Turquoise Grill with Mary Jo and David Martin; owner/chef/host Yilmaz “Jim” Dokoyucu (left) and his father; Barbara and I. Nobody else. It isn't instantaneously noticeable. Although the address is 3701 Kirby, Turquoise is actually just around the corner on Norfolk, east of Kirby – the site’s map is more reliable than Mapquest’s. The simple, attractive place is dominated by Jim’s brick oven – and his gregarious nature.

Houston is filled with Middle Eastern restaurants, many of them very good. This is Turkish, similar in some ways (e.g., hummus), slightly different in others, with some touch-ups added by Jim. The dishes are rich and savory, not especially spicy-hot, with an abundant use of vegetables and everything FRESH.

The bread is fresh-baked. The stuffed grape leaves we had as an appetizer are a familiar menu item, but Jim’s combination of rice, pine nuts, olive oil, and herbs was wrapped in tart, vinegary leaves that were palate-teasing. The fried filo pastry rolls called Sultan’s Cigars, Sigara Böreği, are a specialty of Antalya – Anatolia – on Turkey’s “Turquoise Coast.” They are stuffed with feta cheese and parsley…and melted in the mouth.

It’s true, several of us had shish kabobs. They were nice. But two of us opted for the manly, rugged, lamb version of Jim’s Taurus Mountain Stew, Toros Güveç: fresh tomatoes, chunks of garlic, strips of red and yellow peppers and a homemade sauce baked in small clay pots in that clay oven of his. Made fresh as well (about 20 minutes), they came out temperature-hot but not overtly spicy, and rich-tasting. Minor complaint: the mouths of the pots are a bit too small to dip the fresh bread in the sauce…a minor matter for someone who’s not afraid to look clumsy. And after all, who was there to see me?

Unlike most (but not all) Middle Eastern restaurants here, Turquoise Grill has a modest selection of wines. Many of these are from Turkey's Kavaklidere Winery originally established in 1929 near Ankara, but under “new” management since 1989 and the country's largest winery.

The three we sampled and drank (one white, two reds) are modestly good. But I recommend the Öküzgözü varietal – somewhat similar to a Shiraz – for the heartier stews.

You won’t see many restaurant reviews on Signalwriter, Turquoise Grill is worth a visit before it finds its audience and gets too busy for Jim to explain everything. So? Go.

Thanks to the Atami Hotel for additional grape information.


Mary Jo Martin said...

Good review - are you consideting another career? Professional eater?

Perry Dorrell, aka PDiddie said...

I stopped in to Turquoise Grill several months ago when I went to the Baylor Clinic for my yearly checkup, and now I go by frequently. Jim bakes a mean kolache in that brick oven in the mornings.

I just had to Google the restaurant's phone number up because I left something there, and found this post.