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The Gossiping Gourmet: A taste of Turkey in O.C.

October 29, 2013|By Terry Markowitz
  • The appetizer sampler, which includes dolmas (stuffed grape leaves, rice, raisins and herbs), babaganoush, left, (smoked eggplant, tahini, olive oil and garlic), ezma, top, (chopped tomatoes, onions, hot peppers mixed in olive oil and herbs), hummus (chickpeas, tahini, garlic, fresh lemon and olive oil), and haydari (homemade yogurt, fresh dill, mint, garlic and walnut) at the Istanbul Grill.
The appetizer sampler, which includes dolmas (stuffed… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

There are very few authentic Turkish restaurants in South Orange County, so my dining partner and I were delighted to find Istanbul Grill, which has recently opened in a strip mall in Fountain Valley just off the 405 Freeway near Euclid.

This bright, clean little spot has high ceilings and big windows that give it a pleasant feel. Black and white photos of Istanbul adorn the walls, and Turkish TV features a musical background to dining.

It's a casual place, serving halal Turkish food. Halal is similar to kosher in that the dietary guidelines do not allow pork or blood and require special preparation of meat when it's butchered.

The staff is very pleasant and friendly, and the food is very good. As my companion and I perused the menu, we nibbled on some excellent soft pita bread that we dipped in a little bowl of Turkish olive oil with sun-dried tomatoes. Everything we ate tasted so very fresh, beginning with an outstanding cold appetizer sampler.

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The hummus was as good as any I've tasted. The creamy chickpea puree was perfectly seasoned with salt, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and olive oil. The especially good pita was the utensil we used to dip into the puree as well as the baba ghanoush, which was equally good.

The pureed eggplant had a smoky undertaste, enhanced with tahini and garlic. It was beautifully balanced. Grape leaves were stuffed with rice, raisins and herbs. A spicy chopped salad (ezme) was made of sweet tomatoes, onions and hot peppers, mixed with oil and herbs. It was refreshing and flavorful with a nice, spicy bite.

To cool the palate, the final offering was labne — thickened, house-made yogurt redolent of garlic, mint and dill and dotted with little pieces of walnuts. The platter would easily make a meal for two, but we had much more tasting to do.

Istanbul Grill also features hot appetizers, including calamari with walnut and garlic sauce (tarator), falafel with tahini sauce, phyllo wrapped cheese rolls (sigara borek) and sautéed liver cubes (arnavut ciger) with sweet red onions, parsley and sumac.

I ordered a mixed kabob plate, which offered four different skewers. The lamb was a bit tough and the chicken a little rubbery, but the doner kabob was wonderful. This features the thinly sliced meat that comes off the upright rotisserie, full of the flavor of the fire and seasoned with garlic, cumin and coriander.

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