I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered Turquoise (628 Vine St., Downtown). This Turkish/Mediterranean restaurant, which opened in October, is owned by Levant Kurucay, who previously owned Cafe Istanbul at Newport on the Levee. Cafe Istanbul started out great, but the menu eventually became way too Americanized, and I wasn’t sad when it finally closed. However, I was more than willing to give his new place a chance.
First of all, and important to note, the prices are definitely on the high side for lunch. The two-course Lunch Special is $11, which is more than I care to spend for lunch, but don’t let this deter you, as the food is definitely worth the price.
The lunch special consists of soup, salad or hummus and your choice of a lunch-sized portion of various entrees. I selected the Red Lentil Soup and was blown away by the flavor. This hearty, creamy soup was reminiscent of bisque and perfect for a blustery winter day. Also, the portion was larger than your typical “cup of soup.”
I followed the soup with Chicken Adana Kebob, which was a strip of minced, well-seasoned chicken served with fragrant basmati rice and a nice mixture of zucchini, carrots and green beans. The minced chicken, although slightly oily, was pretty spectacular, with truly authentic Mediterranean spices adding zest and a back-end heat to the palate.
The other choices for the second course of this lunch special are Adana Kebob with ground beef and lamb, and Döner Kebob, which is a Turkish gyro, or a Stuffed Cabbage Roll.
My vegan friend Jon joined me for lunch at Turquoise.
There are several vegetarian/vegan options on the menu, including a Shepherd’s Salad ($8), an Olive Salad (also $8) or a Veggie Wrap ($7.95), which is hummus, tabouli and fried eggplant with tomato wrapped in a tortilla.
The latter sounded delicious to me, but Jon rightfully chose the Appetizer Sampler Plate ($12) for his meal. The dish included silky homemade hummus, a smoky dill eggplant puree, tabouli, eggplant with tomato sauce and ezme. I wasn’t familiar with ezme, but I quickly became a huge fan. Ezme is diced tomatoes with walnuts, parsley and hot red peppers seasoned with lemon juice and sour pomegranate extract. I could eat a whole bowl of this deliciousness. Homemade warm pita bread accompanied the dish. All of the components of the sampler were exemplary, fresh tasting, packed with flavor and without a doubt among the best Turkish cuisine I have ever experienced.
The entire menu is available at lunch as well. It includes the numerous kebabs ($13-$17) as well as several seafood dishes such as Mediterranea style Tilapia ($13) or Salmon ($15) and a tantalizing Seafood Casserole ($17), which has slow-cooked calamari, shrimp, scallops, tilapia and salmon with tomato, mushrooms, green pepper and onion topped with mozzarella cheese. There is no doubt that I am trying this dish on my next visit.
As to the atmosphere, the restaurant is more formal than I expected. The turquoise walls highlight a bright, stylish dining room with white tablecloths, cloth napkins and very comfortable chairs. However, it does not “feel” like a typical Mediterranean restaurant. It is more elegant and refined, like its cuisine.
The only downside was service. If I was Southern I would have to say, “Bless her heart.” Our server was friendly, but if you can’t pronounce falafel, can’t identify the components of the sampler plate and don’t know what you have to offer for dessert, it’s time to move on.
Nonetheless, if you are looking for a great upscale lunch, get to Turquoise today.
CONTACT BILL HATFIELD: firstname.lastname@example.org