A taste of the Mediterranean
For several years, the highest price for a Cheap menu item has been $18 (a menu may have more expensive items, but we don’t review them). Beginning this week, we are including $20 items, but the focus of these reviews will stay on less expensive entrees.
Bosphorus, the new Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant in Cambridge, is stunning. A clever designer, enterprising carpenter, and someone with an eye for color took stacks of birch and turned one wall of the long room into roomy banquettes one step up, with cushioned backrests in red, tan, and brown harlequin fabric. Giant oval orange shades hang from the ceiling. Walls are an intense brick-red color. Over the bar opposite, tall arches, lighted from behind, evoke Ottoman architecture.
Outside the restrooms is the most remarkable sink, fashioned from a glass shelf, tipped back slightly, so when you turn on one of the three faucets, the water disappears. “We wanted to have something different,’’ says Hakan Yucesoy, general manager and boyhood friend of owner Ramazan Gabree. The two grew up in Ankara, Turkey. The architect is Bhupesh Patel of Design Tank in Cambridge.
The 100-seat restaurant opened in January in a storefront that once housed a Portuguese social club. Gabree comes from a restaurant family. Both he and Yucesoy have worked in many establishments. Chef Yahya Erdogan is the seventh generation in his family to cook professionally.
A pepper and tomato paste called ezme, intense in color but mild to taste, comes to the table with very thin, fresh but undistinguished pita. It’s absolutely nothing like the wonderful homemade bread in Turkey. Yucesoy tells me later that they’re working on making their own bread.
Patlican ciftlik, pureed eggplant ($8), is a much lighter color than usual because of roasted red and yellow peppers. Shish kebab ($19-$20) sits on a large rectangular plate with rice on one end, vegetables on the other, skewer in the middle, very grand, very nouvelle. One night the lamb isn’t particularly flavorful and the vegetables raw-crisp. Another, the chicken should have been pulled off the fire a few minutes earlier. In Turkey, says Yucesoy, the skewer would be set on the rice, but all the juices fall into the grains. Yes! Isn’t that the point?
Bosphorus, named for the strait that separates the Europe and Asia sides of Istanbul, shines when it sticks to tradition. Real skill shows in fasulye pilaki, large white beans ($6) with carrots, tomatoes, olive oil, and lemon; in spinach-filled borek ($8) with golden phyllo wrappers; in icli kofte, small fried footballs of bulgur stuffed with ground beef, nuts, and currants, a celebration of textures; in exceptional manti, tiny ravioli filled with beef ($12) and bathed in a tomato sauce striped with yogurt.
A dish of cut-up beef tenderloin in the center of a ring of fluffy potato puree, called pureli tas kebab ($19), is interesting, with uncooked tomato wedges as garnish, which is odd. Karniyarik, eggplant stuffed with beef and tomatoes ($19), in a lively tomato sauce, is perfect. Not a beauty, but exceptional.
As are desserts. Asure, known as Noah’s dessert ($7), consists of beans, chick peas, apricots, raisins, orange, and walnuts simmered for several hours. When the Ottomans arrived in Turkey, they probably found this dish. Pistachio baklava ($7) are crisp, lightly sweetened phyllo packages. Delicious sutlac ($7) is a very milky, stark-white rice pudding with cinnamon topping, every bite lovely.
One night we sit at the bar and sip divine, minty yellow lentil soup ($6), order skewers of chicken and lamb ($5 and $6) for our Mediterranean salads ($8 each), and dine well and cheaply. The food and the patrons both glow in the warmth of the room.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at email@example.com.