854 Tenth Avenue, New York, NY 10019 (b/n 56th and 57th; map); 212-707-8144
Service: Attentive, but I can't vouch for what it's like when full
Setting: Attractive, simply furnished, comfortable storefront
Compare It To: Akdeniz and Turkuaz
Must-Haves: Mixed appetizers, sigara boregi
Cost: If you get the mixed appetizer plate and split a grilled fish or meat, you should be able to get out for $25 a head including tax and tip.
Here's a pop quiz for you, Serious Eaters. When's the last time you said to your friends, "Hey, let's go to a Turkish restaurant"? The fact of the matter is that there are very few Turkish restaurants in New York. My favorite is probably Akdeniz in Midtown, and there's Turkuaz on the Upper West Side, but after that I'm stumped. I don't understand why. The Turkish food I've had has always been simple and profoundly enjoyable. Mezze, spreads, grilled meats, and some fried things thrown in for good measure. What's not to like?
So when an old friend recently told me about Hanci, a Turkish restaurant that had just opened in her neighborhood, the Serious Eaters had to check it out.
Hanci is an attractive, inviting, and simply decorated storefront that has been eerily empty every time I've been there. It is owned and operated by a gracious Turkish husband-and-wife team.
I would happily make a meal out of the large mixed appetizer plate ($18). What's on it? Tender house-made grape leaves stuffed with rice, parsley, pine nuts, and onions; creamy, garlicky humus; tarama, an intense red caviar spread blended with olive oil and lemon juice; cacik, thick house-made yogurt with finely chopped baby cucumbers, seasoned with garlic and dill; and my favorite; Patlican salad, char-grilled eggplant with peppers, parsley, fresh dill, and just enough lemon juice.
The spreads are made to order for the basket of puffy rectangles of Turkish bread that arrive at your table almost on cue.
Augment these spreads with an order or two of sigara boregi (phyllo scrolls stuffed with feta cheese; $5). They are greaseless, light, crispy fried cigars, and just tangy enough from the feta.
Grilled meats were a mixed bag (or should I say a mixed grill). Sis kebab (lamb skewers; $15) were perfectly cooked medium rare cubes of mild lamb the first time I ordered them, and hopelessly overcooked the next. Tavuk sis (marinated char-grilled chicken; $14), was pretty dry, too.
Pirzola (four succulent baby lamb chops; $20), had a nice charred crust and a lovely rim of fat, but they too were overcooked.
Levrek (whole grilled sea bass; $17) had moist flesh enlivened by a squeeze of lemon.
The best dessert we sampled was the kazandibi (baked and caramelized milk pudding with cinnamon and ice cream; $5).
As far as I'm concerned, the more Turkish restaurants that open in New York the happier I'll be. Go to Hanci, order the mixed appetizer plate, make sure they keep the warm, fresh Turkish bread coming, and request your sis kebab rare (to give the grill man more margin for error). When you're done you'll be asking yourself why you don't eat Turkish food more often.