Full disclosure: we've been big fans of Beyoglu, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, for some time. Need a quick bite before a talk at the 92nd St Y? Let's go to Beyoglu! Got to fuel up after a walk around the Met? Ditto! Quick: we have to balance our blood sugar after visiting our favorite Sweets from Heaven down the street. And on and on... When so many restaurants on the Upper East Side seem either too classy or too déclassé, Beyoglu offers a pleasant alternative.
And yet sometimes we make mistakes. Ordering the mix grill ($19), for example. The chicken breast was OK, but only just. While not inedible, the baby lamb chops were too tough to enjoy, the rice pilaf lacked seasoning, and the Mediterranean meatballs were all chew. They just took and took, without giving anything back.
The menu emphasizes mezes, and here's where Beyoglu shines. If a menu skews heavily toward one type of food, that's the type you should order. An obvious rule. A handful of mains versus many, many mezes? We should have known better.
Upon arrival, the ahtapot salatasi ($7.50) was a study in reds: the octopus tentacles a bright pink, the chopped tomatoes like a cheek that's been too long in the cold, the onions purplish moons. Upon trying, the dish turned out to be a study in textures, with the different types of firmness complimenting one another, all benefiting from the dressing, made of olive oil, vinegar, and lemon.
Simplicity also reigned in the sucuk izgara ($6.50), a hunk of beef dotted with cumin and garlic, then char-grilled and served on chips. If Turkey had tailgating, this baby would feature prominently on those pregame afternoons. Why was this meat good and the mix grill meat not? We don't know.
The large meze plate ($14.50) featured a tasty cabal: earthy babaghanoush, tangy hummus, yogurt as luscious as an UES matron's cold cream, as sour as the face you'd make if you caught said cream's price. The oily kisir oozed mildness, rather than the sharpness that sometimes comes from too much mint or vinegar in a typical taboule salad. All uncomplicated, all good.
Particularly excellent was the ezme, almost relish-like in prickly intensity, comprised of tomatoes and onions, among other vegetables. But the best part of this plate was the zeytinyagli ispanak, chopped spinach rubbed with dill and shallots, which tasted nothing like a weed but instead like idyllic fields where nymphs roam and lyres play.
"Does your coffee have good crunch?" That's a not-inappropriate question when it comes to Turkish coffee ($2.75). You can get it sweetened or not, but either way the dregs will remain on the bottom, gritty and bitter. So the finish can be somewhat chewy. Stickier still was the baklava ($6). The syrup spread over the pistachios, through the multitudinous layers of dough, and pooled onto the plate, trailing a line as fine as a spider web when we brought a bite to our mouth.
As we forgive our friends the occasional indiscretion, so too we forgive Beyoglu for the mix meat mess. We'll continue to visit, and we'll stick with the mezes. With its gently priced and well executed menu of small plates, Beyoglu is best for: a choosy date.
1431 Third Avenue, New York NY 10028 (map)
About the authors: Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.