The Vegetarian Option: Bi Lokma
Traveling abroad as a vegetarian can sometimes be difficult. When I was in Turkey I ate very well, but I ate almost the same thing every day. With few exceptions every meal was some combination of tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, bread, and cheese. So when I ate at Bi Lokma, a Turkish restaurant in Midtown East, I very deliberately ordered items that didn't contain any of those things. And as I did in Turkey, I ate very well.
What you see at the top of the page is the braised celery root ($7.00), tossed with olive oil and dill and served cold out of the refrigerated case. The celery root was cooked until almost falling apart, and biting into it is at first a strange sensation--it has the very specific flavor of celery but the texture of cooked potato. The more I ate it, the more I liked it, and it paired particularly well with the warm, crisp flatbread that my server brought to my table.
The artichoke is also served cold, is also cooked until soft, and is also coated in olive oil and dill, but tastes completely different. The pleasant acidic tang of the artichoke was offset by the fava beans and peas sprinkled over the artichoke bottoms. I'm a self-proclaimed artichoke junkie, and I almost always order artichokes when I see them on a menu, and I have never tasted anything quite like this.
The only vegetarian entree on the menu is the vegetable casserole, which is listed as $8.50 on the menu but actually costs $12.50. As Bi Lokma caters to the Midtown lunch crowd I assume the difference in price is because I ate there for dinner. Although the dish is overpriced, it tastes fantastic. Not so much a casserole as a vegetable stew, this is made up of a combination of cooked potatoes, carrots, zucchini, and (my favorite) tiny little okra pods. The seasoning is perfect, and mixing it with the buttery yellow rice made it even better. The only problem is that once again the vegetables are cooked until soft; at this point I was craving any kind of textural difference.
After visiting Turkey I had a very specific idea of what Turkish food was, and most of the restaurants here in New York backed up that initial impression. Kudos to Bi Lokma, then, for getting me to realize that Turkish food, even for vegetarians, is more varied than I had given it credit for. On my way out of the restaurant my server called out to me, "I hope we'll see you again!" I certainly hope so too.
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.