The spectacle begins at the entrance. Come in off Broadway, through a small vestibule and into a bar with a few tables, some large enough for groups. Carpets with elaborate geometric patterns cover the floor. Kick the slush off your shoes and pretend it's sand. Several paces in, a host emerges from the shadows to hold back heavy drapes the color of camels and texture of brushed suede. At first you won't see much, because, as one of us noted, "it's dark as hell in here." But soon you'll realize that Morningside Heights, with its long avenues of apartment buildings, has been utterly replaced by a pleasure dome fit for a pasha. Welcome to Turkuaz.
Once your eyes adjust, you'll see tables draped with white clothes and adorned with a single candle. Multicolored lanterns made with stained glass hang from the ceiling. Attentive servers mill about in black vests flourished with gold brocade, good-naturedly ignoring diners' attempts to order in Turkish (that "ğ" is silent) and entertaining kids while they pick at tavuk sis (chicken kebabs, $14.25). At around 9.30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, the atmosphere changes: the kids go home, the servers make a semicircle in back, and the belly dancer comes out, flexing and gyrating to an electric lute. Make sure to reserve a table with a view.
Too cold for the yogurt mixed with garlic, walnut, and dill known as haydari ($6.95), we started with the mücver ($5.25), surprisingly delicate zucchini pancakes fried and served with a dollop of yogurt. Though they resembled latkes in shape and color, these pancakes had very little batter, so they tasted of veggies, rather than grease.
The balik kebabi ($16.95) arrived looking like four plump packages. Char lines marred the vine leaves, which nevertheless yielded easily to a fork, revealing moist salmon that had been gently steamed with fresh herbs. We ignored the sad side salad. According to TurkuazBlog.com, the restaurant serves lahmacun, thin dough topped with ground meat, parsley, onions, tomatoes, and lemon juice, then baked until crispy. Although we didn't see it on the menu, we definitely would have ordered it had we known to ask for it. Turkish pizza!
The Turkuaz begendi ($16.95)—döner kebab served on creamy eggplant puree—stood up well next to what we had on a recent visit to Istanbul, despite the puree's lack of seasoning. This isn't the kind of restaurant to feature lamb turning on a spit, yet we could taste the effect of such a contraption, hidden in the kitchen: alternating layers of congealing fat and meat, rotating around the heat, each bite full of vim and tenderness.
Say "yes," initially, to dessert, if only for the pleasure of seeing an actual dessert cart wheeled over. (When was the last time that happened?) We tried the baklava ($5.75). Any of the three types of pudding, including the pistachio-based antep fistikli ($5.25), would certainly have been moister, if not more satisfying.
A nearby table couldn't get over the amount of Turkish wine available. You might also try the Turkish national drink: raki. To the unfamiliar, this milky white liquor tastes like cough syrup mixed with an Altoid. Sip slowly.
Eating inside what amounts to a big tent on chairs covered in red corduroy could feel gimmicky. Perhaps, in daylight, during lunch or brunch, it is. In the evening, however, seated at a two-top in a tiny pool of candlelight, the effect is wonderfully isolating. Turkuaz is best for: a date you'd like to get away with.
2637 Broadway, New York NY 10025 (map)
About the authors:Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler have been eating out together since 2002 and writing We Heart New York since 2006.
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