Thursday, October 18, 2007

Istanbul Grill

I know AE has already reviewed Istanbul Grill, so this will not be a formal review, but I did just want to assure our readers that even while diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Turkey suffer, fabulous, inexpensive Turkish food is readily available in Houston.

Istanbul Grill is assuredly one of my favorite restaurants in Houston, and Ms. Epicurus loves it as well. The food is fresh, well-prepared, and, as one would expect in Turkish cuisine, literally explodes with spices and flavors. I like Turkish food so much I have spent some time trying out different recipes, and though I am not much of a chef, I can report that it is harder to make than one might surmise. It's not that any individual step is necessarily difficult, but rather that many of the recipes involve a number of steps, which multiplies the opportunities to make mistakes, IMO. I can, however, make a mean cup of Turkish coffee.

The most popular Turkish cookbook is the excellent Sultan's Kitchen, which I heartily recommend.

In any case, aside from fresh, well-prepared food, Istanbul Grill's interior is well-lit, exudes warmth from the wood-brick oven in the corner, and is immaculate. The servers are friendly and quite helpful in figuring out the menu if needed, and the restaurant also keeps a nice selection of Turkish wines on hand (which I can report are eminently quaffable). Even better, the restaurant is BYOB, and charges only a modest corkage fee. The portions are well-sized, and the food is extraordinarily cheap for the quality and the portion size. The restaurant is usually nicely crowded, with Med. Ctr. employees and Rice students commonly dining, and it really feels like a neighborhood bistro.

The desserts are also first-rate; I particularly recommend the honeycake or the baked rice pudding, with a cup of Turkish coffee, of course. On weekends, Istanbul Grill serves some specials, and the manti, or Turkish ravioli, must be tasted to be believed. Ground, minced lamb is spiced (common Turkish spices include Turkish red pepper, cumin, dried parsley and dried mint) and used to fill butterfly pasta, which is served with a delicious creamy yogurt sauce. The lamb is incredibly spiced, the pasta is always al dente, and for those of us who tend to dislike the typically overwhelming alfredo and white sauces in American Italian cuisine, the yogurt sauce is a lovely alternative. It manages to impart some creaminess without the viscosity and heaviness of the typical white sauce. The dish is topped with some fresh parsley, some fresh mint, and a little bit of chile oil. It's incredible.

I may be biased, because, to paraphrase Kramer, I would eat Turkish food out of a dumpster, but Istanbul Grill is a local treasure, IMO.


Anonymous said...

I wish I could agree, but I was not so impressed on my last visit. Some of it, I suppose, was disappointment that they would not on request make their Ali Nazik with Adana kebab (which is as proper as chopped lamb), and the ayran was not so flavorful. For American Turk it's not a bad kebapci, bu I'd not go beyond that.

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