“Do you know anything about Turkish cuisine?” I asked lunch pal Bruce Parks as we stood in front of Anatolian Table Turkish Bistro on K Street.
“Not really,” he said. “Is it Mediterranean?”
“That’s my guess, too, but let’s find out,” I said.
Parks and his wife, Judy, once ran Tarts & Truffles cafe-bakery, and he knows a bit about food and cooking. Yet we weren’t quite sure what a Turkish menu would offer and guessed that most other diners are uncertain, too. Could that be a reason why the restaurant held only a half-dozen customers at lunchtime along bustling K Street one day last week? Perhaps unfamiliarity leads to timidity.
For enlightenment, we consulted the bistro’s website, www.anatoliantable.com: “Turkish cuisine is largely the heritage of Ottoman cuisine ... a fusion and refinement of Central Asian, Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Balkan cuisines.”
Geographically speaking, Anatolia (a.k.a. Asia Minor or Asian Turkey) is the peninsula-shaped Asian section of the Republic of Turkey, and is splashed by the Aegean, Black and Mediterranean seas, and the Sea of Marmara.
We walked inside and were immediately impressed by the immaculate, well-decorated dining room and open kitchen, gleaming with stainless steel. The menu showed mostly familiar ingredients and dishes listed under unfamiliar names, involving phyllo dough, pistachio nuts, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, garlic, olive oil, yogurt, eggplant, hummus, fresh vegetables, meat and chicken kebabs, and well-dressed salads chunky with vibrant produce ($6 to $20).
We were joined by two other diners, and sampled widely from the 60-some-item menu. Fresh squid was cut into rings and fried in a light, crispy batter with a side of yogurt-garlic sauce for dipping. “Coban salataasi” (shepherd salad) is a dice of tomato, cucumber, red onion, and green and red bell peppers in a wonderful olive oil-based dressing, topped with whole Kalamata olives and a blizzard of feta cheese. Silken hummus was rich with extra-virgin olive oil and dusted with paprika; we scooped it up with chewy triangles of warm bread.
“So far, so great,” said Bruce. “Every dish is right at the top.”
Lunch got even better with the arrival of “sebze hunkar” (sultan’s delight), a medley of cooked-to-tender carrots, zucchini, onions and mushrooms in succulent smoked-eggplant sauce seasoned with Turkish spices.
Tender lamb chunks “hunkar” seemed to melt into that same delicious sauce, and was voted the best dish on the table.
Our platter of “ozel,” a mixed grill of “kebaps” (kebabs), was heaped with flavor-filled white rice flecked with green peas and corn kernals, and crowded with chunks of chicken and lamb, well-spiced and char-grilled ground lamb, and slices of rather dry gyro-style beef-lamb.
“This all looks so good I don’t know where to begin,” said one lunch pal, not hesitating to heap her plate.
On the phone later, Ertugrul Hazar, co-owner with his wife, Tugce Hazar, wanted to make a point: “We do not change our authentic recipes in order to Americanize the food.” The Hazars are such purists that they source their spices from a market in Istanbul. The dishes are from family recipes, he said, and from recipes Tugce Hazar learned during her four years in a Turkish culinary school.
Before coming to California, the couple ran restaurants in London for 11 years. They opened Anatolian Table in Rocklin in 2007 and the Sacramento bistro in 2013.
We finished the meal with cups of strong Turkish coffee. If there’s a criticism, it’s that some of the dishes arrived lukewarm.
As we left, the helpful server said, “Please come back again.”
“Oh, you can count on that,” Bruce said.
Not everyone appreciates sushi, but as a reminder let’s say that most sushi restaurants offer many dishes that aren’t not dependent on raw fish.
With that in mind, we stopped by the modernistic, custom-designed Mizuki Sushi the other day. The family-owned restaurant opened in January and is run by Ella Ly and her brother, head sushi chef Gan Sanbuudorj.
We targeted spicy edamame (green soybeans in pods), which are first boiled and then stir-fried in chili oil, fresh garlic and assorted peppers (addictive; $4.50); delectable pan-fried pork-vegetable gyoza ($5.50); light and crispy shrimp tempura (one of these days we’ll order three dozen of ’em; $7); and slices of grilled chicken served with marvelous house-made teriyaki sauce based on a time-consuming vegetable reduction ($11).
“The sauce isn’t intense in sweetness, but it is intense in flavor,” said a lunch pal.
May we have more, please?
Mizuki Sushi, 5500 Sunrise Blvd., Citrus Heights; (916) 536-9411; 11:30 a.m. to midnight daily.
Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.