THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Healthful Dishes in the Ottoman Tradition”
BOSPHORUS brings new flavors to the county with a compendium of dishes reflecting cooking traditions from far-ranging regions that were once part of the vast Ottoman Empire.
Today, this wonderfully diverse cuisine is the product of Turkey’s proximity to numerous bodies of water and its gentle climate, which accounts for several growing seasons a year. A Turkish friend once remarked that in terms of agriculture, Turkey is completely self-sufficient; it produces everything except pineapples.
Dishes at BosphoRus echo that abundance and live up to the restaurant’s claim that it prepares healthful food. Olive oil is the cooking medium of choice, and beans, yogurt and a huge variety of vegetables — eggplant, sweet peppers, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes, onions — are employed liberally. Seafood rounds out a menu that also includes lamb and beef favorites, like grilled kebabs.
A scant block up from Hartsdale’s railway station, BosphoRus makes a convenient stop for an after-work snack or drink or for whiling away an evening with friends. Most selections lend themselves to sharing, a plus for patrons who enjoy a variety of tastes.
While scanning the menu, my guests and I nibbled on tender pita slices spread with a terrific olive tapenade. That pita bread also functioned admirably as a scoop for cold starters like wonderfully mild herring with waxy yellow potatoes; spinach tarator, a combination of ultra-thick yogurt with spinach and walnut bits; and dips like cacik, similar to tzatziki. The salads are Turkish classics: Jerusalem salad with tahini, white kidney bean salad with egg, and basic shepherd’s salad.
Favorites among the hot appetizers included three savory zucchini pancakes with yogurt; shelled mussels that were skewered, crisped on a grill and served with something similar to Russian dressing (listed as garlic sauce on the menu); and little beef dumplings called pelmeni — scrumptious under a spoonful of sour cream.
In my book, sour cream can do no wrong and can often restore some tired-looking food, but it couldn’t save a bowl of borscht that lacked texture and flavor: the beets were flaccid and thin as tissue and the broth weak and watery. And there were better appetizer choices than pastrami borek — four tough, tight phyllo cylinders rolled with pastrami and cheese.
Although some diners will want to try more of the many starters, lamb lovers will find much to choose from among the entrees. Our request for lamb shish kebab cooked medium rare brought the tender cubes, skewers removed, surrounding a mound of white rice, green peppers and grilled tomato. But a vegetable stole the show in hunkar begendi, in which the bed of irresistibly creamy puréed eggplant supported several large chunks of stewed lamb.
A more familiar dish was iskender (shwarma), with its shavings of vertically grilled lamb and beef piled on yogurt and pita. But chicken adana, a mixture of chopped chicken and vegetables, formed around skewers into two long loaves, was surprisingly bland and dry. Musakka, however, was a luscious treat, with its generous helping of delicious vegetables heaped on a bed of sliced potatoes and baked with a dusting of pecorino Romano.
While inventive, salmon kebabs were not quite ready for public appearance. Four blocks of seasoned fresh salmon, snug within wrappings of leathery vine leaves, received unequal time on the grill. Two were dry and two were succulent. But simply prepared filets of branzino were superb and more dependable.
No printed dessert menu was offered. The waiter recited a few items but not those we wanted to sample, like kadayif (nuts and shredded dough), revani (a syrup-soaked cake) and kazandibi (a milk pudding similar to crème caramel) — all of which we’d noticed on the takeout menu. Either our request for kazandibi was misunderstood or the kitchen was out of it, but after much fruitless discussion, we settled for nicely prepared crème caramel and a square of baklava, which, like most Turkish pastries, is achingly sweet, but can be cut nicely by sips from a dainty demitasse of thick, fragrant Turkish coffee.
THE SPACE Multicolored ceiling tiles and a few bright pictures relieve the spareness of the tall, spacious dining room. Wheelchair accessible.
THE CROWD Casually attired, multigenerational. Groups can raise a din in so much open space. Charming servers work with passionate speed but are not always knowledgeable. Occasional entertainment like a belly dancer, violinist or gypsy group (see the Web site’s handy “Promotions and Events” calendar).
THE BAR Long, full-service, along one wall of the dining area. Wine by the glass, $8 and $9; raki (an anise-flavored liquor), $8. Bottles range from $34 to $85 and include a few Turkish wines.
THE BILL Appetizers and sandwiches, $7 to $12; assortment platters, $24 and $25; entrees, $19 to $28; grill assortment, $33. Prices are a few dollars less at lunch and for takeout. Prix fixe dinner (including a glass of wine), Monday to Thursday, $30. All-you-can-eat brunch, Saturday and Sunday, $20.
WHAT WE LIKED Herring with potatoes, cacik, spinach tarator, pelmeni, mussels, zucchini pancakes, lamb shish kebab, musakka, hunkar begendi (lamb and eggplant puree), branzino.
IF YOU GO Lunch: Monday to Friday, noon to 3 p.m. Dinner: every day, 5 to 11 p.m. Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations a good idea for large groups and on weekends. Valet parking on weekends; a large parking lot is nearby.
RATINGS Don’t Miss, Worth It, O.K., Don’t Bother
THE NEW YORK TIMES
“Healthful Dishes in the Ottoman Tradition”