Spicy Eggplant at Black Sea Turkish Restaurant: 100 Favorite Dishes, No. 7

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Lu Lippold
People who worship eggplant can't understand people who despise eggplant, and vice versa. It's like theists and atheists: each side inevitably asks of the other, "Why are you such a moron?" It's probably hopeless to persuade your opponents of their wrongheadedness, but if ever there were a dish to convert an eggplant-hater to the church of St. Purple of Melanzane (as we acolytes call it), it's the Spicy Eggplant at Black Sea Turkish Restaurant.

The main criteria for eggplant-eating perfection are as follows. The skin must be cooked in such a way that it has a crisp, but not tough, firmness. The innards must be smushy with no trace of undercooked sponginess. The oil in which they are cooked must be light and tasty. That's it. The rest is commentary: go and learn it (a phrase borrowed from a sage of another religion).

The commentary in this case is a dousing of house-made yogurt and a house-made spicy sauce. The yogurt, which you might expect to resemble Greek yogurt (not to draw parallels between the historic enemies, but honestly, can you tell the difference between "Greek coffee" and "Turkish coffee"? Gyros and doner? Baklava and baklava? Well, let's not get into the whole Ottoman empire thing right now) is thin and runny. The sauce bears some similarity to ketchup crossed with Siracha, although chef Tolga Ata says it contains neither. It is a secret recipe. Never mind all that. The eggplant slices in this dish are worthy of genuflection (a ritual of worship borrowed from yet another religion), despite the random toppings.

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Gyros, doner, whatever you call it, it's really good here

The temple of the Black Sea Restaurant, however, is not devoted solely to eggplant veneration. The combination plate with doner (gyros) of chicken, lamb, and beef, with "special Black Sea herbs," is very tasty. The falafel (you're right: falafel isn't Turkish) is fat and delicious, although, oddly, it comes in a pita with nothing else whatsoever, not even lettuce. The orange tea is nice; the lemonade is okay; the hummus is excellent. Asked why they serve un-Turkish foods like falafel and hummus, chef Ata shrugs and replies, "You've got to give the people what they want."
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Chef Tolga Ata preaches to the masses

Despite the deviation from Turkish cuisine, the real reason to go to this homespun restaurant (besides the obligatory eggplant pilgrimage) is the overwhelming Turkish-ness of the place. The owners are clearly homesick. Every square inch of the tiny restaurant is devoted to photos, tchotchkes, drawings, artwork, and a constantly-running video of scenic Turkey. There aren't many restaurants in this town where you can feel like you're really somewhere else. Maybe it's not Turkey, either, but it's as close as you're going to get right now. Go, light a candle for whatever saint is the patron of eggplant, and praise all gods of charming little restaurants.
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If you don't know what this is, then you need one
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Many useful pieces of information are posted on the walls

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