Larchmont’s welcoming Turkish restaurant has a great vibe â€“ and, alas, not-so-great food
Food writers are obsessives at heart. When we go to parties, we don’t recall the conversations that we had. What we remember are the hors d’oeuvres. The hunt for great food rules our lives, and we assume that everyone shares our obsession. But here’s a fact that keeps us up at night: some restaurants, like Turquoise, can be raging successes despite serving mediocre food. When it comes to restaurant success, hospitality, dÃ©cor, and location are all powerful factors in return business, and food critics can go suck eggs.
We did not have a delicious meal at any of our three visits to Turquoise. We did, however, have some acceptable dishes and some blatantly bad ones. This was surprising to us, given Turquoise’s popularity. Every time we entered the restaurant, the rooms were bustling with diverse groups, ranging from extended families celebrating birthdays to casually dressed locals avoiding the chore of cooking. Turquoise clearly has found a niche in Larchmont’s restaurant-dense downtown.
With its slate blue- and-lime walls, wine-colored sheer drapes, rich textiles, and jewel-like, Turkish pendant lamps, Turquoise is cozy and lush, evocative of Turkey but with a restrained use of the usual hackneyed props such as hookahs and pointed arches.
The restaurant certainly has mastered the art of the great first impression. After being warmly greeted at the door by Turquoise’s hospitable owner, we sat to a bowl of black olives in oil and a hot stack of grilled pitas. The olives and the oil could have been of better quality, but the dishes arrived so quickly and the pitas were so clearly fresh from the grill that we felt instantly welcome. Rapid drink order-taking is also a must, and at this Turquoise excels. In no time, we were seated and happily drinking our Turkish Efes beer, digging into warm pitas. Little touches like this go a long way toward return business.
Things began to slide downhill with our hot meze platter. Our spinach pies were shatteringly crisp and attractive little triangles, but they arrived tepid and with no feta. This left the stringy, wet, lukewarm spinach to carry the dish, and it wasn’t successful. Our sigara bÃ¶rek, or phyllo-wrapped flutes of feta, were very greasy, as were the mÃ¼cver (zucchini pancakes). In fact, the mÃ¼cver were so full of oil that when I pressed my fork into the admittedly crisp shell, oil welled up and filled the depression. The falafel were hard and dry little patties, but pleasantly nutty. They would have been fine with a good sauce, but the three dipping sauces that accompanied our platter were characterless. These included a tahini-yogurt combination, a bland chili paste, and cacik, an unusually muted version of the Turkish cucumber/dill/mint sauce, similar to Greek tzatziki.
Our cold meze platter was better. We liked the creamy hummus and the flavored leeks in olive oil. Our tabbouleh salad was especially good, crisp and intensely herby—with far more scallion, dill, parsley, and tomato than bulghur. Our baba ghanoush was pleasantly smoky and rich in tahini, but the patlican (which Turquoise calls “eggplant salad”) felt a bit redundant: it’s simply babagannosh with garlic. Another lackluster platter-filler was pilaki, or white beans in olive oil and tomato sauce. The beans were undercooked and bland, and marked the first appearance of an unpleasantly acidic tomato sauce that would haunt many of Turquoise’s dishes.
Two of our main dishes were marred by this sauce’s pervasive flavor, an acrid tang evoking stewed tomatoes at their worst. My iskender kebab (thinly sliced lamb over pita with yogurt) was rendered unpleasant by this sauce, as was my partner’s otherwise inoffensive lamb moussaka. (Either Turquoise’s owners really believe in this tomato sauce, or they don’t read their reviews: other critics have objected to its overpowering flavor.) Likewise, my warm iskender kebab was not the least bit enhanced by a large pool of refrigerator-cold yogurt, and while the meat was tender, it was fairly bland. Turkish cuisine is known for its skillful use of aromatic vegetables and spices, yet blandness was a constant throughout our meals at Turquoise. Even our favorite entree, the mixed grill (baby lamb chop and an assortment of kabobs) was bland—but at least it wasn’t doused with ice-cold yogurt or acidic tomato sauce.The food at Turquoise isn’t great. But the restaurant’s ambience is aesthetically pleasing—evoking the air of authenticity that diners crave, particularly in an ethnic restaurant. The service is quick and friendly (it was, even on a Saturday-night visit), its portions are large, and its owners and servers are genuinely eager to please their customers.
And that’s how you succeed in this business; food writers be damned.
1895 Palmer Ave.
Mon. to Sun.