When I received my September issue of Westways magazine (from AAA), I did my usual by flipping straight to the food section. This month’s feature was Istanbul Grill, a place I had not heard of. Very soon after reading this piece, I started seeing friends of mine post photos and praises on Facebook, which piqued my interest even more. So when it came time to lunch with a friend recently, I suggested we hit it up and see what the buzz was all about.
If you’re coming off the 405 you won’t be able to see it clearly. It is right across the street from the Costco plaza, right where Flamebroiler and Cancun Fresh are. We arrived early, in fact, a few minutes before they opened, but there were already others waiting to be seated.
I wasn’t sure what we were in for when we saw the Lunch Specials ($8.95) but once the items started arriving, we were amazed at what a bargain it was! You start with some pita along with a lovely dip. An appetizer of your choice and an entree before you end with a Turkish dessert.
A dish of sun-dried tomato in olive oil is perfect to dip pita bread in. But don’t fill up because there is a lot more to come.
My friend and I both order the lunch special — with different selections — along with the Appetizer Sampler ($12.95) to start. We didn’t realize how big this would be and gasped at the platter of hummus, babaganoush, stuff grape leaves, spicy chopped salad and labne, enough for four to six people. I was especially impressed with the stuffed grape leaves because it’s usually not a favorite of mine.
The appetizer portion of the lunch specials began with Ezogelin Corba, a lentil soup consisting of red lentils, potatoes, celery, carrots and onions. I enjoyed its consistency, however, it was served almost at room temperature — a major turn-off for me unless it is chilled soup. I mentioned it to the server and he told me some customers complained it burned their lips so they are now serving it lukewarm. It mind-boggles me that adults don’t have the common sense to blow on their soup before eating. The soup was lovely, but next time, I am going to tell them I want mine piping hot.
Ezme was the other appetizer we selected — although if you’re going to order the sampler, choose something else. Finely chopped tomatoes, onions and hot peppers are mixed with olive oil and herbs. Flavors are intricately layered with a hint of heat which hits you towards the end. I loved it.
I believe one of the most recognizable dishes in Mediterranean cuisine is Doner Kebab. Marinated lamb and beef are placed on to a vertical rotisserie and grilled slowly while it rotates. Slices of the meat are hand carved right before serving leaving it tender and very moist. The accompanying yogurt dip pairs well with the meat.
We also selected Okra Stew with Lamb as our second entree. I was surprised by the miniature okra in the stew, each the size of half a pinkie and very tender. I inquired about these delightful morsels and found out they are imported brined okra from Turkey. The dish possessed a little too much red pepper for my taste, but it did not overpower the overall composition of the dish. You can opt for the vegetarian version of this sans lamb.
What stood out most about the food here is how light it was. There isn’t an abundance of oil and the stew wasn’t heavy. It reminded me of very good home-made cuisine, which I’m guessing is the attraction of the restaurant.
Istanbul Grill is definitely worth the hype it has been receiving. Food is good, really good, plus service is so warm and friendly. If you go for lunch during the weekday, I suggest going early or later, as it does tend to packed. I’ll definitely be back to try some new things in a few weeks.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708