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Food & Drink

Authentic, and succulent, offerings abound at Chef Guner's Turkish Grill

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

The fresh smells of wet leaves and the sound of March winds rustling through the trees lead some to search out a plate of savory lamb and a spot of proper coffee this time of year. If you are such a sort, a trip to Chef Kadir Guner's Mediterranean Turkish Grill is definitely called for. Lamb shanks and chops, minced and sliced, served baked or grilled on the roti, fills the menu. Opened 14 months ago near the looming parking structure of North Star Mall, the small chef-owned restaurant has built up a devoted clientele, and no wonder. Guner left Houston's famed Pasha to helm SA's Turquoise Grill six years ago, extending a reputation for Turkish cuisine that first gained mention in Texas at Dallas' Cafe Istanbul. Now running his own place, Guner has kept his hand in the kitchen, still honing a practice that he began 30 years ago between the Black and Aegean seas.

In addition to a copious variety of lamb dishes, the Grill offers chicken, beef, fish, and vegetarian dishes. I passed up the mixed grill ($13.95; $19.95 for two) with lamb, beef, and chicken, to try the lamb shank ($12.95).

Turkish cuisine is built on the myriad of culinary styles that belonged to the many lands of the former Ottoman Empire, and the emphasis is on home cooking, with a profusion of vegetables, lemon, parsley, and olive oil. In eastern Turkey bulgur often accompanies the main dish, which may be spicy, but the delicately urbane stylings of Istanbul, preferring fewer spices and side dishes of rice (served in great mounds), are favored here. Cut loaves of fluffy, round Turkish bread and a dish of olive oil are whisked to the table when you arrive, and add nicely to the apps, which are presented in a daunting list.

Choosing the meze (literally, table) platter helps solve the matter, offering eight tastes of popular palate-openers. The small portion, $8.50, is good for two people, while the large, $12.50, doubles the portion sizes. The hummus was creamy, not burdened by garlic, and as befits a cuisine that delights in aubergines, eggplant appears three times among the selections: grilled with green peppers, sauteed with tomatoes, and pureed into baba ganoush. The tabouli avoided dryness by indulging in tomatoes. Fragrant olive oil abounded.

The lamb shank arrived wrapped in sliced eggplant, and covered with a tomato-based sauce. The meat was tender and moist, falling off the bone with the slightest touch of the fork — succulent, just right. To end the meal, the chef (who had been visiting the tables, asking with more than polite concern whether everything was to measure), insisted that kazandibi, Turkish flan, would not be too filling. The baked custard was indeed light, though quite sugary. A demitasse of stringent Turkish coffee punctuated my first visit.

Intrigued by seeing pideler on the menu, I returned the next day. Translated as "Turkish pizza," it is rather a soft flatbread covered with a variety of toppings that may include meat or cheese. I ordered lahmacun, the typical variety, covered with minced lamb, beef, and vegetables. Folding it like a New York pizza slice, I remembered the last time I had tried this spicy treat, and dodged the squirt of oil that predictably shot out the end.

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