On a trip to Turkey, my friend Sarah and
I ate meals that were pure, simple, often transcendent, and quite
repetitive. We never tired of breakfasting on bread, mild cheese,
honey and olives. But we had our fill of lentil soup and cheese-filled
pastries, and didn’t care to revisit the cuisine for a while
after our return to Brooklyn.
Then Kapadokya opened.
This second-floor restaurant on the Montague Street strip in Brooklyn Heights has taken on the mission of transporting diners to Turkey. On a recent Friday night, Sarah and I were not the only people eager to travel up the rose petal-strewn staircase to Kapadokya. Both the dining room and narghile (hookah) patio were packed. (Thursday through Saturday there is a popular belly dancing performance in the evening.)
Large parties were feasting on platters of hummus, stuffed grape leaves and other appetizers, or meze. By the tall front windows, diners sat on low chairs at small Turkish tables, enjoying romantic dinners for two, giddy girls’ nights out or quiet family meals.
A hostess in a multicolored Turkish jacket greeted us with the kind of warmth we remarked upon often during our Turkish travels. As soon as we were seated, a waiter, also in traditional dress, set down a dish of oil-cured olives and a basket of pita. We admired the airy dining room, with it’s colorful glass lanterns, and reminisced about terrible wines we’d encountered in Turkey. Kapadokya serves six very enjoyable wines, including a Turkish white, Çankaya, and a Turkish red, Yakut.
As we perused the menu, Sarah recalled our theory that Turkish cuisine aims to prepare eggplant in as many ways as possible. At Kapadokya, chef Necati Solgoel presents this meaty, sweet vegetable in several guises, including a purist’s puree, Patlecan salad, where it’s blended with garlic, olive oil and lemon. In another recipe (called Imam Bayildi, "The Priest Fainted"), halved baby eggplant is stuffed with tomato and onions and simmered in so much olive oil that it caused a proverbial priest to swoon. Sadly, the kitchen was out of this legendary dish.
For our meze, we thwarted the chill of a rainy night with hot appetizers. Sigari Böregi, rolled phyllo pastries, were fried, filled with either a firm, salty cheese or spinach, subtly flavored by parsley, mint and dill.
Zucchini pancakes (Mücver) resembled my mother’s potato pancakes. The patties of grated zucchini were pan fried until darkly browned outside, while still creamy and mild inside. Generously drizzled with a garlic-and-dill-spiked yogurt sauce, even zucchini skeptics could appreciate this presentation.
Before the main course, 8:30 pm struck, and the much-hyped belly dancer emerged in a shimmer of gold sequins, rhythmically plying finger cymbals as she swayed and gyrated. Dancer Jeanette Anhell’s graceful performance would fit right into a Disneyland Arabian Night. Almost everyone tucked dollar bills into her sequined belt.
Thus refreshed, we tucked into the main course. My baked trout with tomato and cheese (Alabalik) looked like a shallow lasagna with a head and tail. It tasted that way, too. Salty cheese and tangy, garlicky tomato sauce caused the decent, if slightly dry, trout to play a supporting role. Beyond its inherent fishiness, the trout mainly served as texture in this hearty dish.
Sarah’s Hünkar Begendi, or Sultan’s Delight, was described as "a classic Ottoman dish made with baked chunks of chicken or lamb on top of creamy eggplant puree." The menu neglects to mention that the smooth eggplant is impossibly smoky, reminiscent of the wild smell of campfire meals. This haunting depth was brightened by a sharp tomato sauce. Almost as an afterthought, the plate was studded with cubes of lamb, which Sarah found bland.
Still, I was won over by a cuisine with so many ingenious ways to bring out the flavors, textures and aromas of vegetables. If the main protein on our plates lacked oomph, this was more a difference of emphasis than a fault. On future visits, I plan to shift my emphasis, concentrating most on the meze, where Kapadokya really excels.
I’ll eat tapas-style on the narghile patio, which feels more Mediterranean than Brooklyn. I’ll forgo wine in favor of anise-flavored raki, a clear liqueur that clouds when cut with water. My smoker friends will puff away, perhaps trying the hour-long experience of smoking a hookah of flavored tobacco ($13.95, dinner only).
When I come again, I’ll definitely have the thick milk custard that Sarah ordered. It wobbled as our waiter put it down, with a burnt top that outdoes creme brulee, echoing the smoky flavors of the meal and perfectly balancing the sweet comfort of the custard. My baklava was fine - sweet with honey, and nutty with ground pistachios - yet the layers of pastry were under-baked.
Tea drinking was an important part of our trip, and Sarah’s çay was floral and perfectly steeped. But I couldn’t resist a sludgy demitasse of Turkish coffee, with its gritty, singed bitterness. When I got to the point where sipping became chewing, I dumped the grinds out into my saucer, and Sarah read elaborate fortunes to me from the lines and waves left in my empty cup.
Zoe Singer is a food writer and Brooklyn native.
Kapadokya (142 Montague St., second floor, between Clinton and Henry streets) accepts American Express, Visa and MasterCard. For reservations, call (718) 875-2211. Belly dancing performances are at 8:30 pm on Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 pm on Saturdays. Take-out and delivery will soon be available.