When partners - and sisters - Ayse and
Asu Telgeren opened their Williamsburg eatery, Nar Meze Bar,
in June, they keyed into two trends. Both the name, Nar, which
means "pomegranate" in Turkish, and its menu of meze,
or small-plate dining, were both hot fads last year.
The pomegranate enjoyed a moment as the "It" food of 2003. Bartenders shook pomegranate martinis and whirled the fruit’s sweet and tart juice into girlishly pink daiquiris. Chickens were tenderized then burnished rich ebony after marinating in the fruit’s deep, beet-colored liquid, and pastry chefs ringed dessert plates with its glistening, ruby colored seeds.
Now the pomegranate has been immortalized as a Williamsburg restaurant which serves small dishes that showcase the complex flavors of Turkish cuisine.
Nar’s chef is Belguzar Murat, whose experience includes years of catering and working as a food and beverage manager for five-star Turkish hotels. When Murat’s dishes work, they’re lively and complex. When they don’t, they’re dull or suffering from carelessness in the kitchen: usually overcooking.
Nar’s dishes will be familiar to anyone who’s wandered through Sahadi’s, the wonderful Middle Eastern specialty food store on Atlantic Avenue. Feta cheese, the walnut paste with red pepper called ceviz ezme, and tarama, or codfish roe (the ingredient in taramasalata, a luscious spread made of the roe, milk-soaked breadcrumbs and lemon juice) make appearances.
Nar differs from other Middle Eastern restaurants in its decor and food presentation. The bar area is slightly seedy looking, while the dining room is dark with leather booths, linen-covered tables and tin walls. Dishes are plated with more fanfare than the usual kabobs served on an oblong dish. At Nar, cubes of grilled meat on small wooden skewers are pushed into a round of bread, like a meat flower, and ringed with a splash of sauce. The restaurant is in a neighborhood of the artistically gifted, so visuals count.
The good looks begin with "The Nar," the restaurant’s house cocktail. Served in a champagne flute, its mix of Stolichnaya raspberry vodka, champagne and "Nar mix" (pomegranate, lemon and sour cherry juice) produces a rosy, effervescent cocktail that is pleasantly fruity with just a touch of sweetness.
But why the "Mandalina," an ice-cold blend of Absolut mandarin, Cointreau and lemon juice should be salty, I don’t know. Still, it was surprisingly drinkable, and, like any bar owner who’s ever set out a basket of peanuts knows, salt is good for the appetite.
Nar’s menu is divided into "Hots," grilled or fried meat, fish and vegetable dishes served warm, and "Colds," traditional Turkish spreads, vegetable salads, fish, cheese and sausage served chilled or at room temperature.
Of the "Hots" I sampled, only one was just right. The others suffered from under-seasoning or overcooking. The soup of the day, a blend of celery and carrots, was pleasingly smooth and soothing, but lacking in depth. I wouldn’t call it bland, but exciting it was not.
I had high hopes for the pan-fried calf’s liver cubes seasoned with chili flakes and sumac, served over a salad of red onions and parsley. It was almost there, too, with the seasoning just piquant enough. If only the liver had been rare.
I loved the deliciously moist little beef and lamb meatballs that were part of a skewered trio of meat - one skewer of meatballs, one of chicken, the other lamb cubes - but the chicken was dry and although the lamb was rich and well seasoned, it would have benefited from less time over the flames.
The one dish that helped me forget (at least until I wrote this) the not-so-hot "Hots" was the evening’s special puff pastry filled with seafood and a Turkish cheese made from ewe’s milk that had a strong, nutty flavor. The pastry surrounding the seafood was crisp, airy and buttery. The shrimp, calamari and mussels were perfectly cooked, and the cheese was used like a drop of good perfume - judiciously so that its strong essence underscored the sweetness of the fish.
One "Cold" dish that must be tried is the char-grilled baby eggplant puree. Each bite of the eggplant emits the smokiness of the grill, while good, fruity olive oil, infused with garlic, lends the puree richness and a delicious bite. Don’t pass it up.
As for the desserts, Murat keeps the plating and the dishes simple. The apricots filled with creme fraiche seem like something that should be part of a dessert plate, not a dessert in itself. About six of the plum fruits sit unadorned on a plate. They’re tasty but under-whelming. And the Kadyis, two small, rolled pastries filled with honey and ground pistachio nuts in honey syrup, are pleasant, but they don’t rise above a cookie. A couple of cookies in a restaurant does not a dessert make.
A stricter watch over the grill and fry pan would help this ambitious restaurant realize its potential this summer.
Nar Meze Bar (152 Metropolitan Ave. at Berry Street in Williamsburg) accepts Visa and MasterCard. Small plates: $4-$9. Dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. Brunch is served from 11 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Closed Mondays. For reservations call (718) 599-3027.