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FOOD FIT FOR A SULTAN

for The Brooklyn Paper
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I walked into Pasham, a Turkish restaurant in Bay Ridge, and knew that I’d been in the space before.

It wasn’t deja vu.

About a year ago, I ran across Third Avenue in the rain to enter Jimmy’s, a very good Italian restaurant that, unfortunately, didn’t last long at this location.

But for those who mourn the loss, take comfort in the fact that much of Jimmy’s interior design remains in Pasham. The walls of the 3-month-old eatery are the same soothing peach. Two fireplaces are ready to warm customers on a cold evening and the tables are just as nicely appointed. Now a few rustic pieces of pottery hang on the walls.

Pasham’s chef Ergul Ergin, former cook at Istanbul Restaurant in Sheepshead Bay, takes familiar Turkish dishes like hummus, baba ghanoush and even simple green salads, and renders them fresh and vibrant with a light hand.

The salad I refer to is the Pasham garden salad. There’s more interesting fare to sample at Pasham than this unassuming bowl of greens, but you should order it anyway. It’s nothing more than romaine lettuce cut into bite size pieces, small cubes of cucumbers, green peppers, leaves of parsley and slices of not-so-great winter tomatoes - its only flaw. It sounds pedestrian, and it would have been, if the dressing wasn’t so well-seasoned and vividly lemony. The small-sized salad would feed a table of four easily.

Appetizers provide another opportunity for sharing. Order one or two plates of the plump, stuffed grape leaves. Their rice filling is tender without being mushy, and currants added a touch of sweetness while the fresh mint and parsley tasted as if the were chopped only moments before.

If you’re an eggplant lover, you’ll adore the smoky, grilled eggplant salad tossed lightly with olive oil, garlic and parsley. The sauced eggplant was equally delicious - the small squares of the tender vegetable pair well with ripe, sweet tomatoes, and baba ghanoush, a blend of grilled eggplant, sesame paste and yogurt, was lushly creamy, yet retained a bit of chunky texture. It was delicious spread on the warm house bread.

The bland hummus didn’t thrill me, but the "haydari" - a dip made of yogurt, so tart and rich I thought it was sour cream - did.

The grilled entrees were just as impressive. Baby lamb chops tasted of the grill without masking the lamb’s tangy taste. An entree of lamb kebabs featured big chunks of the tender meat that were redolent of garlic. The chicken kebabs were juicy inside and crusty on the outside with the heat of dried Turkish red peppers permeating each bite.

The only disappointment was the "adana" kebab, a long, under-seasoned sausage-like piece of grilled ground lamb. A mound of rice sauteed in butter, which accompanied each meat entree, made a worthy partner.

At the moment, there’s only one dessert offered but it’s a good one. The "kazandibi," or Turkish flan, looked so mundane that when it was brought to the table, I thought, "Big deal." It’s a beige square that resembles a roof shingle dusted with cinnamon. There was nothing else - no berries, no squiggle of sauce or dollop of whipped cream - to dress up the plate.

After a taste, I realized that the choice not to embellish the dessert was correct. This dish that appeared to possess all the finesse of egg custard, was cool on the tongue and silky like a creme brulee; it floated in my mouth, leaving a hint of vanilla - then lemon - before disappearing. The texture was closer to a marshmallow than flan, yet not gooey.

After a meal with so many layers of spices, I welcomed the subtlety of the "kazandibi" dessert.

On the Thursday evening I dined at Pasham, there were only a few tables occupied. At one table, sat a large Turkish family who visited after enjoying the food at a party catered by the restaurant. They ordered dish after dish, settling into a happy, chatting mood as the evening wore on.

"This is excellent Turkish food," said a man from that family.

I agree. It’s sad to see a restaurant with great potential close before diners have a chance to discover it, so go soon. One fatality at this address is enough.

 

Pasham Turkish Restaurant (7204 Third Ave. between 72nd and 73rd streets in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $10.95-$21.95. The restaurant serves dinner daily and lunch on weekends from 1 pm ­midnight. For reservations and more information, call (718) 567-8300.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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