Walnut Creek's Bosphorus restaurant is named after the strait in Istanbul that separates Europe from Asia. Open 16 months on Locust Street, the stylish Turkish restaurant has loyal regulars, including dapper Turkish men who sip raki, the anise-flavored spirit and national drink of Turkey. Call me a dork, but I consider that a great sign.
With mom in the kitchen, brothers Caner and Ilker Yalcintuna have created a warm, inviting spot to cozy up to grilled lamb chops, sweet pepper dolmas or a rare glass of Anatolian wine. These are among the restaurant's strengths. I think some portions could be larger, and coordination is needed in the kitchen to ensure all dishes arrive at their best -- hot and appetizing.
My main disappointment was the Hunker Begendi ($18), or Sultan's Delight, a classic Ottoman dish of lamb served over pureed eggplant. I had high hopes for this dish; when it arrived, the color and consistency of the eggplant was like glue (remember Rubber Cement?). Neither the lamb bits nor eggplant had any significant seasoning, which made the texture of the puree seem that much more off-putting. We ate only the accompanying salad.
An entree I loved was the Dolma Special ($20), a medley of miniature roasted red and yellow peppers and small hunks of eggplant, tomato and zucchini stuffed with ground, seasoned lamb, rice and herbs. It was light, flavorful and bursting with color -- it's the type of thing I would photograph and post on Facebook if I were one of those Bay Area foodies.
My husband, a kebab junkie, enjoyed the Bosphorus Combo Kebab ($22) because he didn't have to decide between proteins. The combo featured a skewer of chicken, lamb, rib-eye, kofte and even a lamb chop, served with bulgur pilaf and salad. He says he found the lamb gamy and underseasoned and could have used a larger portion of the bulgur.
After two visits, I've gathered that Bosphorus is a health-conscious restaurant: Salads are generous and grains are limited to a scoop, as opposed to other Mediterranean skewer joints, like Alborz, where basmati rice seems served by the pound and baskets of homemade flatbread are bottomless. The warm, lavashlike flatbread at Bosphorus only came out once. Later, I noticed that bread is listed on the menu for $1.
The authentic beverages, however, were plentiful. In my experience, they're often missing from ethnic restaurant menus. Bosphorus' beverage program actually gave me a sense of what people in Turkey probably drink, from ayran ($2.50), a traditional yogurt drink, and Turkish beer ($5-$7.50) to three types of raki ($9-$12) and wines from Anatolia, Turkey's ancient wine-producing region.
The Kavaklidere Selection Okuzgozu-Bogazkere 2009 ($10), is a dark garnet, full-bodied yet balanced red blend made from two indigenous Turkish varietals. It was full of complex aromas and soft tannins, and it went down easy, particularly with the lamb dishes.
After dinner, the perfect cap to all that meat was sweet Kazandibi ($6), a caramelized, flanlike milk pudding. I liked sipping on Turkish black tea ($2) while taking in wall photographs of Istanbul, from the bright spices at the Grand Market to the sherbet-colored sunset silhouetting the city's skyline.
The same cityscape is cleverly cut into all the restaurant's lampshades, a glowing reminder of the culinary light guiding the Yalcintuna family.
* * ½
FOOD: * *
AMBIENCE: * * *
SERVICE: * * *
WHERE: 1512 Locust St., Walnut Creek
CONTACT: 925-944-5484, www.bosphoruswalnutcreek.com
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; until 8 p.m. Sundays
VEGETARIAN: We liked the red lentil soup, falafel and spinach manti, spinach-filled dough topped with garlic yogurt, melted butter and tomato sauce.
BEVERAGES: Highlights include Turkish beer, wine, ayran, a traditional yogurt drink, Turkish coffee, and raki, an anise-flavored spirit.
RESERVATIONS: Recommended on weekends
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Metered street parking or garages on Locust Street
KIDS: Our toddler loved the bulgur pilaf, chicken kebab, and cacik, a blended, mint-flecked yogurt with diced cucumbers.
PLUSES: This family-owned restaurant has pleasant, authentic decor and a few spot-on dishes.
MINUSES: The eggplant puree in Sultan's Delight has an off-putting texture.
DATE OPENED: September 2011
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$ Most entrees under $10
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$$$$ Most entrees under $40