A visit with my valentine to Sultan's Turkish Restaurant in Waterbury, where the motto is "Eat at Sultan's — feel like a Sultan," produced a trio of welcome surprises. The first was that, since our last visit, a market had been added offering all kinds of exotic temptations, including several types of Turkish delight.
The second was a special Valentine's Day Couples Feast, which for $79.95 included two cold and one hot appetizer of one's choosing, a Land & Sea Platter (chicken shish, lamb shish, grilled salmon, shrimp shish, steamed vegetables and rice) and a dessert and bottle of wine of one's choosing. Tempting as the offer was, we wound up bypassing it to explore the menu unfettered.
The third was the sudden advent of lights, music and a skilled belly dancer named Zahra, who captivated young and old alike with every flash of her eyes, gesture of her arms and shimmy of her supple hips.
"I know you could rock that costume," I teased my valentine, after she declined an invitation from Zahra to dance with her. A young woman with obvious training volunteered — and the two had a friendly dance-off.
"Was she your disciple or just a random audience member?" I asked Zahra. "Audience member," she answered, "but she was very good."
Despite the many surprises, nothing could distract us from how good and varied the fare was at Sultan's, which replaced Anatolia in the old Friendly's in March 2011. It is owned by Selim Ergin and Tannel Aktas.
From Sultan's enticing menu, a red lentil soup ($4.99) was beautifully seasoned and textured. Housemade pide bread accompanied a mixed cold platter ($13.99 and $20.99) — even the small was very generous — with hummus (puréed chickpeas), baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant), haydari (seasoned yogurt), soslu patlican (essentially ratatouille), antep ezme (tomato, pepper, walnut paste) and havuc tarator (carrot dip) separated by carrot slices and garnished with great marinated olives. I couldn't resist also ordering the sigara borek ($6.99), four crunchy phyllo-wrapped "cigars" containing melting feta cheese and parsley.
My companion usually orders the hunkar begendi ($17.99), one's choice of marinated cubes of chicken or lamb served atop a creamy mix of smoked baby eggplant and mozzarella finished with a rich tomato sauce. I frequently opt for the Sultan's mixed grill ($23.99), which includes a wealth of chicken and lamb shish, adana (charcoal-grilled lamb), kofte (ground lamb) and doner (shavings of seasoned, spit-roasted beef and lamb).
For those who don't know their kunefe from their kazabdibi or their sutlac from their sekerpare, the photos included with the list of housemade sweets are helpful. Bitter Turkish coffee ($3.95) would be ideal accompaniment. But we simply nibbled pieces of baklava ($5.95) while reflecting that the fare and festivities had indeed been fit for a Sultan.
Sultan's Turkish Restaurant, 586 Plank Road, Waterbury, is open Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Belly dancing is Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 203-591-8450 and sultansrestaurantct.com.