In the days of the Ottoman Empire, Turkish cooking was considered to be among the great cuisines of the world. These days, it is likely to appear on menus featuring Mediterranean food, a mixture of Middle Eastern and Italian.
GG's Bistro in the Collection on South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach is the pride and joy of the Gundogar brothers, Ragit and Bulent, and their wives, Franziska and Hande. Their food is a mixture of authentic Turkish and classic Italian, and the staff is gracious and welcoming.
You may choose to dine on the heated, glass-enclosed patio with a bit of an ocean view, or you may eat in the attractive little bistro, which has recently been redecorated. The walls are a lovely shade of dark gray accented with beautiful silver medallions in various shapes. Besides white linens covered with butcher paper are black leather seats, dark wood chairs and interesting lantern-like fixtures over the bar area.
Be sure not to fill up on the very good, crusty bread served with olive oil seasoned with herbs and red peppers. We decided to focus on the Turkish part of the menu. If you are not familiar with Turkish food, a tasty introduction would be the large meze platter, with eight different selections and pita bread.
The boreks are made of paper-thin dough shaped like a cigar and stuffed with feta cheese and parsley. Though fried, they are not at all greasy and have a crispy exterior that contrasts with the creamy cheese.
Pilaki, a delicious chilled lima bean salad with onions, tomatoes and carrots lightly cooked in olive oil, has a sweet, subtle aftertaste. Dolmas are grape leaves cooked in olive oil and filled with seasoned rice. These were a bit bland except for the taste of tart lemon. Also, the rice was a bit too soft.
A wedge of feta went well with the pita, while the eggplant salad was quite tasty mixed with red onion, sour cream and a nice hint of lemon. The humus was too mild for our taste; no garlic or cumin could be detected. It's very smooth and creamy, but we wanted more flavor.
Our favorite was the Turkish tabouli. It is a salad with tiny grains of cracked wheat, green onions, herbs, tomato puree and an ingredient that distinguishes it from other types of tabouli, pomegranate syrup. It was very flavorful, but the kicker was the intriguing sweetness of the pomegranate.
Of course, we had to try a kabob and chose the lamb. It was a little overcooked and slightly tough, but the wonderful rice that came with it was full of buttery flavor. Also, we have always found that GG's has a way with vegetables. In this case, they were a little accompaniment to the entrée. One slice of carrot, one piece of broccoli and one of cauliflower were each cooked perfectly. We wished there were more.
A very Turkish dish was the ali nazik. This consisted of well-seasoned ground beef cooked as a patty, cut up in little cubes and mixed with a very good tomato sauce, then served on top of an eggplant puree blended with yogurt
We found that the GG's version of baklava had all the layers of dough together, with one bunch on the bottom and one on the top, rather than many thin layers with the filling in between, so it didn't have the light crispiness of the Greek style but was rather doughy.
The Turkish national ice cream was more like ice milk with very little flavor on its own. We chose pistachio, but you might not have guessed that, though the presentation was pretty. It was served on tasty waffle crackers and garnished with strawberries and blueberries.
The Italian part of the menu includes a wide variety of pastas as well as salads, calamari, smoked salmon, bruschetta and more for starters. Entrees are not particularly ethnic: lamb chops, grilled salmon and such.
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at email@example.com.
Where: 540 Coast Highway Laguna Beach
When: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Appetizers: $7 to $19
Entrées: $18 to $28
Desserts: $7 to $10
Bottles: $25 to $38
By the glass: $5 to $12
Corkage fee: $15
Information: (949) 494-9306 or http://www.ggscafebistro.com