In the realm of ethnic cuisines, Turkish food flies under the radar. Govans' new spot, Bosphorus, named for the Turkish strait that is part of the boundary between Europe and Asia, could change that.
Bosphorus is an apt name, as the cuisine of Turkey reflects the country's location. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, lovers of Greek food and Middle Eastern fare will both find something to like about Turkish dining. And fans of friendly neighborhood BYOB spots will find a lot to love about Bosphorus.
Scene & Decor Around 6 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Bosphorus had not yet heated up for the evening. Though a tent card on our table touted late-night hookahs in a variety of flavors, that early, the petite restaurant's handful of tables were sparsely populated and the cushions surrounding the low table in the front of the restaurant were empty.
We didn't miss the crowds; the quiet night made it easier to focus on the food. And the food was good.
Appetizers We started with the mix meze platter ($14), a chef's choice of four dishes from the cold appetizer menu. For us, that included hummus, baba ghanoush, dolma (rice-stuffed grape leaves) and a large scoop of pink sultan — a tangy, thick pink spread of beet and garlic-infused yogurt.
With plenty of pita triangles for dipping, we dug into the mix, finding the hummus and baba ghanoush fresh and well-seasoned and the grape leaves zingy with citrus.
Just as we started to wind down, leaving bits of dips here and there (but scooping up all of the baba ghanoush), the restaurant's owner delivered us another dish, on the house. The white sultan ($5) was an exotic take on potato salad, a mix of carrots, peas, potatoes and pickles dressed with mayonnaise. The combination of familiar and ethnic flavors was a good one.
Entrees Described on the menu as "Turkish ravioli," manti ($14) were tiny dumplings filled with spiced ground beef and topped with a scoop of tangy yogurt and bright tomato sauce.
The flavors worked well together but the dish probably works better as an appetizer ($8) than an entree. Somewhere around the middle, we started to lose interest. Nothing was wrong with the dumplings but they're better in small doses.
The adana kebabs ($17) were more of an unqualified hit. Ground lamb and veal, molded into patties and grilled on skewers, were flavorful — thanks to seasoning and the char of the grill — and cooked nicely. Accompanied by a mound of rice, a carrot salad, grilled peppers, onions and mushrooms and a small dish of kisir, a wheat bulgur, vegetable and herb salad, the meal was satisfying in every way.
Drinks Bosphorus is BYOB and there is no corkage fee. The heavily spiced, exotic food would be a great fit for crisp beers or sparkling wine.
After dinner, we lingered over cups of thick, dark Turkish coffee ($5) with sugar, an intense and powerful way to end the meal.
Dessert With our coffee, we sampled a few Turkish desserts, including kadayif ($5) and irmik helva ($5). Kadayif, a square of sugar water-soaked pastry and nuts, topped with shredded wheat, was sweet, tasting similar to baklava, with appealing crunch.
Irmik helva was Bosphorus' interpretation of a semolina-based dessert that's popular, in different forms, across the Middle East. Ours arrived as two cylinders of sweet, dense grain, with a crush of pistachio on top.
Just as we thought we couldn't eat another bite, Bosphorus' owner stopped by our table to check on our progress and to give us a parting gift of Turkish delight. The chewy candy, dusted in powdered sugar, was fruity and sweet — and gave our jaws a workout.
Service Between a few visits from the owner and the attentive and knowledgeable service from our waitress, we were well cared for during dinner. We watched, too, as the owner made his way to the other tables, delivering a treat here and there. He seemed to make a lot of friends on the way.
Turkish cuisine flourishes in that careful blend of flavors where East meets West. At Bosphorus, that sweet spot shines.
Back story: Opened in October by Juniet Ozturk, Bosphorus brings well-prepared Turkish food, with its cross between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors, to York Road in Govans. Bosphorus is next door to Toss, a popular neighborhood pizza and sandwich spot run by one of Ozturk's cousins.
Parking: Street parking and lot behind restaurant
Signature dish: The adana shish kebab, grilled patties of well-seasoned ground lamb and veal, are paired with several salads, rice and grilled vegetables for a meal that is both hearty and satisfyingly exotic.
Where: 5716 York Road, Baltimore
Open: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday-Saturday;
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Turkish specialties are served in a friendly environment at this Govans BYOB