Istanbul (Minnetonka, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
If we told you the best Turkish food in the Twin Cities is where the blue ball stallion used to be, we think a whole lot of you could drive straight to the place without directions.
But we'll make it easy on you. On the frontage road for 394, on the north side, just east of Wayzata, in the little strip mall called Westdale, there's a great Turkish restaurant called Istanbul.
Turkish cuisine is similar to what is served elsewhere around the Mediterranean, though naturally the dishes have Turkish names and so are perhaps unfamiliar. For example, pita bread is here called "pide bread."
Start with appetizers: meze. These are starters on the menu, but a sampling of them could easily be a meal all by themselves. We especially liked the roasted flavors in the eggplant salad, the spicy and exceptionally delicious roasted red-pepper relish called esme, and the delicate spicing in the stuffed grape leaves. The weakest was the caviar spread, which didn't taste fishy enough for us. If your group is three or four, get a sampler platter to share.
Soup or salad accompany your entree. Skip the dinner salad and pay the extra $1.25 for either the anadolu or the coban salads. The anadolu is much like a Greek salad. The shepherd salad, coban, is an amazing diced mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, parsley, peppers, olives, and vinaigrette. The tomatoes here were about what you'd expect for Minnesota in April, but the combo was so exceptional that it just didn't matter.
As good as the salads are, consider the soups. The red lentil vegetable soup is a traditional Turkish dish, and the version here is delicious, and not too thick. The spicy chicken soup with couscous is gently hot and flavorful.
We had equally good luck with the entrees. We found our favorite on the special board: chicken borek. It's a chicken breast with sun-dried tomatoes, cheeses, and a rich sauce, all wrapped in filo dough and then baked. Everyone at the table loved it.
Istanbul serves several lamb dishes, including two rich stews and lamb kabobs. The kabobs were good-sized pieces of meat with a bit of grilled flavor just highlighting the juicy tender lamb. Its sprinkle of salt was the perfect seasoning.
You can also order beef, chicken, or shrimp kabob, as well as several different combination plates.
Anther tasty special was the salmon-stuffed grape leaves. This was a large piece of salmon with sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, and spicy mixed cheeses wrapped in grape leaves, baked, and topped with lemon-herb sauce.
The spinach pie -- called ispanakli borek here -- was okay, but not great. And the scallops kumkapi, pan-seared and served with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and a spicy white wine feta sauce, was blander than we would have liked.
Istanbul is prettier than you'd expect from a restaurant in a suburban strip mall, and a meal there is pleasant. Like many Twin Cities ethnic restaurants, they have a lunch buffet Monday through Friday.
Atmosphere: Upscale ethnic
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