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Young Turk

New Kapadokia keeps Turkish food alive

By Stett Holbrook

NOW THAT the Scott Peterson trial is over, the journalists and spectators who slavishly followed the proceedings will have to look elsewhere for drama. They'll also have to go elsewhere for good Turkish food. Besides learning about the depravity of humankind and the public's appetite for courtroom spectacle, I'd like to think some of the media hordes and trial groupies made the short walk from San Mateo County's Superior Court building to New Kapadokia and learned something about Turkish cuisine. I know I did on my visits.

While there are a few Turkish restaurants in San Francisco and Berkeley, Redwood City's New Kapadokia is the only Turkish restaurant on the peninsula or in Silicon Valley. But we almost lost our sole Turkish restaurant when New Kapadokia's predecessor (you guessed it: Kapadokia) closed last year. Jay Alpay, a Turkish native and restaurateur who had eaten at the old restaurant twice, saved the day when he decided to open a new restaurant on the site last August. He opened the restaurant with the help of his business and now life partner, Meral Guvenc. She had no restaurant experience, but Alpay calls her an "extremely good home cook" whose food reminds him of his mother's cooking.

Because it's situated between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Christendom and Islam, and the Mediterranean and Black seas, Turkey offers a crossroads cuisine that bears the influence of its neighbors and the once sprawling Ottoman Empire. Turkish food boasts a huge variety of dishes characterized by the extensive use of vegetables, small, tapaslike plates of food, seafood and lots of grilled beef and lamb.

New Kapadokia is a long and slender restaurant on a corner of the burgeoning Broadway Street scene. Turkish coffee flagons, hookahs, stringed instruments and other bric-a-brac decorate the front windows. Inside, white tablecloths, fresh orchids and earthy yellow walls give the place a touch of elegance. Alpay spends time chatting with his guests and engaging them in conversations about Turkey and the menu. The other servers are just as friendly and knowledgeable.

Soon after you're seated, a server will proffer a silver tray of small dishes or mezze. These small plates (all $4.95) change routinely and are some of chef Guvenc's best work. Particularly good is ezme, a thick, mildly spicy paste of sun-dried Turkish chile peppers, walnuts, tomato paste, olive oil and the earthy flavor of cumin. Also recommended are the cauliflower and zucchini cakes ($4.95). And don't miss the dolmas and baba ghanouj.

Sarma beyti kebab ($15.95) is the restaurant's signature dish, and it is visually stunning. Skewered, seasoned ground beef is grilled and then wrapped in a flaky layer of lavash. The kebab is sliced into thick medallions, arranged into a ring on the plate and ladled in a rich and thick tomato sauce. The center of the plate is filled with a cooling, garlic-laced yogurt. The meat is juicy and expertly cooked and the tomato sauce good, but there was too much of it. Less would have been more. Iskender kebab ($15.95) is a classic Turkish dish made with thin slices of slow-cooked beef tossed in a jumble of tomato sauce and toasted cubes of croutonlike pita bread. But it too had too much sauce.

The lamb chops ($18.95) are one of the best dishes I tried. Marinated at least 72 hours in red wine, vinegar and oregano, the grilled chops are superbly tender and flavorful. Alpay offers first-timers their money back if the chops are not the best they've had. So far he's never had to comp a meal.

Eggplant is Turkey's most revered vegetable, so I was disappointed that New Kapadokia's vegetarian stuffed eggplant ($14.95) wasn't better. The vegetable was filled with tomatoes, onion and garlic and would have been good had it not been swimming in olive oil.

New Kapadokia sells Turkish wine, but the supply is limited. As a Mediterranean country, it shouldn't be surprising that Turkey makes good wine, but we were surprised at the quality of a bottle of Cankaya ($28), a crisp, sauvignon blanc-like wine. Turkish coffee ($1.95) and tea ($1.65) are both good and served with a flourish. The demitasse serving of coffee is especially good with one of the restaurant's desserts. Baklava ($3.95), a standard of Middle Eastern restaurants, is often sticky sweet, but here it gets a lighter touch with a simple, lemon-flavored syrup. Even better is sütlac ($3.95), a rich and creamy rice pudding.

The Peterson jury reached their decision, and I've reached mine: While New Kapadokia is guilty of a few missteps, the evidence is overwhelmingly good.

New Kapadokia
Address: 2399 Broadway St., Redwood City
Phone: 650.368.5500
Hours: 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri, 5pm-10pm Sat, 5pm-9pm Sun
Price range: $14.95-$29.95

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From the December 22-28, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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