A La Turca Gives Hollywood a True Taste of Turkish Cuisine
The entrée section is a meatcentric list of lamb and beef dishes, each prepared in-house for a near perfect execution of each recipe. Unal says he replicates the cooking processes he sees in his travels, from sourcing to preparation, in his own kitchen.
Photo by Candace West
"I've learned from the best to understand everything, from the way it is prepared to the way it is cooked," says Unal. "When the chefs in Turkey hear that I am bringing their recipes back to the U.S., they are always eager to share whatever information they can. They're proud -- and they know my restaurant is too far away to be considered competition."
The döner -- known as shawarma in the Middle East or gyro in Greece -- is a house specialty, a true Turkish dish made of lamb, veal, or beef cooked on a vertical rotisserie. At A La Turca, the meat is prepared daily and cooked to order, Unal explains, a house blend of 50/50 lamb and beef. It's hand-chopped using traditional tools and pounded into a giant ball before being placed on a spit that rotates alongside burning wood coals, allowing the fat and juices to baste slowly, cooking up char-free. As orders are placed, the heat cooks only the outermost layer, which is cut into fine strips before serving.
Although the traditional kebab is an excellent way to indulge -- as are any of the ground beef or lamb dishes -- the best way to sample döner here is with the Iskender plate, a specialty of the city of Bursa, where the dish was created. A heaping portion of thin-sliced meat is presented on an oblong plate over a light, fresh tomato sauce speckled with shreds of pita soaked in butter and a helping of fresh yogurt on the side for a Grand Bazaar's worth of flavor ($19).
For the meat-free folks, a falafel platter is a welcome reprieve, served as a generous half-dozen portion. A traditional Middle Eastern dish, the street-food-style chickpea fritters are deep-fried for a crunchy outer shell that gives way to a tender, moist interior. They're served with a whipped tahini dipping sauce, a side of hummus and eggplant, and a fluffy tabouli ($15).
For a sweet ending, instead of a cloying sweet strip of baklava, the sakiz pudding extends the escape to the Mediterranean for one more dish. A unique Turkish dessert, it's made with a liqueur produced from the resin of the country's native mastic tree. The custardy treat is firm and creamy -- more pana cotta that pudding -- with a notably pine-like aroma and served with a spackling of fresh-ground cinnamon ($6).
It's only fitting to end a meal at A La Turka with a Turkish coffee, Unal insists. Finely ground beans are boiled in a special pot known as an ibrik, and the drink is delivered in a small, shiny metal cup. Often served with sugar, the single shot of strong, rich brew is reminiscent of Cuban coffee. The hint of spice and slightly grainy texture from unsettled grounds as they make their way to the rim of the cup give it an undeniably exotic twist.
"If you're looking for a true taste of Turkey, A La Turca is the closest you'll get without the trip," says Unal.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.