Another key kebab is the Iskender ($13.95), which is a lot of doner kebab with croutons and tomato sauce. What's doner kebab ($12.95)? Well, it's cooked on a vertical rotisserie as would be used for a gyros or shwarma, though the version here uses slices of marinated lamb and beef. Saray also does right by three meaty cabbage rolls ($12.95), served a little loose with both tomato and yogurt sauce. To really get at the creamy tomato sauce, you need something like the veggie casserole ($12.95), which is just carrots, green beans, and potatoes cooked in that tomato sauce for a long time. (I know potatoes over rice is not everyone's idea of heaven, but indulge me.)
I did find one weak dish, which was nearly the most expensive on the menu: grilled striped bass ($17.95). It's clearly a substitute for a Mediterranean sea bass, like a bronzini, and since the commercial season for striped bass in New England is short, I was afraid it would be Chilean sea bass — a great fish with an unsustainable fishery. Nope, Saray is ethically and nutritionally sound, but culinarily weak with a farmed striped bass. You're presented with a whole fish, marinated and grilled, which somewhat disguises its mediocre flavor.
A halal restaurant will not serve alcoholic beverages, so Saray's most interesting choices are packaged Turkish drinks. A yogurt drink ($2.50) was the most refreshing, like a milder salty lassi. Ülker ($2), a brand of Turkish soda, tasted like a drier version of Sprite. And a so-called Special Carrot Drink ($2.50), made from purple carrots and a few turnips, tasted like beet vinegar. It comes in sweet or spicy; I ordered spicy, but am pretty sure I got sweet (which was sour but not peppery). It's a hot weather drink, at best. Turkish coffee ($4), however, is the real deal — the original energy drink — with so much mud at the bottom we couldn't even use it for fortunetelling.
Desserts are all $3.95, and run to large starchy puddings, so if you have to skip a course, this may be your best option. My favorite was four pieces of baklava with more pistachio than usual. As for the puddings, I favor almond, which is decorated with pistachio dust and currants. Rice pudding is milky, vanilla flavored, and not as sweet as I would have expected. Caramel was my least favorite; it was the starchiest, plus the caramel was a little burnt.
Service, even when we came after sunset one day and 30 students were having a dinner party, is very good. Recommendations weren't an issue since almost everything is terrific. The room, with its blond wood floors, ragged yellow walls, and red-stained-wood and gold-painted-tin ceiling, is much nicer than the exterior would suggest. There's no background music and no TV. How did the Ritz ever manage all those years without a TV set in the dining room or the café?
Robert Nadeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.