RISING STAR Piyaz salat — a salad of white beans, marinated in lemon juice and olive oil — isn’t famous yet, but is so good it might soon be.
On one side of the scales, Nadeau's Law: "Never eat anything famous." On the other side, chef-owner Huseyin Akgun, who really ought to be famous for his cooking at the original Beacon Hill Istanbul Cafe, the bigger one in Allston, and some other spots in between.
So do we order coban salat ($8.75) - described on the menu as "very famous Turkish salad"? Not with tomatoes in January. Instead, we get piyaz salat ($8), white beans marinated in lemon juice and olive oil, with a lot of red onions and sumac, the acidic dried red fruit powder of the Middle East. Not famous, but maybe now it will be at least a little better known, being so good. We have already feasted on the buttery, fluffy, not-so-flat flatbread, in this case homemade, hot, and refilled, though without the sesame seeds used elsewhere. The dip is an irresistible paste of peppers, eggplant, maybe one hot pepper in there, too. Don't let them take this dip away.
Moving on to "Turkish hot tapas," here's an old friend, mucver ($5.50): fried zucchini pancakes with some carrot and feta shredded in, and a yogurt sauce to contrast. You may need to order two of these. Izgara patlican ($7.50) is grilled eggplant, but buried under a slice of winter tomato, layers of cheese, and tomato sauce. Kirmizi beyaz ($6) is roasted red pepper wrapped around yogurt cheese.
Gotta try something famous, so why not beyti kebab ($17.50), the "famous traditional Turkish village–style kebab"? This includes the famous salad, so it's a double-famous try. The kebab is actually ground lamb and spices, wrapped in bread, peppers, and other amusing clothing. The meat is similar to "homemade shish kebab" ($16.50), which is the same kebab served over amazingly delicious Turkish rice, with grilled peppers and onions, alongside the famous salad. (For the record, winter tomatoes are what they are, no matter how many cucumbers and onions you put them with.)
As a vegan option, firinda sebzeli guvec ($12.50) is an excellent vegetable stew: lots of green beans, potatoes, eggplant, and carrot on some more Turkish rice. A Balkan djuvetch would be baked with the rice absorbing the stew flavors, but this is good, too.
Akgun used to do a remarkable adana kebab of marinated chicken. This seems to have given way to his new claim, via Istanbul'lu's Web site: "We stand alone in serving sumptuous Turkish home cooking." The operative word is "home," which means fewer skewered kebabs and more stew. No quarrel there, except that it sent me down the road of mantarli tavuk buftek ($15), which was an ordinary dish of chicken breast rolled around mushrooms and onions.
It is my fate to catch this chef at each of his restaurants just before he gets the liquor license. There are always soft drinks, such as ayron ($2.50), the thinned yogurt drink like a salty lassi in an Indian restaurant. Ice water in big goblets is frequently refilled. Turkish coffee ($3.75) has enough grounds to swirl and invert and read a fairly detailed fortune on the sides of the tiny cup. I find myself reading cartoon animals: cat, skunk, raccoon, dog, owl, moose. Since two of these are New World animals, we have here a Turkish-American fortune.