Our immediate destiny is dessert, starting with two small chunks of standard baklava ($5), moving up to baklava filling in shredded dough, burma ($6). Then there is sutlac ($5), described as a kind of baked rice pudding, but plainer than that, the baked skin being the signature of the intention here. My favorite dessert was almond pudding ($4.50) in two layers of rich and richer, both with a strong marzipan almond flavor.
Décor is the second check-off of my resolutions for restaurateurs this year: use the TV screen for looped tourist art videos. Turkey has a lot of expanse and long beaches in this intelligent use of the screen. The décor here has followed the chef around: I've seen these kilims before, but they do fine on the quarry-tile floor of a former café. With 11 tables, there is not much more to do than hang some photos and play a little background music. Atmosphere on a quiet night is hard to judge, although one very good sign was meeting a friend who I know as a serious foodie and a more serious Armenian (speaks the language, been there, that kind of thing). A Turkish restaurant good enough for Armenians is the real deal.
The name: an Istanbul'lu is a native of the Turkish capital. The chef is reportedly actually a Rizelli (the name of yet another of his restaurants) from the Black Sea town of Rize, but grew up in the big city.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Istanbul’lu | 237 Holland Street, Somerville | 617.440.7387 | Open Tuesday, 5–10 pm; Wednesday–Friday, 11 am–10 pm; Saturday, 10 am–10 pm; and Sunday, 10 am–9 pm | AE, MC, Vi | No liquor | No valet parking | Access up two steps from sidewalk level