Turkish cuisine is criminally ignored in Boston: fewer than 10 places feature its influences or authentic dishes. Saray (“palace”), with blond hardwood floors and a sunshine/saffron paint job, is more pretty than palatial, but its staff works hard to draw Americans down the alternately strange and familiar byways of Turkish cookery.
Salads provide a gentle on-ramp, recombining Mediterranean staples (tomatoes, red onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil) in various configurations. Even Saray’s small salads (all $4.95) are sharable, including coban salatasi, starring diced cucumbers, and piyaz, centered on white beans with plenty of dried, coarse-ground sumac, an astringent claret-colored berry. Soups, such as ezogelin corbasi ($3.95), red lentils puréed with bulgur and dusted with dried mint, are similarly comforting. Slices of Turkish pita — inch-thick leavened rounds topped with sesame — make useful sops. Middle Eastern standbys get a Turkish twist, as with acili ezma, ($4), a wetter cousin of muhammara with a chili sting but no pomegranate. Cigara borek ($5.95) are open-ended, feta-stuffed, lightly sweetened fried phyllo tubes, like crunchy crêpes.
Kebabs are masterfully executed: gently charred, juicy, and smoke-permeated, as in hunkar begendi ($15.95), medium-rare lamb chunks on similarly smoky eggplant purée, and tavuk kebab ($13.95), marinated chicken breast cubes flanked by butter-laden rice. Iskender kebab ($16.95) offers myriad flavors and textures: thin slices of a spicy pressed lamb/beef roast atop toasted cubes of toasted pita, garlicky yogurt, and tomato sauce.
The dozen novel desserts include kadayif ($4), like shredded-wheat baklava, and kazandibi ($4), a wispy caramelized-milk pudding. Synapse-jolting Turkish coffee ($2) and complimentary black tea are fine finishers. Or try salgam suyu ($2.50), which looks like cherry juice ($2.50) but includes pickled and fermented carrot and turnip juices and is vaguely reminiscent of Cynar, the Italian artichoke-based digestif. I can see why Turks use it as a hangover cure: you can hardly think of anything but salgam while you’re drinking it.
Servers are friendly and eager to educate the rare neophytes among the Turkish ex-pats already crowding the place. With attractive prices and big portions, Saray is a fine addition to Allston’s multi-culti restaurant wonderland, and an ideal place to start a remedial education in one of the world’s great cuisines.
Saray Restaurant, located at 1098 Comm Ave, in Allston, is open daily, from 11 am to 11 pm. Call 617.383.6651.