Despite a few missteps, Cafe Ephesus has delightful Turkish cuisine.
Cafe Ephesus represents the new style of restaurant opening in the current economy: an intimate, family-run eatery with budget prices.
Nestled in a sprawling strip-mall complex off Avery Road in Dublin, the Turkish restaurant appears to have taken great pains to keep much of the menu healthy and priced less than $10.
Vegetarians will find the restaurant particularly appealing. The small-plates portion of the menu uses popular dishes - both warm and cold - to whet the palate. Take the hummus ($5), which often is too tart, thick or lemony. Note
its consistency and balance are nearly ideal. Large strips of eggplant are tossed in an herbed tomato sauce, the sweetness of the former getting a bold acidic dimension from the latter (soslu patlican, $5).
On the hot side of the aisle, sigara boregi ($5) are crispy little phyllo rolls filled with cheese and accented with lemon, a pleasant bite that's not too filling when shared by two people. The falafel ($5), four deep-fried discs of ground
chickpeas, are exactly what they should be - crunchy and roughly textured on the outside and warm inside, bounding with intense garlic, cumin and onion flavors. We took exception, though, with the piping of thick tahini and
drizzle of balsamic. The tahini, a necessary component of the dish, should be served on the side and the balsamic, whose flavor seems harsh in this instance, should be left off altogether.
Lentil soup ($4 a bowl) is a bewitching orange red, light and complex, accented with mint. Take advantage of the lemon wedge, which brightens up the potage.
Those familiar with Turkish restaurants in town will recognize the difference between Cafe Ephesus and two more upscale competitors: Cafe Shish Kebab and Cafe Istanbul. And there are some differences, such as the bread.
Where the latter two restaurants bake their own crusty loaves in-house, Cafe Ephesus uses store-bought pita, which is briefly grilled.
Service is friendly but hasn't reached a professional level just yet. Course timing and removal of soiled plates needs some work. Even so, servers appear eager to correct any mistakes.
A mix-up in with our server left us with the beef begendi instead of the requested lamb, which was too bad, considering the beef was so overdone it was practically inedible. An apologetic server brought us the right dish, morsels
of tender lamb ($14) swathed in sumptuous gravy over mashed smoked eggplant, the kind of rib-sticking fare that took the edge out of the cold night.
Indeed, hearty fare is all over the menu. Cabbage rolls (lahana dolmasi, $12) are spectacular, using silky, tissue-thin leaves wrapped around a mixture of ground beef, lamb and rice. The topping of tomato sauce and yogurt makes
it even more extravagant.
The iskender kebab ($13) features thin slices of doner, the Turkish version of gyro meat, also given a ladle each of tomato sauce and yogurt, served over pita. But the lamb-beef composite is charred beyond anything suitable for consumption. It's a shame, too, because it tastes freshly made.
Those bored with chicken should give the chicken adana kebab ($12) a try. It offers two rows of grilled ground chicken with a disarming aroma and a tinge of spiciness. A tidy pile of basmati rice, yogurt and grilled vegetables is served to the side.
End the meal with a serving of almond pudding (keskul, $4) tantalizingly sweet with narrow slices of nuts that give it much-needed texture. But avoid the Turkish coffee ($2), which could have a layer of thick sediment at the bottom of the cup. It's a reminder that while Cafe Ephesus has many fine points, it has some quality-control issues that need attention.
Pricing: Inexpensive to moderately expensive
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 to 9 p.m. Sunday