Tava Restaurant at 106 Main Street (coincidentally, the building where the Port Washington News was first housed), which opened about four months ago, brings to Port Washington an outstanding selection of Turkish delights. Housed in a double storefront, the restaurant is spacious, warm and welcoming. The deep red walls are adorned with lovely works of art. Sunay Ciner, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Nesli, said, "All of the decorations here represent Turkey's rich history." The gracious hosts, residents of Flower Hill, have already become an active part of the community, participating in and contributing to many of our local organizations and events.
Virtually all of the dishes at Tava are homemade and prepared with fresh ingredients procured mainly from Turkish markets. High quality olive oil is used liberally on almost all the dishes, and on request is brought to the table for dipping the bread. "We use lemon and olive oil on everything," said Nesli. A unique blend of Turkish spices is, for the most part, used lightly; they add wonderful flavor, but are not overwhelming. The attractive presentation rivals that of the finest eateries.
Reflecting the cultural tradition of the region, Tava offers an extensive and varied selection of "mezes." (A loose and not quite adequate translation is "appetizers"; mezes are more analogous to the Spanish "tapas.") These are meant to be lingered over with a glass of wine or one of their specialty "martinis," and could easily be combined to comprise a light supper. One of these, marcimed kofte-red lentils rolled with scallions, greens and Turkish spices-is, according to Nesli, served complimentarily to each customer. It has an interesting dry/moist flavor. The home-baked Turkish bread was delicious.
There is the expected babagahnoush and humus, but with an unexpected twist. The "baba" was made the traditional way, from eggplant cooked over an open flame, which gives it a wonderful smoked flavor. (Ed.'s note: My mother, amazingly, used to do this on her gas stove - she had to catch it after it was soft, but before it fell apart and into the flame.) Most cooks now settle for broiling the eggplant in the oven, which is okay, but not nearly as tasty. The hummus came with a sprinkling of meat and peppers on top, an interesting touch.
Our party's favorite appetizer was probably the lahmacun, which can be compared to a mini-pizza with very thin crust and a topping of ground lamb flavored with a light dusting of tomatoes, parsley and spices. It was crispy outside and moist inside. The kofte, cracked wheat patties filled with ground lamb and nuts, was outstanding. This is a hard dish to get right - cooked through, but still moist and tender. Tava's deep fried the kofte, and got it exactly right. We also enjoyed the acili erzme -minced tomatoes, spicy peppers and walnuts topped with olive oil and a hint of spices. "Purely wonderful" is how one of our party described it. The kisir, a cracked wheat salad with onions, parsley and tomato was crunchy and refreshing, Also good was the patlican salatasi - grilled eggplant tossed with peppers, garlic, lemon and olive oil. If you want, you can order a platter of mixed mezes to share.
Tava offers a daily soup special and a nice selection of salads. We tried the Ottoman salata, with greens, tomatoes, corn and feta cheese with an olive oil and lemon dressing, and the coban salata, a shepherd's salad with tomatoes, peppers, onions and parsley with an olive oil and vinegar dressing. Both salads were fresh and crunchy and the dressings were light but tasty.
We highly recommend the mixed grill, which consists of a lamb and chicken "shish," a piece of filet mignon, a small lamb chop, and "adana," chopped lamb grilled on a skewer. Each of these dishes is available separately, but the mixed grill gives you a chance to sample them all. The fresh meats are deliciously spiced, perfectly grilled, tender and juicy. The mixed grill is served with a portion of potato fries, and embellished with red onion, tomatoes and hot (but not too hot) green pepper. "Incredible," said one of our enthusiastic dining partners. The whole fish of the day was "gilt," a white meat fish much like dorado, popular in Mediterranean counties. The grilled fish was fresh, flaky, fleshy and flavorful, and was served with shredded carrots, parsley and onions. The most unusual dish we had was "manti," Turkish mini-dumplings in the most delicious garlic yogurt sauce flavored with a wonder blend of spices. They were tender and tasty, and somehow mushroomy, although there were no actual mushrooms in the dish. There is a large range of other meat, poultry and fish entrées. Our only disappointment is that there is only one vegetarian entrée: a baked, stuffed eggplant.
We finished with a Turkish coffee, which was robust but not too strong, and a sampling of baklava.
In sum, Tava offers authentic Turkish food, adjusted only slightly for the American taste, and gracious service in a charming and friendly atmosphere. They are open 365 days for lunch and dinner from noon to 10 p.m., except Friday and Saturday when they stay open until 11:30 p.m. They have a separate room for private parties up to about 60 people. Take-out, delivery and off-site catering are available. The telephone number is 767-3400.
Prices for dinner entrées range from approximately $16 to $25, and mezes are in the $6 to-$8 range. Tava offers a sunset menu at $22.95 for three courses Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. and a three-course lunch special at $16.95 Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. At lunch they also have a selection of sandwiches and salads from $7 to $10. The wine list is extensive and carefully chosen, ranging from the modest to the very pricey. Sunay said, "We worked hard at it. We hired a wine connoisseur to help us." On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings there is live piano, and Nesli said that they expect to introduce a happy hour soon.