As an immersive traveler, I adopt the diet of everyplace I go. When I get back to San Francisco I actually feel homesick for the food, the air, the pace, of the places I visit. This happened when I recently returned from villages and provincial cities in southeastern Turkey along the Syrian border. I just wanted to eat Turkish.
So I walked over to Troya on Fillmore, the new branch of a spare, stylish restaurant that identifies itself as Turkish/ Mediterranean. I adjusted my hopes, knowing that I was not going to find the same kind of rustic Turkish cooking I had fallen so hard for. But what I ate at Troya delighted me. The hospitable spirit felt the same and the kitchen embraced vegetables, spices, yogurt and lamb. California-style leafy green salads that I never saw in Turkey were on the menu, of course, and some fusiony items like dolmas stuffed with pre-braised lamb.
When I caught a glimpse of a little Turkish woman in a head scarf and apron in the partially open kitchen at the back, who looked like the women who cooked for me in their homes in small villages near Antakya and Gazientep, bingo. The accommodating Turkish wait staff at Troya told me all the things she prepared and I started right there.
It turns out that this woman has a delicate hand with pastries and dough as evidenced by her Anatolian flatbreads ($11). Troya’s lahmacun, the ubiquitous Turkish-style pizza, was one of the best I’ve tasted, a small, thin round of tender, almost puff pastry-light dough evenly paved with a succulent topping of minced beef, roasted peppers, onions, garlic and Turkish chile. Another flat bread, folded over a velvety filling of smoky roasted eggplant and fresh white cheese is another must order.
As a dumpling lover, I can’t resist manti, small meat-stuffed dumplings, a dish constantly served in eastern Turkey and throughout Central Asia. Troya’s thumb-nail sized manti ($17), made of toothsome, hand rolled dough plump with onion-scented minced beef filling come swathed in warm yogurt drizzled with spice sizzled butter–Turkish genius.
Vibrant meze from Troya’s western chef, Philip Busacco, a six year veteran of Terzo, can also constitute a meal. Start with Turkish red lentil soup ($6), a delicious puree enlivened with a drizzle of olive oil and mint and a squeeze of lemon. (Busacco uses fresh mint; it’s better with dried mint and Maras pepper heated in sizzling butter). Order dill-scented Persian cucumber salad ($7); tender zucchini fritters with minted yogurt ($8); and warm green beans in an aromatic sweet and sour sauce with raisins, a bowl of yogurt on the side ($8). Always include a big plate of roasted cauliflower ($8), fragrantly coated with charred spices, dark Urfa chile flakes and scallions.
Then have a little plate of Adana kebabs ($10), very soft, juicy, minced lamb with a perky fennel salad and yogurt sauce. A bigger plate of marinated lamb kebabs ($17) are equally juicy, skewered with fire blacked onions and zucchini, accompanied with smoky eggplant puree. A huge terracotta casserole of moussaka ($17) can be shared. It’s a dreamy dish of layers of aromatically seasoned minced lamb, satiny eggplant and creamy béchamel.
I end every meal with baklava, so crisp, light, nutty and buttery, some of the best I’ve ever tasted anywhere. Even if you think you don’t like baklava, try it here. Guess who makes it– the Turkish woman. Troya’s kunefe, layers of buttery shredded filo, melted white cheese and shredded filo, baked in the oven to order and sweetened at the end with sugar syrup, is a restrained and excellent version– if you haven’t been spoiled by the one I had in the market in Antakya,. Western and eastern palates equally will like a strong coffee flavored chocolate custard served in a mini-mason jar topped with labneh, a dollop of thick yogurt,.
Drink moderately priced Turkish wine. Finish with mint tea in glasses. And count yourself lucky that you can get an authentic taste of this lush cuisine right there in San Francisco.
2125 Fillmore Street (between Sacramento and California) San Francisco
415 563-1000; open daily for lunch and dinner.