In all of the Mediterranean–Italy, France, Spain, Greece, North Africa, the Middle East–no cooking is more lush, varied and anthropologically rooted than Turkish, a grand confluence of Central Asia (manti), Persia (kebabs) Arabia (halva) and the West (eggplants, tomatoes, peppers). At the new Tuba, chef/owner, Ali Yaldiz, who comes from a long line of chefs and bakers in the central Turkish city of Kayseri, takes diners on a buoyant tour of a cuisine that straddles East and West.
Tuba (a girl’s name that means heavenly beauty and purity, not a big brass instrument) is a comfortable place, a storefront with sponged burgundy, orange and yellow walls, wood floors and dark wood tables. Old lamps hang from the ceiling, giving the colorful room a gentle glow. Friendly Turkish wait staff and enthusiastic Turkish patrons make would-be Turks like me feel right at home.
The menu and the spirit of Tuba lends itself to family-style eating. The cold platter ($15) brings velvety, perfect pitch humus; thick dill and mint scented yogurt called haydari; lively rice, currant and pine nut stuffed grape leaves; a vegetarian kofte of mashed red lentils with bulgur and parsley called mercimek kofte; and my favorite, ezme, a thick spread of crushed walnuts and pepper paste that I eat with a fork. One of the delights of Turkish cooking is that so many deeply satisfying dishes are based on legumes and vegetables.
The Tuba hot platter ($19) stars mucver– plump, cheesy, crisply fried zucchini pancakes; and light, crumbly falafel that dissolve on your tongue. Buttery, cheese-filled fried pastry rolls called sigari boregi keep you on the
vegetarian track, though icli kofte, crisply fried mini-footballs of bulgur stuffed with a little ground beef, are some of the nicest I’ve eaten. In a nod towards California, the hot platter includes crab cakes and a juicy herb salad in tahini dressing.
A meal could be made just of these, but generous main courses also lend themselves to sharing. I’m wild about beyti adana ($16), a long, flat, ground beef and lamb kebab seasoned with Turkish red pepper and salt, lubricious with fat, and wrapped in thin, soft lavash bread to form a cylinder, then sliced crosswise into fat pinwheels. These are set on end like soldiers and slathered with thick, spicy tomato puree and a dollop of yogurt.
Hunkar begendi ($15) is another of these Turkish miracle dishes that push the edge of lusciousness. Hauntingly smoky pureed eggplant is enriched with butter and essentially creamed with kasseri cheese, and topped with tomato-tinged braised lamb. It’s the unctuous eggplant puree, otherwise known as Sultan’s Delight, that is one of the sexiest things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Dessert completes the Tuba experience. A chilled, milky, barely sweetened baked rice pudding called sutlag ($5) refreshes. At the other end of the spectrum, irmik helvasi ($5), warm polenta-like, coarsely ground semolina drizzled with buttery pine nuts, house made syrup and milk, is the secret breakfast of desserts.
For chef/owner Yaldiz, who came from Turkey seven years ago to open Park Gyro on 9th street by Golden Gate Park, Tuba is a dream come true, a gracious place where his devoted patrons can spend a whole evening eating and drinking at a well appointed table.
Tuba, 1007 Guerrero (at 22nd Street), San Francisco
Contact: (415) 826-8822; www.tubarestaurant.com
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m.
Price range: $6 to $24
Recommended dishes: ezme, stuffed falafel salad, mucver, icli kofte, beyti adana, hunkar begendi, rice pudding
Credit cards: all major