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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Ottoman Taverna / 425 I St., NW

    Turkish Delights! A newcomer to the Mt. Vernon area is a swanky, gilded Turkish eatery with a genuinely Turkish chef (from Turkey!). And its catchy name: Ottoman Taverna. History buffs will know that the Ottoman Empire became one of the most forceful and powerful states in the world. Although that empire, after 600 years of ruling a large section of the Middle East and Asia Minor, came to an end with the conclusion of the First World War, its culinary habits persist. And that’s one good reason to head here for an awesome meal.

    Whether you want to celebrate brunch, lunch, dinner, or happy hour, you can pick through unusual  menus that offer both familiar and probably unfamiliar fare. Most local foodies know about falafel and hummus, but how many know what is cerkez tavugu (carcashisan chicken with walnuts, garlic, and paprika oil) or mucver (pan-seared zucchini cakes with scallions, onions, garlic, and dill) or even the dinner kebab, kuzu sis (chargrilled lamb cubes with rice pilaf)?

    True, some of the offerings may sound or even be slightly exotic, but adventurous diners should jump right in to the menu. The kitchen puts out splendid fare, so even if many offerings are unfamiliar, no one will go wrong with any order.

    To start at dinnertime, order the cold appetizers imam bayildi (roasted eggplant with tomatoes, onions, and basil oil) and the saksuka, a combination of crispy zucchini, eggplant, and bell peppers served over tomatoes and topped with a mint-yogurt sauce. Hot appetizers, also must-haves, include the falafel and the icli kofte (bulgur wheat kofte stuffed with ground lamb and ground beef). Pair all these with some exotic Turkish wines, and you should be ready for the main course. Oh, and be sure to order several plates of their flat pitas made with flour apparently imported from Turkey. Authenticity at its best!

    For lamb lovers, the braised lamb shank served over eggplant is stunning, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the dishes. Of course, the kebab choices incorporate lamb, beef, or chicken, most served with rice pilaf and/or an onion salad. Vegetarians do have one option, the cauliflower stew with tomatoes, cipollini onions, and parsley.

    Desserts are another don’t-skip menu item. Of course, the baklava is top-rate, but foodies might find the unique oven-baked rice pudding a treat, and also the unusual Noah’s pudding made with wheat grains, nuts, and dried fruits. But whichever Ottoman Taverna’s sweets, the fierce Turkish coffee pairs well, and well worth the jolt.

    The brunch menu provides an interesting blend of Turkish and American favorites, though a plate of scrambled or fried eggs with feta cheese, marinated olives, garlic yogurt, and onions or other ingredients is not really Middle America. But this is an amazing restaurant with a shimmery-white/gold décor that seems reminiscent of an empire long since past.

    Ottoman Taverna /. lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11am-3pm; dinner, 4-10pm nightly; brunch, Sat. & Sun. 11am-3pm. 202-847-0395; www.ottomantaverna.com.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.