Restaurants in The InTowner
The InTowner
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Turkish Delight = Agora

Receiving loads of enthusiastic reviews, Agora is one of Dupont Circle’s newest restaurants. Most people will nod in agreement that the food is glorious and unusual. After all, the restaurant’s chef, a native of Lebanon and a very experienced cook, has devised a Turkish- and Greek-inspired menu that, for Washington, may sound commonplace but is a bit exotic. Yet this newcomer has both smooth spots and a few blemishes.

The service may need a shot of adrenaline, for one. True, we ate there on a Sunday night, and most tables in the main dining room were taken; even the outside area was full, and such crowds almost guarantee that service will move slowly. And it did. When the waiter came with our order, he also carried other’s dishes as well, and sometimes seemed unsure who got what. On the other hand, friends agree that the staff was most attentive, and the food presentation, very attractive.

It’s also possible that in this age when big portions define restaurant meals, a mini tapas portion seems, well, too minimalist. That’s true if you have a hankering for such orders as the chef’s braised lamb shank with an eggplant-Gruyère purée and the delicately portioned hellim, or soft goat’s milk cheese served with fig jam. You may want to order two or three of each of these, or dine here alone. It’s at this point when the whole idea of meze- or tapas-style eating falls apart, at least for some folks. More food, please.

On the other hand, the grilled fresh squid stuffed with shrimp and tossed with a tangle of cilantro and garlic arrives in abundance, and is enough to share with three. And the breadbasket with the house’s puffy pita is kept filled, thanks to staff attention. By the way, it’s a great bread for dunking into the various flavors that surround each dish, and stands, too, on its own merit. Too bad this isn’t sold separately as a take-home eat-next-day starch. Or is it?

Of the many dishes we ordered, perhaps the most must-repeats were the lamb shank, the beef-lamb meatballs with a sour cherry sauce, and the  Turkish sucuklu pide, a wood-fired flat bread topped with a spread of pesto and a delectable Turkish sausage — the flat bread comes conveniently sectioned for easy sharing. Of all the unexpected palate-pleasers, the meatballs deserve their own gold star: Gently spiced and finely ground, they seem to glow in the flavor combination.

If you eat out around town a lot, you may be already way too familiar with versions of stuffed grape leaves, borek (though the chef’s version of this phyllo roll is good), and sautéed spinach. As for the last, it’s, well, sautéed spinach spiked with pine nuts, seasonings, and crushed red peppers — a dish easily reproducible at home. Maybe the chef might replace these dishes and indulge us with more of his unusual offerings.

Probably the least pleasing aspect of the evening, however, was the bill. True, DC menu prices can discourage patrons, and ours was discouraging. Without even a drop of liquor included, for these very small plates our bill totaled nearly $75, not including tax and tip. Ouch.

Agora | 1527 17th St., NW; (202) 332-6767; Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11am-3pm; Dinner, Sun.-Thu. 5pm-11pm, Fri. & Sat. to midnight; Brunch, Sat. &-Sun. 11am-3pm.