Woe to the restaurant that finds me in a bad mood. Fortunately for Zeytin, a Turkish restaurant in Ada, Michigan, I was in fine fettle last Thursday. The food I consume can affect how I feel, but the reverse is also true. If I am in a great mood, everything tastes better.* Happiness is a spice all its own.
My friend, Kay, joined me for a belated birthday lunch celebration.** Kay and I are both enthusiastic ‘foodies’, while not necessarily qualified by training, we are experienced gourmands and picky about our palate and the foods we try. I like to utilize her taste buds because she will eat the meat dishes so I can tell you about them. And, before you cry foul, Kay is okay with this arrangement—the safe word is “Rocky Mountain Oysters”.
Kay, and I wrestled with the many choices of appetizers. So we ordered enough to feed a small army—or a house with teenagers. Soon plates of borek, spinach pie, and bowls of soup arrived along with a basket of very thin, cold pita and a generous bowl of tzatziki—called Cacik in Turkish. The yogurt dish was the favorite among the four we chose.
The Feta Borek—a deep-fried crispy roll filled with feta cheese—was the Turkish equivalent of a crab Rangoon, minus the crab. We both agreed, this was phenomenal. (Especially dunked in the cacik—everything is better with yogurt sauce on it.)
Next we had the stuffed grape leaves. Here Kay and I parted ways. Kay loved them, believing they were flavored with anise, I had reservations because of the odd and unexpected taste. When asked what the secret ingredient was our waiter admitted this was the one item on the menu that they did not make at the restaurant, but ordered in. My internal food detective went ‘Ah Hah!’ But I said nothing aloud; I like to savor my smugness along with my meal.
Kay and I both had reservations about the spinach pie. I am a huge fan of spanakopita (the Greek iteration of this dish) so I was a bit disappointed by the approach taken by the Turkish chef. Instead of getting a rolled, triangular packet stuffed with feta and spinach chopped in a good ratio, this came more as a lasagna-style serving—where the phyllo dough had a bottom and a top layer with a huge helping of spinach dotted with feta as a leaden center. This arrangement made the upper layers of phyllo a touch gluey. My research informed me that Phyllo, the thin, layered pastry, which I thought was a strictly Greek invention, actually originated in Istanbul. So, it was likely I ate the more traditional rendition of the dish. That said, I would still prefer my puffed savory to be a little more flaky and the proportions of dough to filling better measured to prevent the steam from collapsing all that delicately structured crust. Still, it tasted pretty good and it would beat most fast food restaurant food hands-down.
There is something entirely decadent about sitting in luxurious comfort sipping sweet tea in delicate glasses, chatting with a good friend. Our booth had colorful, thick cushions with a Turkish rug pattern and pillows at our backs, the music playing was soft and a woman sang with plaintive, if incomprehensible words, as we dined.
The only jarring note to the bright, clean establishment is the décor. Looking around we saw what looked like Southwestern paintings which veered very heavily near to something you might see painted on black velvet or found on a Thomas Kinkade Calendar—if he’d ever managed to escape the English village where he’s been held hostage for years churning out lilac-strangled cottages. Twisted iron chandeliers which mimicked the antlers of a many pronged, exotic animal prompted us to ask whether the owners had kept the previous establishment’s theme. The puzzled waiter replied, “No, this is all new with the restaurant.” Okay then. Since I inadvertently painted my basement to look like interior of a submarine, I cast no interior design stones. But be prepared if you go there.
Kay enjoyed her grilled lamb. (Which I would describe to you in detail if my son hadn’t stolen my notebook to create a Jackson Pollock inspired mess on his bedroom floor.) I loved my Turkish Delight—a mélange of veggies swimming in a delicious tomato-based stew on homemade hummus. I was surprised to find uniformly chopped carrots with the telling zigzag that screams ‘frozen veggie’ but, that said, the dish was fantastic.
I won’t quibble if they can make frozen food taste that good. We both thought that the presentation of the hors d’oeuvres on rough chopped iceberg lettuce with thin half-moon slices of tomato was underwhelming. My thought was that if they just added a nice, light lemon-olive oil vinaigrette and made it a side of the appetizer then it wouldn’t be such a waste of vegetation.
Friendship is the flavor which makes life worth savoring. I can laugh, joke and chew my meal and it has a gustatory pleasure you cannot recreate no matter how well cooked a dish is when eaten alone. Minor pet peeves aside—frozen veggies and a slightly too heavy emphasis on salt in many of the dishes—I suggest you run right out and dine at this hidden gem. Gustatory treasure hunters will not be disappointed.
Zeytin gets three out of four olives. It is a great place to go with friends. The meals are slightly higher in price than your average lunch fare, but then, the food is better. It is intended as a slower dining experience, has tables arranged in either booths, or two-to-four person settings with the possibility of reorganizing for larger groups. It looks to have a well-stocked bar for those who like a little aperitif with their meal. There are a few ‘American’ food options for kids (cheese burger/chicken nuggets) but adults had best be prepared to dine in Turkish style.
Asterisk Bedazzled Footnotes:
*Apparently I am an emotional eater in more than one sense.
**Like we need an excuse to go to a good restaurant.
If given a choice between the Lentil or Spinach Tomato soups, go with the latter. Unless you hate spinach–because it really does have a Popeye’s powerhouse vegetable flavor.
Bizarre Light Fixture Bonus