The waiting area at Bosphorus, tucked into an old house near the Eli Lilly headquarters, is padded with jewel-colored pillows and flanked with dangling blue charms meant to ward off the evil eye. They didn't stop me from giving the Bosphorus waitstaff the evil eye one crowded Friday night. The wait got so long that, in an effort to disperse the madding crowd, one woman jokingly feigned a rat sighting. Call it a symbol of her enthusiasm for the place.
After the wait, I needed the food at Bosphorus to be redemptively good. And it needed to match or exceed memories of a 2009 trip to Turkey, where seaside breakfasts of figs, yogurt and honey, and dinners of fish, rice and veggies seemed timeless and effortless. The bar was high.
We started with the classic beverage of Turkey: Ayran ($2.35), a buttermilky drink served in a wine glass — smooth, unsweetened and bright white. Appetizers materialized in the form of grape leaves (or Dolma, $6.50), stuffed with rice, herbs, currants, and pine nuts. They were a bit mushy for my money, and lacking in spice. Zucchini Fritters ($6.50) hit higher. They resemble little green waffles and come with a bright sauce bursting with the essence of cucumber – a tantalizing contrast to the hot and toasty fritters themselves.
A basket of fresh warm pita pieces arrived a little later. For an entree, Dad went for Kofte (grilled lamb and beef patties, $12.50) instead. Three diminutive but well-seasoned patties arrived, arranged with an artist's eye, with a petite serving of rice flecked with peas and a cute salad dressed with vinegar and oregano.
Mom decided to go vegetarian with Guvee ($11.50), a casserole of veggies. Had she known this dish would come swimming in a pool of red grease, she wouldn't have bothered. She decided to take it home and drain it as a last resort.
My own stuffed eggplant (Karniyarik, $12.50) was rich without the grease: one half of an eggplant, roasted until creamy, filled with slightly sweet ground beef, tomatoes and peppers. My plate, also containing a little salad and rice scoop, was empty in short order. Don't plan to cart home leftovers from Bosphorus.
At this point, our server decided to take pity on us for our earlier wait and throw in a free dessert. Mom and I indulged in an overly sweet Tiramisu ($4.95). Baklava was made in house and sparkled with fresh-tasting walnuts and an unexpected flourish of whipped cream.
Bosphorus reflects the crazy quilt that is Turkey. The menu is inaccurate, in terms of prices and offerings. Its seating system is haphazard. Yes, the hummus is reputed as the best in town. Yes, the decor is charming shabby chic. Yes, it's got that mystical feel you'd want from a Turkish cafe -- and a mod vibe miles apart from its more formal competitor, the Istanbul Cafe on West 86th Street. If you plan to go to Bosphorus on a Friday night, just be sure to bring a book.