It's amazing to me that Singapore, a tiny city-state in Southeast Asia, has more Turkish restaurants than St. Louis. According to Urbanspoon, your local options are either Aya Sofia or Pan D'Olive, and after inspecting Pan D'Olive's menu, I would not consider that a Turkish restaurant. What a shame. Turkish food is wonderful, whether it's an upscale meal or an on-the-go, super fattening doner kebab.
Being the only nice Turkish restaurant in town could allow Aya Sofia to rest on its laurels and create a subpar product, but it doesn't. Chef Mehmet packs in the flavors of Turkey and the Middle East.
We started with the Ezme Meze Platter ($12.00), a trio comprised of humus, biber ezme, and babaganus. The humus (front) is made of pureed chickpeas, garlic, olives and tahini. It's a classic homemade humus, but lot better than anything you make yourself. The biber ezme (middle) is a fire red puree of roasted red peppers, garlic, olives, breadcrumbs and grated cheese. I wasn't really interested in this when we ordered it, but it ended up being my favorite of the three. The charred and smokey peppers are the star, as they should be, with light hints from the garlic and olives. If you're not an olive lover, don't fret. None of these dishes had a strong olive flavor. The final piece, the babaganus, is pureed grilled eggplant, tomato, garlic, tahini and lemon. In both taste and texture, it's not that far from the humus. It's like an eggplant flavored humus, which is definitely not a bad thing. The biber ezme was my favorite, followed by the babaganus, then the humus.
The platter comes with a large basket of warm homemade pita, which I challenge you to avoid eating. You will fail.
Aya Sofia's grilled whole fish of the day, called Balik, is a showstopper. The fish (Chupra when we went) comes with pearl couscous and a surprisingly delicious onion salad, though the picture below has double salad and no couscous. Under the wonderfully crispy and lightly seasoned skin was flakey and juicy meat. It's a great summertime dish. You certainly won't leave hungry if you order the fish, but you won't feel the same guilt that I did by ordering...
...the Adana Kebab. Spicy ground lamb is grilled on a Turkish sword. How could I not order a spicy meat dish grilled on a sword? I wish all my food was grilled on a sword skewer. It comes with the same onion salad as the fish, plus rice pilaf and grilled tomatoes. I expected the grilled pepper to have a mild taste, but it was hot! The kebab rests on a half pita, which is perfect for soaking up all the delicious meat juices that drip out.
While this dish isn't exactly sexy looking, it is sexy tasting. It's almost like a lamb chorizo with its piquant and smoky flavor. It comes with a sweeter, yogurty sauce if it's too spicy for you, as well as a spicy chili sauce for the masochists.
Your options for Turkish food are limited, but lucky for you, Aya Sofia is serving up fine Turkish fare. Hats off to Chef Mehmet for not Americanizing or dumbing down his cuisine. Afiyet olsun!
St. Louis, MO 63109