Sunday, January 30, 2011

Agora: A Greek Name for a Turkish Restaurant?

Dishes To Die For: lamb chops with sour cherry sauce; Aegean Delight

"And so what we should do is...," I stopped mid-sentence as my mind registered that a piece of paradise had just passed through my mouth. The echo reverberated on my tastebuds. This was Agora's Aegean Delight: apricots stuffed with walnuts, served with vanilla bean mascarpone cheese, caramel sauce and pistachios. Those pistachios are lightly toasted and pair sublimely with the tart apricots, all bathed in the gentlest of mascarpones. My mouth celebrated and put a stop to any more words that may have been on the way. So, absolutely. to die for.
Aegean Delight is named for the sea that lies between Turkey and Greece and is an ecumenical name for a dessert that could be at home in either country’s cuisine. Then again, the word “agora” is a Greek word that is used by both Greeks and Turks to mean “market place”. Despite these commonalities, not too long ago Turkey and Greece were sworn enemies, and you had to be careful not to order “Turkish coffee” when in Greece, or “Greek salad” when in Turkey. But now, in 2011, Turkey has a foreign policy called “zero problems towards neighbors” and Agora’s name is right in step with the times.  20% of its dishes are announced to be Greek in nature, and with a Lebanese chef, the menu also embraces the Mediterranean Middle East.

The offerings, though, are more than a representation of old standards. The kitchen works to keep the menu contemporary and fun, perhaps sometimes going too far in its playfulness: crab falafel, anyone? But for the most part, what you get is a wide range of new and interesting creations from the former Ottoman Empire.

Although there are plenty of vegetarian dishes at Agora, I am most impressed by their meats. On my second visit, I tried the lamb chops. Simply grilled on a charcoal fire, they are superb, a testament to the high quality of Agora's sources and careful execution. With that, I resolved to try the filet mignon with sour cherry sauce, kasar cheese and glazed shallots on my next visit. But -- to my chagrin -- when I returned a scant week later, this item had been removed from the menu. And no pleading with the waiter could get it back.

The solution I found was to order the lamb chops with a side of sour cherry sauce. I knew that the cherry sauce was still around, because it’s still on the menu – this time paired with kofte (spicy meatballs). But while the meatballs are very good on their own, their spices -- which include coriander and other robust flavors – are too harsh against the cherries. So I tried again with the lamb chops, and to great effect. The soft smokiness of the meat paired with the sweet sourness of the cherries sent me into a dreamlike state, absorbed in the experience of one my favorite meats being elevated to yet higher distinction. Do try this – the kitchen is happy to give you the sauce on the side, and if you are a lover of lamb chops, you will be happy too. I have zero problems with Agora in my neighborhood.

Agora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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