Terrific Turkish cuisine

Troya serves up a taste of Istanbul in the Inner Richmond District

After three glorious food trips to Turkey, I returned hungry for a Turkish restaurant here that lives up to what I ate there. Finally, I’ve found one: Troya.

Sure, we have kebab shops, some buffets and a few restaurants that start out Turkish and soon lose their identity, but Troya — which opened seven months ago in the former quarters of one of those vaguely Turkish cafés — celebrates authentic Turkish cooking.

The corner location, which benefits from two huge plate glass windows, has been transformed into a serious restaurant with dark wood tables, comfortable chairs and a brick bar. There is an excellent, affordable wine list full of bottles that really go with the food and a gracious, well informed wait staff. But, most importantly, the menu entices with over 15 mezes and a handful of grilled kebabs.

When I eat at Troya, I want to order all the little plates. The musts include haydari ($4.95), which is thick, house-made yogurt with shredded carrots, and a chunky, velvet-textured eggplant and pepper salad ($4.95), simply the best of its kind. I adore mucver ($5.50), tender, lacy, golden zucchini pancakes aromatic with dill and mint, with an herbed yogurt sauce on the side.

Kisir ($4.75), the finest grains of bulgar plumped with pureed peppers and tomatoes in a salad with parsley and scallions, thrills me; as does the mercimek koftese ($4.95), chilled kebab-shaped ovals of cumin-scented, mashed red lentils rolled in bulgar.

Turkish “pizza,” or lahmacun ($4.95), which is sold on every street corner of Istanbul, is recreated here — a flaky, paper-thin crust paved with savory, finely ground lamb, tomatoes, scallions and spices.

You can share all these mezze and maybe a few more and still have room for main courses, especially Troya’s wonderful version of the Turkish classic, Imam Bayildi ($9.95), which deserves its lyrical name, “the imam sighs.” Small Mediterranean eggplants are charred, thinly sliced and stuffed with a bright mixture of tomatoes, onions and herbs. Accompanied with pilaf-style rice, thisdish makes both vegetarians and omnivores very happy. The kitchen painstakingly hand-stuffs manti ($11.25), tiny ravioli the size of a shell bean, with ground beef, and naps them with yogurt and paprika butter — labor- intensive Turkish home cooking.

Troya grills up juicy, vividly seasoned kofte, ground beef meatballs ($7.25/$10.50), and lamb and chicken kebabs of all sorts, but the fabulous signature dish, beyti ($13.50), a ground lamb kebab wrapped in flat bread, and topped with spicy tomato sauce, garlic yogurt and that paprika butter, should not be missed. The long roll is cut into bite-size pieces so the dish can be easily devoured by everyone at the table.

Those who have been to Turkey may find it hard to pass on an icy Turkish Efes Pilsner beer ($4.75). In lieu of Turkish wines (I was told some are coming), the fruity, soft, delicious Cantele Salice Salentino ($28), a southern Italian red from Puglia, enhances the food.

Turkish-born owner Berk Kinalilar found his talented chef Mehmet Vural at a little to-go joint in Fisherman’s Wharf that he frequented before it closed. Vural grew up cooking in his family’s restaurant in eastern Turkey, and he wields a sure and delicate hand on arguably the best of the pure Mediterranean cuisines. With Kinalilar’s operational savvy and Vural in the kitchen, San Franciscans finally have a Turkish restaurant they can be proud of.

Troya

Location: 349 Clement (at 5th Avenue), San Francisco

Contact: (415) 379-6000, www.troyasf.com

Hours: Daily from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Price range: Mezes $4.50 to $8.25, main courses $9.95 to $14.95

Recommended dishes: Haydari, kisir, lahmacun, mucver, beyti, manti, kofte

Credit cards: Visa and MasterCard

Reservations: Accepted

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