If you see this on a menu — "It is said that three major kinds of cuisine exist in the world: French, Chinese, and Turkish" — it's a fair bet you're not in a French or Chinese restaurant.
Set into a strip mall off the memorably named Petrovitsky Road, A La Turca Cafe & Grill's grandiose menu pronouncements may strain your cultural relativism, but the food is good and the place takes care of its customers. The Web site, www.alaturcacafe.com, has photos of happy customers at its last New Year's party. Dozens of photos.
Turkish food combines aspects of Greek and Middle Eastern. There are plenty of gyro-like meats and salads with feta and olives, but also hummus ($4.95), baba ghanouj ($5.95) and boreks ($4.95). One Turkish trademark is mucver ($4.95), an appetizer of fried zucchini patties. The tabouli ($4.95) is more like a bland, soupy couscous; don't bother.
Kofte, spiced ground meat, is not specific to Turkey, but A La Turca's version is admirable, molded around a skewer and grilled or formed into patties and stewed with vegetables.
The food is often heavily salted; if you're not a salt fiend, you may want to ask them to go light. Portions come in an odd and unheralded range of sizes; the mixed grill ($14.95) is a modest assortment of meats, while the iskender kebab ($12.95) could serve a Seahawk. I don't know any Seahawks, so I saved half for lunch.
On the night I visited, the entire waitstaff consisted of the affable Yasmin, who gave us an impromptu Turkish-history lesson, recommended a surprisingly good Turkish wine and generally made us feel like special customers even though the service was poky.
The restaurant attracts families with kids; at the table next to us, several were enjoying hot drinks topped with lavish amounts of whipped cream while we sipped complimentary honey-sweetened Turkish coffee (without whipped cream).
A La Turca is open daily at 9 a.m. for breakfast. According to Yasmin, that means American favorites like pancakes as well as Turkish combination plates.
As for that question of the world's major cuisines, I'll note that my last car was a 1987 Nissan. It wasn't one of the world's great cars, but it got me where I wanted to go comfortably and without a hassle; the same could be said of A La Turca Cafe.
Pastrami borek: This appetizer tasted like pastrami and dill fried up in an egg-roll wrapper, because that's what it was. It wasn't bad, but there's no real synergy to be gained by this combination. Also available with feta instead of pastrami.
Sis tavuk: I'll never say no to grilled chicken coated with a spice rub, and this Turkish version is juicy and flavorful.
Iskender kebab: Thin slices of mixed beef and lamb (basically, good homemade gyro meat) are laid over crispy pita and topped with a tomato-yogurt sauce. For some reason, this tasty mess of an entree was more than twice the size of similarly priced dishes. Includes a side of rather bland sautéed vegetables.
Revani: Americans are known for their sweet tooth, but they've got nothing on Turkish desserts. The least over-the-top of A La Turca's dessert options is this semolina cake topped with a lemon glaze and flakes of coconut.
Kavaklidere red: Would it be insulting to say that this wine was better than I expected? A wine made of little-known grape varietals from a region few associate with wine sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this dry and lightly tannic red from Turkey's largest winery is at least as good as many inexpensive bottles from California or Washington that may be found in your cupboard.
Itemized bill, meal for two
Glass of Kavaklidere red: $6.95
Pastrami borek: $4.95
Sis tavuk: $11.95
Iskender kebab: $12.95
Matthew Amster-Burton: firstname.lastname@example.org.