We once had a fabulous meal at Kervan in Cliffside
Park, a place that Jim writes about so well in his
book. Five friends wanted to try another Turkish
place, so we drove to Union City, New Jersey and to a
restaurant that Robert Sietsema recommends in his
book, Beyti Kebab.
First of all, getting there couldn't be more
convenient. From the Lincoln Tunnel, it's a few
minutes to the Park Ave. offramp off of I-395, and the
drive to the restaurant is less than five minutes from
there (4105 Park Ave.) And what a charming area, with
plenty of intriguing restaurants, an ultra-cool old
Dairy Queen, and a store that to my eternal regret was
closed: Juanita's Fantasy World. Don't jump to
conclusions: it's a party-supply store.
We had a terrific meal, with a wonderful, caring
waiter, but I don't think it reaches the heights of
Kervan. Robert said the hommus was best he'd ever
eaten, but I have a feeling it isn't the same stuff he
ate. It was not at all chunky as Robert describes,
and was kind of bland. Same with the caviar spread.
But the salads (including the "Russian salad," which
the waiter strongly recommended and was my favorite
dish of the ones we sampled) were excellent (why don't
American chefs use parsley as a flavor enhancer more
often? It's wasted as a garnish). The imam bayildi
was wonderful. And the bread was super.
The kebabs were a mixed bag, and not up to the level
of the appetizers. The lamb chops were terrific, the
doner a little dry and bland, the chicken kebabs
beautifully cooked but again lacking the depth of
flavor that we experienced at Kervan.
Beyti might be as good as any Turkish food I've had in
Manhattan, but I have to admit that while I was
eating, I kept thinking about my next trip to
Dave, I reviewed Beyti Kebab way back in 1993 for NY Press (Robert's original Down the Hatch article credited me, though the book version didn't). Back then it was great, but it's been way downhill for years. They lost their chef a long while ago, and I've been searching for him ever since. I found Kervan during that search, and while the chef/owner there is not the old Beyti Kebab chef, he's so good I'm not sure I need to look much further.
Beyti Kebab grew on the La Portena model...started as a butcher shop, added some tables, and gradually morphed into a serious restaurant. Only--unlike La Portena--their prices and pretensions shot up--and the quality plummeted. Their desserts are still excellent, though (especially the creme...forgot the name, it's just like British clotted cream).
Re: the hummous, they used to make it without tahini, it was like pure essence of golden semi-chunky chickpea. They've since started adding tahini to many of their apps, alas. The sultan swooned.
re: Jim Leff
Aha, this explains much.
All the chicken with yogurt dishes, in particular,
were very disappointing. But Beyti was worth it for
the salads. And for my first walk on Park Ave. I'd
go back just to see the inside of Juanita's Fantasy
World. Any of the other restaurants on the block (the
Guatemalan place? the Argentinian steakhouse?)
re: Dave Feldman
Dave, sorry you never knew Beyti Kebab in The Day.
Best near there is El Unico (listed in my book), a couple blocks north on Park. It's the cheapest restaurant in the tristate area (and damned good Cuban, though definitely not the tidiest place in the world). Guatemalan is just baked stuff (I know a great Guatemalan bakery in Union City), and think of the Argentine as a perilous houndtrap.