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Saray - New Turkish Restaurant in Allston

Allstonian Nov 28, 2007 08:07 PM

Saray is a new Turkish restaurant in Packard's Corner, in the space on Commonwealth Avenue that used to be Beckett's Pub. They opened the weekend before Thanksgiving, and BarmyFotheringayPhipps and I tried them out this evening.

The decor is elegant and simple, with tablecloths and cloth napkins, a two-tone wall treatment in ocher and pale brick, and Art Deco style sconces.

The menu isn't quite as extensive as the Family Restaurant in Brookline Village, but offers soups, salads, a range of hot and cold appetizers, seafood dishes, a variety of kebabs, and a number of other entrees. They don't serve liquor, but have a number of interesting beverages such as Turkish soft drinks and juices.

(Sorry - my descriptions are going to lack proper names because I neglected to make notes on the proper namers for dishes!)

We started with a combo appetizer that gave us five generous scoops of various items - hummus and baba ganoush, plus a second item also featuring smoky eggplant, a spread of lebne with spinach, and a delicious spread of tomato, mildly hot pepper, and walnuts. These were served with a small round of Turkish bread - when that ran out, our waitress happily provided seconds.

BFP had the doner kebab for his entree - it came as shreds of meat on either side of a mound of rice pilaf with whole chick peas, along with a grilled long pepper, half a Roma tomato (also grilled), cabbage apparently lightly pickled with beet juice which gave it a shocking pink color and a faint sweetness and earthiness, another salad of paper-thin slices or red onion tossed with parsley leaves, and a cup of tart, hot, garlicky pickles. I had a vegetable stew with lamb (it can also be had as a strictly veggie dish or with chicken), which also came with a serving of the pilaf with chickpeas. While it was entirely pleasing and satisfied my lingering post-Thanksgiving craving for vegetables, I think BFP chose better.

For dessert BFP had a milk custard flavored with rosewater and topped with slivered blanched almonds; I had an interesting pudding of stewed dried fruits and legumes (apricots, figs, currants, chickpeas, white beans, and rice, garnished with pomegranate seeds.) Mine was tasty and I'm glad I tried it because it was so unusual, but again I think BFP got the better item. The pudding would be a great dessert to share, though, and would probably be improved by an accompanying cup of tea.

We chose an expensive appetizer, so the total for app, two entrees, one glass of cherry juice, and two desserts came to just under $60 (plus tip.)

At 7:30 on a Wednesday night the restaurant was half full, including two parties of 5 and 6. Our waitress apologized for being a wee bit harried when she first came to take our order - we were the third party in a series of four that all arrived at the same time, and as she explained to us, the second server was absent that night because they had a class, so she was alone on the floor. However, once she regained her composure her service was excellent, and she was friendly and genuinely interested in our enjoyment of the food.

We enjoyed both of the sadly short-lived Turkish restaurants that were previous tenants of the space now occupied by Grille Zone. Saray is a cut above those in quality of food, and much superior in atmosphere. I wish them success.

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  1. BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: Allstonian Nov 28, 2007 09:37 PM

    What really struck me about this place was how after a little over a week in business, it already felt like just a cozy little neighborhood restaurant. One of the two big groups asked the waitress (who was superb) to take their photo, which, bizarrely, led to this kind of chain reaction of snaps, because first the party sitting behind them started taking photos of each other, then the two girls sitting behind *them* started taking shots of themselves. It was oddly sweet, actually: it's testament to the comfort level of this restaurant that the customers felt that at ease. Similarly, a party of three left the table behind ours as we were eating. When a couple came in shortly after, the waitress offered them a choice of two of the deuces on our side of the restaurant (14 tables total, two rounds in the front windows and six each deuces and foursomes) and the couple said "Actually, could we have that table?," pointing at the one the trio had just left, which hadn't been bused yet. (To be fair, the deuces are kind of skimpy tables -- we'd chosen to sit at one of the larger tables ourselves.) The waitress said okay and the couple calmly sat down and let the waitress and the runner going between the kitchen and floor bus the table around them. Again, it's impressive that the customers feel comfortable enough to do something like that at a restaurant that's only been open like 10 days, and it bodes well for this restaurant. It's a pretty, comfy room that people enjoy being in, and that's important.

    I went with the doner kebab because it's sort of a baseline reading for a Turkish restaurant, like ordering the moules frites at a Belgian place: this is the one dish that they should execute perfectly. And it was indeed exquisite: shaved pieces of beef and lamb that were a perfect mix of thin and crispy, thick and tender and lean and fatty, perfectly seasoned without being too salty. The accompanying salads were minimalistic but well done, although I liked the red onions better after a light dressing with the oil and vinegar from the on-table cruet. The mixed pickle -- onion, carrot, green tomato and Hungarian pepper -- was fantastic. My one complaint is that the yogurt sauce promised on the menu was conspicuous in its absence: I didn't miss it, but still, it's a bit sloppy for it to go missing.

    My dessert was just perfect, and I loved it. Allstonian's was thoroughly odd -- I am fairly certain this was the first dessert I've ever eaten that included whole chickpeas and canneloni beans -- but delicious, but they would do well to cut its serving size in half: it's simply too rich and too sweet to finish.

    On our way back from the scoping the dessert case, I noticed a gentleman enthusiastically tucking into a plate that included two freakin' enormous braised lamb shanks. I am intrigued.

    1. hiddenboston RE: Allstonian Nov 29, 2007 04:34 AM

      Thanks for the report, Allstonian and BarmyFotheringayPhipps. I love Turkish cuisine (Sultan's Kitchen and Family Restaurant are two of my favorite places). I can't wait to get over there to try it. So that's near EMS and the Wilderness House?

      12 Replies
      1. re: hiddenboston
        Allstonian RE: hiddenboston Nov 29, 2007 04:50 AM

        Yes, just a little further out Comm. Ave (#1198 - I tried creating a Places link for it but there seems to be something wrong with the "Add a Place" option.) It's on the inbound side of the avenue *just* at the point where it bends and Brighton Avenue joins it.

        1. re: Allstonian
          galleygirl RE: Allstonian Nov 29, 2007 04:13 PM

          Didn't that used to be the Silhouette Lounge?

          And those seafood options; any recollections? They never seem to have the fish at Brookline Family Restraurant.....

          1. re: galleygirl
            Allstonian RE: galleygirl Nov 29, 2007 06:16 PM

            Nope, it used to be Beckett's Pub. I tried last night to recall what it was before that, but I couldn't.

            The Sihouette is on Brighton Avenue at the corner of Allston Street, across from the Burger King. (Just before Union Square.) It's been there as long as I can remember, which is well over 40 years, and it's still there. It has a mural on the side wall of famous Joes, including Joe Louis, Bazooka Joe, and Joe Cocker. Saray is in the middle of a block and has no exterior side walls at all.

            I don't recall details of the fish dishes except that there was a full section with half a dozen or more choices.

            1. re: Allstonian
              Luther RE: Allstonian Nov 30, 2007 03:14 AM

              Did that place used to be the cleaners? Or is the cleaners still there next door?

              1. re: Luther
                BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: Luther Nov 30, 2007 04:53 AM

                The cleaners is still next door.

              2. re: Allstonian
                galleygirl RE: Allstonian Nov 30, 2007 06:40 AM

                Thanks.
                Maybe the Model Cafe, or lounge, was near ther, or in their spot?

                1. re: galleygirl
                  Joanie RE: galleygirl Nov 30, 2007 06:59 AM

                  You're thinking too far up the street. This is more or less across from the Shaw's. It was a pub for a long time (Becketts as mentioned) and had bands for a little bit about 4 years ago. By the aforementioned dry cleaner and BU Terrier Grill or whatever that place is called. There's another empty space closer to T Anthony's that used to be a Korean spot that had a loungey thing happening at nite (I think) and that's still empty. Up by the Model is the newish vegan pizza place, Grasshopper, Deep Ellum and the Tibetan joint.

                  1. re: Joanie
                    galleygirl RE: Joanie Nov 30, 2007 08:00 AM

                    I passed the new Turkish place the other day, so I know where it is. I don't know why I keep confusing the other places that were there....

              3. re: galleygirl
                BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: galleygirl Nov 29, 2007 06:19 PM

                There was a cod and a salmon. I forget details of the preparation because I wasn't in the mood for seafood last night. There were at least seven or eight seafood options, though.

                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                  t
                  teezeetoo RE: BarmyFotheringayPhipps Nov 29, 2007 07:43 PM

                  i'm going and having the strange pudding. in a wonderful hillside restaurant in turkey right by a running brook, we had amazing trout (from the brook apparently) one beautiful afternoon, grilled on charcoal fire, and lots of mezzas. we sat at a long wooden table enjoying the warmth of the sun and the turkish hospitality. we were too full for desert but were sitting over our tea. we had noticed a big kettle hung over an open fire and our host started ladeling stuff from it into bowls which he brought us as a "gift" from the restaurant. it was a pudding, almost oatmeal in consistency, with wonderful bits of fruit and beans in it, probably sweetened with honey. it was a lovely moment in a string of lovely moments in a country that made us feel more genuinely welcomed than any we had ever visited. i must have that pudding again!

                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                    galleygirl RE: BarmyFotheringayPhipps Jan 27, 2008 05:54 AM

                    TC and I went last night....Sadly, there were only two other parties while we were there, and only one other when we left, at 9:00!
                    Sounds like this is another place that may need hound help.

                    We had the hummus for an app, becasue he wanted it, and I gave in. Very ordinary, next time, I would go with one of the app plates.

                    He had the vegetarian stew with lamb for an entree, which he quite liked, but I had the real winner, Pasha Salmon with Special Salad. I wanted a grilled fish, and this promised salmon, in grape leaves, grilled. It was different from any preparation I've had before; chunks of salmon, about the size of healthy-sized stuffed grape leaves, wrapped in grape leaves, and grilled. The leaves were crispy, but not dry, either from salmon fat or EVOO, and the salmon was perfectly cooked. The salad was filled with pickled vegetables, as well as fresh salad ingredients, which was a nice tangy counterpoint to the rich salmon. I would clearly go back for this!

                    Fish entrees are a little higher than other menu options, starting at $18.95.

                    We shared the strange pudding for dessert, and got a little information about it..It basically translates to "pudding with 7 ingredients"...It can be any seven, starting with sugar and water, and usually some beans. We saw chickpeas, tasted dried apricot and some kind of citron, and just enjoyed the rest. Their baklava looked great, but TC requires his desserts have sugar, and more quantity... ;)

                2. re: Allstonian
                  p
                  psora RE: Allstonian Dec 1, 2007 12:23 PM

                  I think the problem is the address putting it up by Harvard Ave. It's actually 1098 from a google and from where you say it is. I just tweaked the link.

                  Do you know if they deliver or are planning to hook into any of the delivery services (as mentioned in my Shanghai Gate gate post, I'm going to be delivery oriented for a while)?

                  Thanks for the heads up anyway. Never think to look at the places on that corner and probably wouldn't have spotted it on my own.

              4. e
                ellstah RE: Allstonian Dec 2, 2007 07:22 PM

                Ooh, I've never tried Turkish cuisine...maybe I'll check this place out. so it's across from Shaws??

                1. NiKoLe1625 RE: Allstonian Dec 3, 2007 09:15 AM

                  thanks for the great review. I LOVE turkish food and i'm definitely looking forward to checking this place out!

                  1. m
                    mselin RE: Allstonian Dec 22, 2007 03:15 PM

                    Well, I'm very excited to hear about this place. The "strange" pudding you're describing is most probably - Asure (the 's' has a cedilla and is pronounced like an 'sh' in english) -- most commonly in Turkey they translate it as "Noah's pudding" on the menu -- a little bit of everything is in there. It can take a while to make and is a real treat in the winter. If one family makes it, they invite friends over to share. It is one of my favorite desserts, but most places don't serve it. I'm thrilled that Saray has it. I'll be heading over as soon as I can.

                    I'm also happy to hear that they seem to have devote several dishes to seafood. Turks on the coasts (istanbul, izmir,etc.) eat a ton of seafood, but it rarely shows up on the menus in the american incarnations. The dishes I read about in the Boston Globe article as well are all very authentic and go beyond the traditional kebap that so permeates the menus here. Thanks for posting!!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mselin
                      BarmyFotheringayPhipps RE: mselin Dec 22, 2007 03:25 PM

                      That's definitely what struck us: Saray is going way beyond the two kebab places that tried and failed to make a go of it a ways down the street in the space that's now Grille Zone. Those places were good but ordinary: Saray is good and, by Boston standards, pretty unique. I hope it sticks around.

                    2. t
                      totoro RE: Allstonian Dec 23, 2007 03:03 PM

                      Just went there today. Had the mixed cold apps, the red lentil soup, and the special kebabs (I had wanted the grilled seafood plate, but they were out). The person I was with ordered the white bean salad and the sis kebabs.

                      The service was wonderful, and the food was truly fresh, in a way that's impossible to fake.

                      The mouhamara was amazing, and all of the meat was juicy, with none of the dryness you get at some other places (like Shawarma King or Boston Kebab House; nb. that I eat lunch once or twice a week at Boston Kebab House, so I'm not a detractor).

                      I'll be going back, and would recommend this place without any hesitation.

                      One thing to note: the portions are _huge_. The chef sent us out a complimentary dessert, and it was hard to get through it (_and_ we had had our entrees bagged up). I guess this isn't something to complain about, but it does make me worry about their viability. I really hope they make it.

                      1. 0
                        02139 RE: Allstonian Jan 7, 2008 04:04 PM

                        I went here last week and had the trout with nuts (I don't remember the name). It was very good. The fish was crispy and soft at the same time. The portion was big.
                        I had the caramelized pudding for dessert. It was a generous size, nice and sweet.

                        Great restaurant!

                        1. v
                          velotrain RE: Allstonian Jan 7, 2008 08:59 PM

                          I live nearby and went there in the first week they were open. I had an overall poor experience, but that may have mostly been the newness.

                          I ordered the lamb soup, but the waitress brought a clear soup with some strange looking light-colored meat in it, which definitely wasn't lamb. I asked the waitress about it and she took it away, to return saying they had "given her" the tripe soup instead. I wanted to say that she had taken my order and should know what soups are what. She asked if I would like another soup and she brought the lentil soup - I don't know if they were out of the lamb or what.

                          My entree was served well before I could finish the soup. I had a chicken kebab for my main dish and the chicken was very good, large flavorful chunks, but strangely it came with raw instead of roasted onions - based on a later review it looks like these are still raw but much more thinly sliced. When I asked why the onions weren't cooked I was told it was traditional. It came with the cabbage and other side dishes mentioned, but all of these were cold and I would have liked a warm side dish.

                          Service was spotty, even though the place was not crowded. My water glass was never refilled without my asking. I noticed that other tables got bread but I didn't. It sounds like the waitresses were inexperienced but have started to learn their trade.

                          The Globe review mentions that one of the owners also has the grill next door, which has always seemed like an odd place as there are usually more people working there than there are dining, which has always made me wonder if they have a side business.

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