SF: Eden's Restaurant - Chef Vahit Besir found ... heavenly Halal lamb and beef gyros
Chef Vahit was highly regarded for his gyros when he had a restaurant called Real Gyro in Santa Rosa. His brother just opened the fabulous Real Doner in Petaluma.
The style is very similar. These are a bit smaller and thinner and there is some sort of herb in there that is different. The meat is wrapped in flatbread that is crispy in spots from a brief grilling. It lovingly wrapped flavorful meat, pickled red cabbage, chopped tomatoes, a bit of chopped lettuce and is dressed with yogurt sauce. There is a nice bit of crunch in this that goes beyond the cabbage. Maybe cucumber but there was some little thingy in there like a baby fennel bulb ... don't think it is fennel though. Very nice. $4.99
The case has a few baked goods on top: baklava (walnut or pistachio) and though it wasn't on the menu, some sutlac, rice pudding, that looked terrific. .
The case had some great looking kababs ... the beef were especially beautiful ... a sort of deep burgandy that were really appealing.
The menu says he also does catering for office parties, holiday parties and all special occasions.
This is one nice man. He poured me a complementary tea while I was waiting in a nice glass cup with gold trim. What was amusing was someone had been promising to fix something for him for the past three months. There was much loud talking about it. In the middle of all this commotion he says to the woman "Do you want another tea", gets the tea and the hubub continues and when they resolved she would be there on Tuesday to fix it, they sat down and continued on with a pleasant chat. Really swell guy. Fix whatever he needs fixed, ok lady?
A review of his Santa Rosa retaurant, Real Gyro is on the wall. Also, some notes about the other restaurants where he worked. Above the reviews is a Halal certification. Here's one of Melanie's posts about the restaurant he had in Santa Rosa.
Chef Vahit took over the restaurant about December 2008. Before that it was an unsuccessful gyro place with some Asian stuff on the menu. If you look at Yelp, the restaurant before the change of ownership was one star, two at most ... then in December it shot up to four and five stars.
The restaurant is a few doors up from Dotties True Blue Cafe, almost on the corner of Geary and Jones. It is a tiny bare-bones Tenderloiin restaurant with 5 tiny tables and a seating for 12 maximum. There are two sidewalk tables.
The good news is that it is open late until 2 am on Friday and Saturday and 11 pm the rest of the week.
I'll post the brief menu in the first reply
Eden's Turkish Food
552 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102
(All appetizers are served with pita bread)
1. Hummus: Mashed chick peas, mixedwith fresh lemon juice, minced garlic, olive oil and tahini $3.99
2. Baba Ganoush: Flame broiled eggplant, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil $3.99
3. Tabouli: Cracked wheat, diced vine wripe tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, fresh herbs, lemon juice and olive oil $3.99
4. Dolma: Grape leaves stuffed with rice, spices, mint, pine nuts and raisins $3.99
5. Ezme: Red bell pepper, cured to perfection, seasoned with olive oil and a touch of garlic $3.99
6. Potato salad: Boiled diced potatoes, tomatoes, sweet red onion, mixed peppers, fresh herbs, sumac and olive oil $3.99
7. Eggplant salad: Oven roasted eggplant, with mixed peppers, garlic, fresh herbs, lemon juice and olive oil $3.99
8. Mixed appetizer platter: Combination plate of hummus, baba gannoush, tabouli, ezme, potato salad, eggplant salad $7.99
Soup and salads
9. Ezo gelin: Red lentil, mint, black pepper, salt, oregano, tomato paste $2.99
10. Greek salad: Romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, mixed peppers, sweet red onion, black olives, feta cheese, lemon juice and olive oil $4.99
11. Chicken salad: Chicken gyro, seasonal mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, lemon juice and olive oil $5.99
12. Spanakopita: Baked filo dough, with sauteed onions and herbs $2.99
13. Chicken pie: Flattened bread topped with chicken, parsley and mixed peppers $2.99
14. Lahmacun:Flat bread topped with ground beef, tomato and paprika $3.99
15. Lamb and beef gyro: Spit roasted layers of marinated beef and lamb $7.99
16. Chicken gyro: Thinly sliced spit roasted marinated chicken $7. 99
17. Lamb shish kebab: Char-grilled skewered cubes of leg lamb marinated in herbs and spices $7.99
18. Chicken shish kebab: Char-grilled marinated cubes of chicken breast skewer $7.99
19. Kofte kebab: Broiled seasoned ground lamb with Turkish spices and herbs $7.99
20. Adana kebab: Grilled seasoned skewered ground lamb $7.99
21. Mixed Grill: Mixed grill consists of chicken and lamb shish kebab, adana kebab, kofte kebab and beef/lamb gyros $9.99
Lavash with lettuce, tomato, cucumber,and yogurt
22. Lamb and beef gyro:Spit roasted layers of marinated beef and lamb $4.99
23. Chicken gyro: Thinly sliced spit roasted marinated chicken $4.99
24. Falafel: Deep fried seasoned chick pea patties with tomato, cucumber and lettuce and tahini sauce $4.99
25. Kofte Kabab: Seasoned ground lamb with Turkish spices and herbs $4.99
26. Adana kebab: Grilled seasoned skewered ground lamb $4.99
27. Pistachio baklava: Layered filo dough with pistachio in light syrup $1.25
28. Walnut baklava: Layered filo dough with walnut in light syrup $1.25
29. Vezir parmagi: Finer shaped filo dough stuffed with pistachio in light syrup $1.25
re: Ruth Lafler
Yes, I had emailed her about what I learned at Real Doner. Some of it was confusing and I didn't want to put it on the board. I thought they said he was at Adam's and I couldn't locate that. Melanie mentioned Edam's. I think she was headed that way, so I hope I didn't steal her thunder by posting. It is just that if I don't post right away, I find I don't post at all. I have a bunch of unreported stuff sitting around. Anyway, if looking forward to her report if she does go since she has been following his cooking for a while.
Could be the lamb liver, very deep red. The case had a lot more selections on Tuesday than Monday.
I asked Chef Vahit if he had a rotisserie for doners/gyros. He said the place was too small to do that and he was roasting smaller pieces. He also seemed to steer me away from ordering a döner, pointing to the fresh meats in the case saying those were the most popular items.
I'll organizing my photos then I'll post my impressions.
Thanks for the heads up.
I regularly swim at a pool on Post near Mason so I'm always looking for new cheap healthy eats in that area. I usually haul over to a la Turka for Turkish food, so I'll definitely be checking out Eden's which is closer.
Following up on rwo’s lead, I’ve had three lunches at Eden’s Turkish Food in the last week. Unsure that Vahit Besir was indeed back in the City, I put a few coins in the parking meter than dashed inside to see with my own eyes. I asked the younger man behind the counter if Chef Vahit was in. He poked his head in the back, and indeed Chef Vahit himself appeared! He flashed a brilliant smile and burst out, “How are you, how are you, how are you? You found us!” His fingers were glistening with olive oil and he apologized that he could not shake my hand. I explained that I’d lost track of him after his gig in Rocklin, near Sacramento. He was surprised that I knew about that, and said he’d been abroad, then in Georgia and Texas before making it back to San Francisco. He purchased Eden’s from Chinese owners, and is now running it with his son-in-law, Oktay. This is his own place, no financial partners, and business has been good. There was a steady steam of phone orders and customers during each of my visits even at off-hours.
Visit #1 (Monday)
Since Chef Vahit was indeed at the helm here, I ordered an Adana kebap for comparison with the version made by his brother, Chef Joe Besir, in Petaluma. Asking for pide instead of the lavash, I learned that there’s not enough time or space in this tiny café for baking their own bread. Instead I was offered the option of the packaged Greek-style pita bread (pocketless).
The spiced ground lamb patties used for the Adana kebap sandwich, $4.99, are a bit thinner than Real Doner’s in Petaluma. Oktay did a good job of grilling and assembly, wrapping it in the thick round of grilled pita bread with some cacik (yogurt, dill and cucumber aka tzatziki), chopped lettuce, tomatoes, fresh parsley, and red onions spiced with sumac. I was a bit disappointed to not have the trademark yogurt sauce kicked up a couple notches with red chili paste and dill that I remembered so well from the old place. However, the flavor of the lamb and the seasoning was the Vahit touch that I remember so well. Mellower, rather than the spikiness of Joe’s rendition, the Adana here has a warm, enveloping and mouth-filling sensation, more complexity to the spicing and melds better with the meat rather than being a distinct, separate note.
Yet, on the Adana sandwich, I’d have to give the edge to Chef Joe. Vahit’s meat is better, but the sauce and homemade bread in Petaluma add a lot to the gestalt. If I can convince Chef Vahit to make some of the special sauce to accompany his Adana, I don’t know how I'd choose between them. My advice is to order the plate rather than a sandwich here, and at $7.99 for a plate, still a bargain and less than other places charge for just the wrap.
I also ordered the soup, Ezo Gelin, made with red lentil, mint, black pepper, tomato paste and oregano, served with a wedge of lime and flat bread, $2.99. Vahit’s has a stronger tomato presence than other versions. Try to imagine the comforting texture of cream of tomato pumped up with earthy lentils and Mediterranean spices. Absolutely delicious, warming and filling. Joe’s soup wasn’t ready yet during my visit, so I can’t offer a comparison here.
At a break in the action, Chef Vahit checked with me again, and brought over a sample plate of salads. I’ll confess that the mezes in the case had looked rather tired to me, and I’d not planned to order them. As shown in the photo below, clockwise starting at 12:00: Potato salad, tabouli, eggplant and red pepper salad, hummos, piyaz (white bean salad), roasted eggplant salad, and in the center, falafel and stuffed grape leaf.
The salads that looked shopworn didn’t taste any better than they appeared. This was rather baffling, as Chef Vahit has been a stickler for quality in the past. The potato salad was underseasoned and bland with overly large chunks of potato. The tabouli looked beautiful but tasted flat. Hummos tasted like everyone else’s and wasn’t special. The falafel was rubbery and the stuffed grape leaf suffered from hard rice and was not the dolma of my memory. On the plus side, the roasted eggplant salad was quite nice with a sweet and sour snap and the piyaz was good too. To make up for being out of ezme, my all-time favorite Vahit meze, he added a dollop of an eggplant and red pepper caviar-like dip that I liked very much. I left most of these salads behind. Chef Joe definitely wins the hummos cup in this taste-off.
Then complimentary hot tea in a pretty glass and decorated saucer, and more refills as I moved to dessert. I had planned to order the sutlac (baked rice pudding), but didn't have a chance.
The pastry case had just remnants in it, and I’ve learned to avoid taking the last piece as it's usually stale. But Chef Vahit presented a plate with two pieces of phyllo pastry: walnut baklava, $1.25 and vezir parmagi, $1.25. These had good flavor, but had seen better days, and were soft, soaked through and soggy. Judging from the sog factor, I suspect that these were baked on Friday or Saturday for the weekend crowd, and that might be the time to try for something fresher.
When I stepped up to the cash register, Chef Vahit said that my first visit was on the house, saying “Next time, next time”, and he wouldn't take my money. We got into a bit of a verbal kerfuffle over this, which ended with my tossing a $20 bill into the tip jar. He protested that was too much, and I suggested that it be used to feed the poor.
While this visit was mostly positive, especially seeing Chef Vahit and his success, I was disconcerted about the unevenness in the food. The next morning, I felt I had to go back right away to give him another chance.
Vist #2 (Tuesday)
The next day, I returned a little closer to lunch hour. Looking into the refrigerated display case, I saw a tray of raw lamb liver, kidney, and heart skewers. That’s a new one for me, and I asked Oktay if I could have one skewer of kidney and one of heart as a plate.
This time the shelf of mezes was only half-full, but the contents looked much better. Oktay said, “All fresh today”, as he watched me eying the salads. I think he noticed that I wasn’t thrilled with my salads the day before. Interestingly the bowl of potato salad looked completely different than the other day, now with slices instead of chunks of potato and mixed with colorful julienned strips of red and yellow sweet peppers. But I was dismayed by the absence of ezme once more. But Chef Vahit poked his head out of the back kitchen and said that he was in the middle of making it and would bring it out right away.
At long last, the blessed Ezme, served with grilled pita bread, $3.99. Chef Vahit warned me that it was a spicy style. Just out of the kitchen, the many vegetables in the mix were still individual in expression with each bite tasting different. Especially noticeable were the green bits of raw jalapeño pepper, Vahit’s signature for this dish, which give it a spicy kick. Enriched with a splash of olive oil, this blast of fresh flavors made up for yesterday’s faults. Most of this went home with me, and I liked it even better the next day with deeper flavors seeping into each other.
Then Chef Vahit brought out a plate of Tabouli and Haydari (strained yogurt) with walnuts. The tabouli looked the same as yesterday’s, but what a difference a day makes! Bright and zesty with fresh lemon juice, this had the perfect salting to perk up the fresh green herbal flavors. I enjoyed the contrast with the richness of the thick hayadari, this was a great combination for an appetizer plate.
A little sample of the baba ganoush was smoky, garlicky, nutty . . . just wonderful. This eggplant and tahini dip is my next favorite of the mezes here.
Meanwhile, Oktay was grilling my offal kebaps. Despite the powerful hood here, the intense scents of the charring lamb wafted to my table and were so mouth-watering. The grilled duo: one skewer of lamb kidneys and one skewer of lamb heart, were unbelievably delicious. Marked perfectly by the grill, I had a slight preference for the lamb heart over the kidneys, mostly because it was still a little pink inside. If you like Peruvian anticuchos of beef hearts, you’ll go ga-ga over this. The most delectable tidbit was the tiny cap of fat nestled on the top end of the heart, grilled crusty brown and oozing with charry aromas and a sweet, almost buttery, amped up lamb flavor. Who knew that the fat of lamb hearts could be such a delicacy? Served on a bed of perfect pilaf of long-grained aromatic rice studded with browned orzo pasta and a side of green salad with feta and kalamata olives, spiced onions, cacik, and grilled pita bread, this is a masterpiece for $7.99.
I brought the leftovers of the kebap plate to my mother. She thought it was most delicious, and she doesn’t even like lamb.
Freshness certainly makes a difference, so be sure to look in the case before making your choices. This was a much better meal, everything of the quality I expect from Chef Vahit. At check-out, he refused to take my money once again, saying I’d left too much before. He wouldn’t budge, so I left $5 in the tip jar to pay my way.
Visit #3 (Sunday)
My third visit was last weekend. Oktay and Mrs. Besir were on duty with no sign of Chef Vahit. I thought I might be successful in getting a bill for my food this time. My hunch about the availability/freshness of desserts proved right. In the case were nearly full trays of phyllo pastries, revani (semolina cake), individual square servings of kazandibi (carmelized milk pudding), and ceramic bowls of sutlac (rice pudding). This time I avoided the kebap side of the menu to save room for sweets afterwards.
I had the ezo gelin (lentil soup) again. This time the mint was more evident although not dominant, and I liked the aromatic lift it gave the soup. Each time I’ve been here, I’ve noticed several customers getting the soup, having scraped together enough coins for a hot meal. Eden’s is feeding the neighborhood with this economical and delicious menu item.
On Sunday afternoon, the mezes selection was quite sparse, only four items in the case. Luckily, my two favorites were available. I had ezme and eggplant dip, served with hot grilled pita bread, $3.99 (ordered as half-half). The ezme was a little different with the bits of walnuts being more evident, the vegetables chopped finer, and the flavors melded together. It looked like it was a day or two old.
My earlier sample had just been a taste. Now I had a half-order of the smoky eggplant dip enriched with a pool of golden olive oil to bring out the garlic and tahini notes.
It’s not listed on the menu, but ayran (tart yogurt drink) is available. Oktay mixed up an ayran for me that was ice cold and refreshing.
Then it was time for dessert. First up, Kazandibi or carmelized milk pudding, made of cornstarch, sugar, milk and vanilla, not unlike flan but less rich. Made in-house, the personality comes from the carmelized sugar, and this went right up to the edge of blackness for maximum flavor. Very smooth and not too sweet, I liked this very much.
Mrs. Besir offered me a complimentary glass of hot tea that was nice to sip with the sweets. She brought a second dessert, Revani or semolina cake soaked with honey syrup, also baked in-house. This has a grainy, rough texture and a chewy golden brown baked edge. The top had a few slivers of blanched almond baked in.
Not seeing any lahmacun on display or orders up, I asked Mrs. Besir whether this menu item was still available. She assured me that these “Turkish pizzas” are available with a day’s notice. They’re much too busy to make them routinely. She suggested calling ahead to give her enough time to make the dough in the morning to be baked to order later in the day. When I asked about manti, she said that they were more work and she would need two or three days notice. From the hesitation in her voice, I wouldn’t be surprised if a special order for manti might be turned down.
I asked for a box for my leftovers, and she insisted on boxing them for me. This was bad strategy on my part to cede control because she then topped up my salads with another scoop of each to take home.
When I walked up to the counter and asked for my bill, Mrs. Besir crossed her arms over the cash register, as if to defend it from any sudden moves on my part to stuff money INTO the till. She shook her head “no” as I pleaded with her to let me pay. With an impish smile she said, “My husband told me not to charge you so I cannot take your money.” I replied, “Mrs. Besir, I’m sure that you are not always such an obedient wife, please let me pay my share.” She wouldn’t listen to me, so I left $7 in small bills in the tip jar.
For everything I’ve tried in three visits, I think I’m still in their debt. Obviously, I’m a slow learner, and next time, I’ll make sure I have more change.
re: Melanie Wong
You do such great reports. Beautifully phrased.
Thanks for the guide and the tips. They say they do catering so maybe they would prepare some manti for a catered event.
When you mentioned desserts I was in anticipation of a virtial taste of the sutlac which looked amazing on my visit ... next time I'm there I'm going for that. It really looked the best of any of the restaurants I visited.
Though my kabob crawl is over ... no really ... I'm dragging a friend up to Petaluma tommorrow to try more of the items at Real Doner. I'm especially looking forward to the dolmas there. I'll give the soup a try if it is available.
You're welcome, and thank you for taking the lead on finding Chef Vahit. I've been through two rounds of find the Sichuan chef, and am currently on the trail of a Shanghainese chef, and need help out there!
While it's unfortunate that the Besir family has suffered this split, it's great for eaters to have TWO high quality Turkish places now rather than a single joint effort. I've been to Eden's location in various cuisine incarnations and felt quite comfortable in that spot. It is a shame though that Chef Vahit doesn't have more space to really show off his skill. I hardly saw any salad/meze orders go out, and the highest use for the hummos seems to be to wrap in a falafel sandwich. Chef Vahit can make many other types, hopefully he'll rotate them through.
re: Melanie Wong
I'm not familiar with the Besir family saga, but I do love a good gyros. I went by today and got one to go. Initially I was pretty apprehensive: not a spit or rotisserie in sight. The meat was heated up in a wok! and wrapped in a tortilla! The end product was a sort of Turkish burrito. But it was delicious: full of crunchy vegetables and dressed with a mild yogurt sauce. There was not a great deal of meat (and for all I know it might have been just sliced lamb and not really gyros) but these days who wants to be weighted down with a pound of protein? I liked the looks of the chicken, salmon, and other skewers in the glass case. Great prices, too.
They call 'em gyros here, but they're actually serving a döner kebap wrapped in lavosh. I saw the lavosh and thought it looked remarkably like the large flour tortillas used for wrapping burritos. Glad you liked it. The wraps here are a great deal at $4.99, not huge, but just the right size for me.
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