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Cafe Istanbul'lu

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Turkish Food in Somerville
It is opening week for Cafe Istanbul'lu, Somerville.
237 Holland.

Istanbul'lu is great for those who previously had to go to the crowded Sofra (in my opinion a little too celebrity chef-y place) for their fill of Turkish food.

The food is authentic. The Chef Hussian very down to earth. His wife who waits tables makes dining there a pleasant experience. They used to be on Beacon Hill, Brighton.. before. A former governor was a huge fan of Hussian's rice pudding when they were on Beacon HIill.

I hope they stay here for a long, long time...

Food is great. Lots of tapas. the dinner menu and website should be coming up soon. Watch out for updates. Short walk from Davis T-stop.

1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

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  1. That's Teele Square. 237 Holland Street, Somerville, MA, 02144. (617) 440-7387.

    I've long missed Cafe Istanbul (formerly in the space now occupied by Grotto), and Brighton is very inconvenient to me. Teele Square less so.

    1. I stopped here recently when doing an errand in Teele Square. I noticed the "Grand Opening" banner.

      I was in a rush, so ordered a cheese borek {peynirli borek) to go. Maximum yum. At that time they were only open for breakfast and lunch, but I'm hoping they are open for dinner soon.

      Teele Square Cafe
      Somerville, MA, Somerville, MA

      1. I've been twice in the past 2 weeks for lunch and the place has been *very* quiet - and fabulous. Go! Go for lunch! Go for dinner and brunch too! I plan to. =)

        First time - lentil kofta on fabulous house baked bread, a cross between focaccia and pita, heated in a panini press, with tomato, some kind of sauce similar to what one might get with falafel, and greens. (nice greens, too.) Today, half a sandwich with the mixed Turkish smoked meats (one pepperoni-like, one pastrami-like, amazing seasonings) and sharp cheese and tomato, half of two kinds of borek (cheese and spinach), and half of a mucver (zucchini fritter), all fabulous. And some more bread with red pepper dip came out on the house.

        2 Replies
        1. re: pekmez

          Ah jeez,

          I was afraid of that, this location really does seem to be cursed. The owners are really lovely people and the food is very good.

          We will be there for breakfast this weekend. Please give it a try (it's diagonally across the street from Rudy's).

          1. re: sablemerle

            I tried to bring some friends there for breakfast today, but we were thwarted by their "summer hours" (apparently new since the last time we walked by 2 weekends ago). They don't open until 11 AM on Sundays, so we wound up at Sound Bites instead.

        2. Went last night for dinner with a friend and we both loved it. It's a small space, very nicely decorated except for an unnecessary and distracting TV. We got a very warm greeting and some nice Turkish bread with delicious and addictive red pepper spread. We ordered five items from the "Turkish Tapas" section of the menu: mucver (zucchini fritters with yogurt sauce, excellent but I've never met a mucver I didn't like), haydari (thick yogurt spread, by a mile the best rendition of this I have ever had), a cold green bean and tomato thing that was our very favorite, red lentil fritters what were unlike anything I'd ever had and delicious with a bit of a kick to them, and an epplant dish that had a ring of eggplant topped by a slice of tomato, cheese, and both red and green peppers, baked and topped with a tomato-pepper sauce. This last was the only thing that was not outstanding and I think it might have been had it been left in the oven longer. The flavors were there but it was not meltingly soft the way we thought it should have been. Still very tasty and everything else was truly fabulous. For us, the 5 shared tapas were the perfect amount to eat (we wanted another order of the green beans but couldn't do it) and came to an exceedingly reasonable $26. I can hardly wait to go back!

          Cafe Istabul'lu
          237 Holland Street, Somerville, MA

          1. Is this place mostly vegetarian?
            The only mention of meat is in their sandwiches.
            Or are the vegetable dishes the stars of the menu?
            Inquiring omnivores need to know.

            3 Replies
            1. re: peregrine

              I had a great lunch there the other day with my vegetarian daughter. While she was in heaven with a yougurt/egg dish, I was enjoying a lamb burger. There was also, I recall, a chicken sandwich and several dishes with pasterma or pastrami. I didn't look too carefully at the entrees, but think that there would be some options for you omnivores.

              1. re: peregrine

                There were definitely lamb and chicken entrees.

                1. re: peregrine

                  Funny you should ask. I Took The Kid for lunch last week after a doctor's appointment, and could read his mind as he read the menu: “Where's the meat?”
                  No worries, he polished off his lamb burger in short order, and then scammed me out of the remaining third of mine. I was heartened to see that the dining room was nearly full on a Thursday.

                2. Wow. "Maximum yum" is definitely the right way to describe this place. I went there tonight with a friend who had just returned from Turkey, and she concurred with my assessment that this is the best Turkish in the Boston area.

                  Paca (yogurt soup) was more lamb-y than yougurt-y (and I gather this is unusual for this dish) but very good nonetheless --- high praise from me, being someone who doesn't normally like soup.

                  Kıymalı Börek was a terrifically light puff pastry filled with well-spiced ground lamb.

                  Patlıcan Salad was good, although more of a dip than a dish. This would ordinarily be welcome with the outstanding bread, but the dip that is provided gratis with the bread is so good that I see little reason for yet more eggplant.

                  Haydari (thick Turkish yogurt) was more of a dip than a dish as well, but this was so transcendent that I make an exception. Very thick, and beautifully spiced. Goes well on almost everything.

                  Taze Fasulye (green beans). Whoops, we ordered this, and it even showed up on the bill, but we never received it. Next time, perhaps.

                  İmam bayıldı (stuffed eggplant) is not really my thing, but my DC liked it.

                  Mercimek Köfte (red lentils) was the best thing we had. Wow. Beautiful rolls of steamed red lentils, topped with a well balanced spice mix and very fresh scallions. We ordered one to share. Should have ordered two. =)

                  Finally, the Sütlaç (rice pudding) and Burma (rolled baklava) were both okay, but nothing special. Savory dishes are where it's at here. Çay (Turkish tea) was good too, although our second cup was way over brewed. (First cup took a few minutes to make, second cup appeared instantly . . . hmmmm . . , I think they were from the same pot).

                  Service was nice, the space is cute (love the rug in the bathroom!) and the prices are generally very reasonable, although $2.50 for a can of Uludağ Gazoz (a refreshing Turkish soda) seems more than a bit steep. My only other complaint is that menu is formatted in a way that makes it hard to read. Categories like salads and tapas run from one page to another. Most names are well translated and described, but some are left in just Turkish --- Peynirli vs Kiyamli Börek for example, or Burma, Sütlaç and Ayran. Finally, there are no diacritical marks on the whole menu, which just looks weird to me --- Turkish is a language of diacritics! =) On the other hand, the menu describes the Pirzola (lamb chops) as "Mmmmmm" which I find endearing.

                  1. re: the red pepper spread - I asked if it was ajvar, but they said "it's our own thing." I liked it but wished for more acid and salt.

                    Ajvar is a red pepper spread that's Serbian, but the name comes from turkish, and it tasted exactly the same. I love the stuff. Like hummus, however, you can do a crappy five minute version, a passable thirty-minute version or a fantastic two-hour version.

                    1. It got a terrific review in the Boston Globe's food section in the past few weeks. I just tried to find the review online, without success. But it was glowing!

                      1 Reply
                      1. A Turkish friend of mine once said that the real test of any Turkish restaurant is the soup, and that I should ask for it even if it isn't on the menu. And if they say they don't have soup, then I should leave.

                        That Paca soup at the Istanbul'u is to kill for. it's hard to get the balance right in a lamb/mutton soup, but this one really has it. Not too fatty, not too thin and a really sheepy flavour. The bread that comes with it is perfect.

                        My lamburger was OK too, just not very interesting. I'll order something different next time, as I now know that the chef can cook.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Green Drake

                          I had the lamburger and had similar thoughts. In my mind it would have been better served with side of yogurt sauce or any sauce as it was just a bit too dry. Can't wait to work through the rest of the menu.

                        2. Got over there today. Try the lamb burger with the yogurt sauce (haydari). Seriously good GOOD lunch, although you could probably spread that sauce on your shoe and be happy. I was relieved to see 4 or 5 tables filled -- I want them to make it. The food is certainly made with love.

                          I wished I had remembered about the soup, but I was more than happy with my sandwich. Next up is the "Plate of Turkish Mornings" breakfast, if only to pay my respects to the name.

                          Menu: http://www.istanbul-lu.com/Menu%20Pag...

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: yumyum

                            Tonight I had the lentil soup. It had a flavour I couldn't quite identify; fresh, clean and satisfying, but without any chilli or much in the way of lemon. I liked it a lot.

                            The Tas Kebab was a dryish lamb stew served over a mound of rice, together with wedges of tomato and a couple of green peppers. The lamb was very good, cooked to point where it was tender, without falling apart. The tomatoes had been added late in the cooking and were perfect, done but not overdone. I think the peppers had been on the grill and were added afterwards. A classic combination of flavours and textures, more evidence that the chef here really knows what he doing with lamb. If i was going to be really picky, I'd say there was slightly too much salt for my taste, but I am not in a picky mood, so am resolved to change my taste.

                            And the coffee is exactly what Turkish coffee should be. If you've never had it, try it here. It is the real deal.

                            1. re: Green Drake

                              The "secret" ingredient in the soup is dried mint. I know the recipe pretty well, it's very simple.

                          2. Went for lunch on Sunday and got a mix of things -
                            Coban salat to start - fresh, seasonal traditional salad - more cheese please, but otherwise, nice way to start - a little heavy on the oil might be much for some. Good cubed Turkish bread for dipping.
                            Sigara Borek - like a borek except rolled into thin cylinders - good phyllo, light, crispy
                            Some kind of cooked sliced eggplant - not sure of the prep - it was really yummy.
                            Finished with Firinda Kabak - an eggy baked omelet with shredded zucchini and melted cubes of cheese. Substantial - slightly runny eggs but not in a bad way -

                            Like the cuisine a lot in general and the place - look forward to returning.

                            1. I'm gonna hafta rent the apartment upstairs fer cryin out loud. Got back here for lunch not too long ago and, like last time, walked in to find the chef in back with his hands full of flour cranking the bread out for the day. Running to and fro, doing his do, and continuing to serve me my favourite grub in town at the moment.

                              The paca (lamb yogurt soup) as noted above, has got game, but is perfectly balanced by the tang of their incredible house yogurt, which conveniently finds its way into about half of the menu. The mucver (pan-fried zucchini patties) and mercimek kofte (steamed red lentil kofte) are but two great examples, and some of my favourites. Off the entrees side, the eggplant puree topped with lamb was a knockout and deserves a top spot on the 'best eggplant dishes' thread out there. I just close my eyes and order. It's impossible for the chef to put out anything less than delicious. I just wish he'd stop changing up the music everytime I walk in. He's apparently convinced that I happen to favour Foreigner over the traditional Turkish tunes.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: Nab

                                I remember why my pics are so lousy. My one DC has this magic trick where he can make dishes of food disappear in the blink of an eye. Ahem.

                                1. re: Nab

                                  I have to say the lamb soup was my fav.

                                  I can show you how to do the disappearing food trick any time if you'd like.

                                2. re: Nab

                                  I got the Paca (lamb soup) to go yesterday for a quick and snuggly lunch. It really is delightful, especially when paired with their awesome fresh out of the oven bread. In fact, the whole place smells like baking bread, and it was my good fortune that they'd just taken some borek out of the oven minutes before I arrived. The flaky pastry was luscious, although the filling (ground lamb and beef) could have used a little more oomph.

                                  I enjoyed the lamb stew, but my favorite entree (so far) is the Sultan's delight -- lamb morsels served over eggplant puree.

                                  1. re: Nab

                                    At least you get Foreigner. Every time we go, we end up listening to the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack.

                                    1. re: Nab

                                      Maybe the chef is the one who likes Foreigner over Turkish music!

                                    2. Love love love.

                                      I love the food, I love the people who run it.

                                      It is that simple.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: litchick

                                        I agree. Just wish I could go more often, and have a nice glass of red wine with the amazing food. I hope they stay. Vinnie's at Night in my neighborhood East Somerville gets a lot of love here...I was able to go more often before they almost doubled the prices. Now I wish I lived in Teele square...

                                        1. re: Madrid

                                          Its not like the other two, but JJ's at McGrath and Washington has both casual seating and wine by the glass/inexpensively by the bottle. There also are some other Italian American options not too far. Pastalina's in Medford (BYOB) might be another option for reasonable Italian American but its a bit further (bus from Wellington) and by car Abbondanza in Everett is a quick ride after the Rt 99 rush hour traffic dies off (The MBTA bus from Sullivan to Everett goes up Broadway and not Main, so you would have to go to Wellington first.) I prefer it for pizza but Bocelli's on Main in Medford is accessable by the 101 bus from Sullivan and has a full bar (I also wonder about that cafe nearby which reopened recently but don't believe they have a full kitchen).

                                          1. re: itaunas

                                            Cafe Deia didn't keep the beer/wine license and is more about coffees, smoothies, baked goods and what they call empanadas (pasteis). It's more a breakfast & lunch place and closes IIRC at 8. I tried an empanada and while it was nicely made, it was a little bland for my taste. Haven't tried anything else, not really my sort of thing.

                                            1. re: Aromatherapy

                                              Thanks Aromatherapy. In Medford you can't transfer a beer/wine (/cordial) license to a new establishment, you need to get on the waiting list. But I thought someone was trying to open a more night-oriented spot there (there was a facebook page and everything), but sounds like it never happened. From what I saw of Cafe Deia's misspelled menu it sounds like they are doing Brazilian with whatever they learned working at another cafe (cubans, bagels)... I would prefer instead something like Tropical Cafe (Marlboro/Framingham), but Petisco's nearby does pretty well with decent soups and salgadinhos.

                                      2. Anyone who has been by Istanbul'lu lately to find it closed (the chef/owner hurt his back in a snow-related fall) should know that it has re-opened. Good news: I really like this place.


                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          thanks for letting us know...I was wondering, and will be there soon.

                                          1. re: Madrid

                                            i'll hold the door open for you, madrid!
                                            th you for the news mc. Been wanting to go for a month or so.

                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              Strange experience today. While waiting for the heavenly cubano at dave's pasta for lunch, i talked a bit w/ a turkish woman at the next table. I asked if she had been to Istanbulluu. She said "Yes, but it's really not Turkish Turkish food.There's a much better place called Family.... in Brookline." I was so surprised. While I'm not a big fan of the Family place, I liked it, but I am looking forward to istanbulluu soon. Interesting thing for her to say. I wanted to ask her what she meant exactly but then our food came. Maybe there are just as many Turks who feel the opposite from her about the 2 places.

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                I'm not Turkish, but have spent a considerable amount of time in Istanbul and I really enjoy eating at both, but Istanbul'lu stands out as the superior experience to me. I am not sure what she meant by not really Turkish, since Turkish food is so varied its difficult to get the exact same experience at any two restaurants even in Istanbul.

                                                I will say that two of my Turkish friends here in Boston love Istanbul'lu and have never once brought up any issues with authenticity. Anyways, at the end of the day the food there is excellent whether Turkish or not.

                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                  Eh, don't worry about it. There's no accounting for some people's tastes. There are probably plenty of people of any ethnic stripe who would tell you that certain places are better than others that would surprise you. It could also be portion size. Family is cheap with big portions.

                                                  I've been to both and I don't know or care about authenticity - I know I prefer Istanbul'lu's chow far better.

                                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                                    Yes, relying on one person's opinion just because he/she is of a particular ethnicity or background is silly. It always amuses me when people say "I know an Indian and he says India Quality is the best." That's like saying "I know an American and he says McDonald's is the best."

                                                    India Quality Restaurant
                                                    484 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

                                                      1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                        I don't know anything about Turkish food, but Istanbu'lu was suggested to me for my DH's and my "once yearly" dinner out while my folks visited and babysat over Christmas break. It was soooo tasty, that two days later, my DH and I went there for lunch again while my folks were still around to watch the kids.

                                          2. The website says that the hearing for their liquor license is scheduled for Mar. 30 at 6 p.m. at Somerville City Hall. They are asking for people to attend to support their application.

                                            Hope they get it, since that will help to ensure more business. Tough to hang on in this economy without one.

                                            City Hall Cafe
                                            695 Main St, Fitchburg, MA 01420

                                              1. re: robertlf

                                                None of their food is done over a grill; they don't have one.
                                                we went tonight finally. Very very nice owner/waitress; smiling,friendly, welcoming and patient w/ all. 'Yes' is her operative word and she made all the tables feel relaxed and well cared for.Handsome little room. Everything was fresh and tasty; highlights for us were the zucchini fritters, the lentil rolls, the table spread, the green beans salad and the sultan's lamb entree. This latter was the thing we would return for. We'd skip the lamb w/ okra entree (which, interestingly enough, was also the only dish we tried that had some heat in the spicing.)
                                                Negs:The rice was disappointingly plain. I would not order the yoghurt cuke 'salad' again; it was basically yoghurt. The eggplant salad was basically babaganoosh.

                                                Nice evening out. Neat to have some good dishes that i've never seen before.Wishing them all the best.

                                                1. re: robertlf

                                                  For doner, your best bet is at Brookline Family resto. I agree with others though it's not particularly jazzy food. It's just a good, solid if slightly dumbed down / westernized plate. My picture of their doner plate is below.

                                                  I much prefer the food at Istanbulu, especially the lamb soup and that sultan's lamb with eggplant. I hope they get their liquor license but I'll go back either way.

                                                  Brookline Family Restaurant
                                                  305 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445