Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Saray - Packard's Corner Turkish Restaurant

I've been living in the same neighborhood in Allston for a little over a year. Close to Lower Allston, right in between Union Square and Packard's Corner. The rent is cheap, it's close to work, and there are several restaurants with vegan options very close by. In a city like this, by which I mean a city prone to very cold, wet weather and/or snowdrifts that come up to my hips, you need a place you can briskly walk to when you're not up for cooking.

But I'm bored!

I can't go to Grasshopper--my lower intestines can't take it!
I can't go to Punjab Palace--they won't make my food without chilis!
I can't go to Allston Cafe--their food is boring, their selections are often out of stock, and their coffee isn't very good.
I can't go to Toki--it's too cold for maki!
And I can't go to Peace O' Pie because I can't afford it!

And then, there was Turkish food.

My experience with Middle Eastern food is limited to dips and kebabs--hummus, baba gannoush, falafel, beef or lamb kebabs. The first three are vegan staples. But now my experience with Turkish food is much more broad--it includes salad, okra, and tea.

We started off our meal at Saray in Packard's Corner with a hummus plate and a salad of tomato, cucumber, and red onion tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, and parsley (ezme salatasi). The salad was light and refreshing, a really good start, and a very generous portion, meant for sharing.

But the hummus.

The hummus was the best I have ever had. The texture was just right--smooth and creamy, but still robust. It had a touch of lemon juice and garlic, perfectly seasoned with salt. If you love hummus, you have got to try Saray's. It's $4 for about 3/4 of a pint, so there's plenty to share with your table.

For our entree, we had the domatesli bamya, okra with tomatoes, onions, and garlic. It was incredible. Several full cloves of garlic softened in a stew of fragrant tomato and okra, served with rice. If you're not sure about okra, this would be a great introduction.

For dessert, we split an order of baklava. When I've had baklava in the past it's been very dry, with layers of phyllo dough and walnuts lightly sweetened with honey (or agave). This baklava was soaked in sugary syrup, so it had softened considerably, and was topped with crushed pistachios.

I had the best possible experience with a new cuisine--one of our tablemates was from Turkey. When she asked if we wanted Turkish coffee or tea, I had to say yes.

I've had Turkish coffee before. It's very strong, served in small cups, almost silty with fine coffee grounds, and usually taken with sugar. It was a little late for coffee, so I decided to try the tea. The reddish amber liquid was served in a thin, tulip-shaped, transparent glass (called ince belli) and came with sugar. It was incredibly fragrant, not too strong, and had a floral taste. An excellent finish to our meal.

If you're bored with the food selection in Boston, I'd highly recommend Saray. The food was simple and elegant, and according to our tablemate, very authentic. Price-wise it's on the expensive side, but splitting entrees and appetizers kept us all full and we had plenty to take home after. The service was fast and our waitress was very friendly and helpful.

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