Location: 416 Semple St., Oakland. 412-681-2021
Hours: Sun.-Mon. 11:30 a.m-10 p.m.
Atmosphere: Bright and casual
Location, location, location. It may be the mantra of real estate, but where restaurants are concerned, we have our doubts. We've seen good restaurants in great locations fail, while one of the area's best has a view of the glaring signage of a Family Dollar store. There's just no telling.
Still, we can't help but worry about Lezzet, a lovely little Turkish restaurant that seems particularly misplaced on Semple Street. As a sort of poorer sister to Atwood Street's multicultural restaurant row, Semple Street offers some tasty vittles. But tucked away as it is in the inner sanctum of Oakland's gritty student quarter, it is not as accessible to -- or readily accessed by -- the dining mainstream. In our experience, restaurants survive on Semple Street only if they appeal strongly to student tastes -- and budgets.
Now, Lezzet is by no means high-end. Its dining room is colorful, comfortable and casual. It's BYOB. But its ambience is a notch above that of a student dive, as are its prices. To be clear, $5 for a hummus platter isn't exactly expensive, but it may give pause to a demographic whose food budget is driven by what's in the couch cushions.
But students should make the leap, and foodies of every station in life should make the trip to Lezzet. The restaurant's authentic Turkish menu features several dishes unique to Pittsburgh, starting with sigara boregi, cheese-and-pastry "cigars" that, in a just universe, would be part of every hot hors d'oeuvre spread. The combination of thin pastry dough -- similar to puff pastry but more crispy than flaky -- rolled around a filling of tender, pungent feta and deep fried to a toasty golden brown was irresistible. A crumbling of more feta on top added extra creamy, salty savor.
Homemade, fresh tomato soup was spiked with mint, oregano and other Turkish spices for an aromatic herbal depth of flavor that put the contents of canned soup to shame. A sprinkling of cheese on top melted into the broth, adding creamy texture and substance. This dish also provided our first taste of Lezzet's fresh-made flatbread, which accompanied many dishes and of which the kitchen was justly proud. Dry-fried on a griddle, it possessed a unique fluffy yet chewy texture, with a bit of browning on the surface that made it superb for dipping in soup or spreading with toppings.
Speaking of fluffy, a marvelous sort of eggplant pudding accompanied a dish called ali nazik. A vegetal mash the consistency of creamy, almost airy scrambled eggs, it was tasty on its own, but really shone with the doner meat, tender strips of gyro-style lamb that were crisped after carving and then doused in a simple tomato sauce. With a side of marinated onion strips, shredded romaine and flat parley leaves, this made a well-rounded and supremely satisfying dish.
Konfors arrived at our table hot from the oven on a sizzling cast-iron skillet, sort of like a Turkish fajita. It consisted of chunks of moist, tender, browned chicken baked with tomatoes, onions, peppers and cheese; the cooking released a savory broth which provided a delicious dipping medium for that excellent homemade bread.
While all the dishes we had at Lezzet were well-seasoned, acili adana -- named for the fifth-largest city in Turkey -- was the only one that was actually spicy. Beef was minced, mixed with salt and spices, formed into a sort of long loaf, and charcoal-grilled until browned. The result was both savory and piquant, and the only dish we had that came served on a bed of rice instead of accompanied by bread.
Gözleme is Turkey's answer to the grilled-cheese sandwich, and in Lezzet's previous incarnation as a tiny takeout spot a few doors down on Semple Street, Jason once watched it being made. A fresh ball of dough was rolled thin, started on the griddle, then topped with cheese and meat and/or spinach, rolled into a flat log, and sliced into easy-to-eat pieces. The effect was glorious. The meat -- sauced with a tomato sauce reminiscent of the nazik -- melded with the cheese, while the crisp crust of the flatbread yielded to a more tender interior. Jason was briefly alarmed not to see gözleme on the menu at Lezzet's current location, but it was available by request; more importantly, it is part of the expanded offerings on a new menu that should be available by the time this goes to print.
Having previewed that menu, we are pleased that Lezzet's commitment to delicious, authentic Turkish cuisine is only expanding.