Surf 'n Turf Mediterranean Grill
Is this a Turkish restaurant? Or is it Greek? Surf 'n Turf Mediterranean Grill in Merrick seems a little of both - and American, as well. It turns out that owner and host, Al Avci, was born in Turkey but also has Greek ancestry. Clearly, Avci has targeted a Long Island clientele hungry for lots of grilled meat, poultry and fish. Having recently expanded the cozy little place (which is still pretty small) and adding a bar, Avci seems to be doing a deservedly brisk business.
Spinach pie is excellent, a verdant filling of spinach and mellow feta overlaid with a flaky phyllo crust. For the entire table, we order several dips, to be piled onto warm pita. Best are the baba ghanoush, a puree of grilled eggplant, and the jajik, a lively yogurt and cucumber sauce with garlic and fresh dill.
I'm head over heels about a whole branzino grilled over hot lava rocks, the crispy skin of the mild white fish glossed with olive oil and lemon. Another time, a friend orders a special of whole grilled striped bass. Super. I can't help but feel sorry for those who are afraid to face a whole fish - skin, bones, and all - and prefer, instead, the milder experience of eating a filet.
Another source of pleasure turns out to be the ultra-flavorsome kofte, juicy chargrilled Turkish meat patties made with beef and lamb. A grilled 12- ounce skirt steak oozes savory juices at the touch of knife and fork. So, too, do beef kebabs, skewered slabs of hanger steak that come precisely rare as ordered. Lamb kebabs are deftly cooked and spiced - tender, too. I'm gratified that the chicken kebabs on my plate are moist and full of flavor, not always the case with white-meat poultry. And even jumbo shrimp kebabs - so often overcooked - come off as ideal.
ON SHAKY TURF
A bowl of chicken-lemon soup is all blandness, devoid of character. I find curiously little taste in the taramasalata dip, cod roe whipped together with olive oil and lemon. A baby lamb chop, part of a combination platter, is thin and overcooked. It's gone in one bite.
Although the chocolate "lovin' spoon" cake is cold enough to make me suspect it was in the freezer, I'm, nevertheless, won over by the dark chocolate pudding layered with chocolate cake. The "chef's apple pastry" features cinnamon-scented apples, walnuts and raisins wrapped in phyllo and served with ice cream and caramel sauce. My favorite, though, is the flaky pistachio-dusted baklava. A Mediterranean classic, it's neither too sweet nor too gooey, but just right.