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AlaTurca Mediterranean Restaurant review

Manti, the traditional Turkish version of ravioli, seasoned

Manti, the traditional Turkish version of ravioli, seasoned with ground beef and topped with a garlic yogurt sauce, is delectable at AlaTurca Mediterranean Restaurant in West Babylon.

The phrase "Turkish pizza" doesn't begin to describe the lahmacun served at the new AlaTurca Mediterranean Restaurant. Instead of the thin, meat-topped crusts that are the rule at most Turkish restaurants, you get three delicate plate-size flatbreads, each folded in half, quesadilla-style, around a savory ground lamb mixture. Accompaniments of romaine, tomato, onion and chopped parsley are to be heaped on top. Then comes a squeeze of lemon. It's hand-held heaven.

And reason enough for the area to celebrate this Turkish newcomer, a simply appointed place that's still evolving. Even so, you should be won over by just one bite of chef Akin Ay's house-baked bread slathered with spicy eggplant salad or hummus. A gratis sampling of such cold appetizers is given at the start of each meal. Also gratis with most entrees is soup or salad. Go for the resonant red lentil soup whose spices slowly unfold on the palate.

One afternoon, owner Birnur Itil (who is married to the chef) runs the show and all goes smoothly. But at a subsequent dinner, with Itil in and out of the place, the pace of the meal becomes erratic. First come appetizers: manti, delectable little meat-stuffed ravioli with garlic-yogurt sauce, as well as somewhat oily zucchini pancakes. Following that is the knockout pide, a savory boat-shaped pie filled with Turkish sausage and cheese. But there is a lag before the soup and salad are brought. They're mostly uneaten, since the main course arrives right afterward.

While the casserole dish known as hunker begendi (or "sultan's delight") should feature lamb stew over eggplant puree, what shows up instead are tender, well-seasoned grilled lamb cubes arranged around a silky cheese-laced puree. Good eating, but not the dish it was supposed to be.

But there is a whole sea bass, fresh, simple and nicely grilled. Chicken kebab comes off the grill moist, tender, the cubes of poultry infused with the flavor of its marinade. And lamb chops, though well-done, turn out tender and savory.

The same holds true, at lunch, of the oddly named "trash kebab," an Aegean specialty of grilled lamb pieces. An exemplary dish is Adana yogurt kebab -- spiced ground grilled lamb served over toasted bread topped with tomato sauce, yogurt and butter.

For dessert, there's rice pudding, soupy but surprisingly good. Also kunefe, a syrup-soaked baked cheese dessert that's totally irresistible. And indicative of the promise this ambitious newcomer holds.