Ayhan Hassan has made it his business to put most Nassau County residents within range of a Greek salad, a kebab and a piece of baklava.
The newest link in Ayhan's mini-chain (a total of six Shish Kebab and Fish Kebab restaurants) is situated in the former home of Raay-Nor's Cabin in Baldwin, a rustic, log landmark recently transformed into a sunny taverna with open kitchen. Here, as at most of Ayhan's places, the service is pleasant, if not seamless, and the food good, if not quite transporting.
I was glad to see zucchini pancakes listed as an appetizer. Billed here as "latkes," they were hearty and herbal, although a bit heavier and oilier than the ideal. Grilled octopus, usually a personal favorite, came lukewarm and rubbery. But a combination appetizer of three pies - meat, cheese and spinach - made for a flaky, flavor-intense trifecta. Another combo plate that included hummus (chickpea dip), taramasalata (salmon roe dip) and babaghanoush (eggplant dish) was fine, although the accompanying house-baked Turkish bread was dry from reheating.
Ayhan's Greek salad, iceberg-based and decent, was outclassed by his vibrant "coban," a Turkish shepherd's salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion, bell pepper, feta and lots of fresh parsley.
But it was the whole grilled dorado that truly excelled. Anointed with olive oil and lemon, the fish was lightly charred on the outside, the delicate white flesh imbued with a light smokiness. Another fish dish - flounder Athenian - featured fresh flounder fillets stuffed with a mixture of spinach, feta and herbs in a lemon garlic and butter sauce. It sounded like a lot, but it worked.
But kofte kebabs - a combination of ground lamb and beef made into logs and skewered, had all the moisture grilled out. A friend who ordered the "trio" kebab plate - shrimp, filet mignon and chicken - requested the beef rare. It arrived well-done and chewy, so she sent it back for a replacement, which came back right. A special of stewed beef with onions and tomatoes was exactly the homey and restorative dish I had hoped for.
For dessert, our table shared an assortment of Mediterranean pastries, some made at the Port Washington mothership, others on premises - baklava, bird's nest, kadaif, and galactoboureko, all made with phyllo, all sweet and all tasting somewhat alike.
Uniformity, however, may be the key to the success of the Cyprus-born restaurateur, who talks of expanding to Suffolk County, Manhattan and - down the road - perhaps as far as San Francisco. Why not kebabs for all Americans?
Reviewed by Joan Reminick, 12/1/06.