691 Route 109, West Babylon, 631-991-8881, mediterraneanblu.com
SERVICE: Unfailingly pleasant, some servers lack experience and English skills
AMBIENCE: Clean and elegant
ESSENTIALS: Open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday to 11 p.m., wheelchair accessible, parking lot
Vegetable-forward cooking, “clean” dishes whose ingredients speak for themselves — these on-trend culinary touchstones are practiced, in spades, by virtually every Turkish restaurant on Long Island. At great value.
While Turkish food here is remarkably consistent, the trade off is often atmosphere: Some of my favorite spots (Turkuaz in West Hempstead, Nazar in North Babylon) are grocery-takeout operations with a few tables thrown in for good measure. But Blu Mediterranean, which opened in May, requires no compromises.
Owned by Kanat Akan and brothers Danny and Emre Ocak, Blu replaces another Turkish restaurant, Ala Turca, but the food here is more consistent and the spruce renovation brings it up several levels. The dining room is furnished with upholstered tiger-maple chairs and Turkish tiles. The floor-to-ceiling windows could, I suppose, be better deployed in a more picturesque location, but they do offer a spectacular view of Route 109 as well as of another great-but-modest Turkish eatery, Pasha Kebob and Grill, just across the street. A liquor license is pending and, in the meantime, you can bring your own wine or beer.
Over four visits, I had exactly one dish that I can’t recommend so I’ll get it out of the way: Do not order the hot hummus with cheese; it’s just as unappealing as it sounds.
And now, the litany of chef Ibrahim Yilmaz’s hits:
Vegetarians could make a grand banquet of the vegetable starters. Do not miss the soslu patlican, eggplant salad smothered in tomato; or the antep ezme, a piquant mince of tomatoes, walnuts and a trio of peppers: mild red, hot green and spicy pepper puree. Regardless of season, the coban salatasi (shepherd salad) features ripe tomatoes along with chopped peppers and onions.
Haydari is yogurt strained to indulgence and shot through with dill, crushed walnuts, garlic and olive oil and is the perfect excuse to enjoy basket after basket of fresh, warm pide (Turkish flatbread).
Zucchini, currently starring as a bland pasta stand-in at hundreds of Italian restaurants, shows its stuff in Blu’s mucver, crackling-crisp pancakes that give Bubbe’s latkes a run for their money. (The Turks have their own great pasta dish, the tiny, meat-filled dumplings called manti and, at Blu, these give Nonna’s tortellini a run for their money.)
I go years without eating liver, but I brake for arnavut cigeri, little chunks of calf’s liver stir-fried to bouncy sweetness. Blu’s are a must-order for liver lovers, and a great introduction for the liver averse.
Starters here are so tempting and generous, it’s hard not to fill up. But try to save room for Blu’s kebabs, excellent across the board. The queen is the Adana kebab, minced lamb seasoned with red peppers, both hot and sweet, then grilled to succulence. It also anchors the beyti kebab, where it is wrapped in pliable lavash bread, doused with a sweet, bright tomato sauce and served with a huge dollop of yogurt. Another so-called “yogurt kebab” is the Iskender: slices of doner kebab (vertically roasted beef and lamb) layered over a bed of pide croutons that soak up all the juices.
Lamb shish kebab and small-but-juicy lamb chops are both stellar. If you are avoiding red meat, Blu does a fine job with fowl. The chicken platter features grilled chicken cutlets (boned and pounded thighs), chicken shish (marinated chunks of breast), smoky grilled wings and a chicken Adana kebab that, truth be told, paled in comparison to the lamb version. I wish the shrimp on the shrimp kebab had picked up a little more char on the grill, but it’s a minor quibble.
Most kebabs are served with a small salad, grilled tomato and jalapeño pepper and a little hillock of Turkish pilaf, short-grain rice interspersed with browned orzo.
The dessert list at Blu is short but, if it only featured kunefe, that would be enough. Kadayif (shredded phyllo dough), pistachios and sugar syrup figure in a lot of Middle Eastern desserts, but here they enclose a disc of fresh cheese that lends a welcome fresh creaminess that blunts the sweetness.
I suspect one of the reasons Blu’s food is at such a high standard is that many of its customers appear to be native-born Turks who grant no quarter to defanged, Americanized adaptations of their food. But the Turk-to-Turk orientation means that there isn’t always someone on the floor who is fluent in English. Kanat, one of the owners, assured me that he is hiring more English- speaking servers.
In the meantime, Blu’s menu is unusually descriptive, and further enlightenment is only as far away as an app on your phone.