In the Long Island landscape of strip malls, storefronts tend to blur together. Look past the facades, though, and you may come across a place such as Istanbul Cafe II. This offshoot of an established Centereach Turkish restaurant takes you, like the original, far from suburbia.
At least in the culinary sense. The decor, with its butternut squash-colored walls and pale wood furnishings, probably won't make you feel you've landed in Istanbul, despite all the photos of that city on the walls. Rather, it's executive owner Sinan Yagci's well-priced repertoire that feels authentically Turkish. And the chef de cuisine, Joseph Yepti, does it justice.
It starts with the breadbasket. Rather than reheated commercial pita, it holds irresistible Turkish bread, or pide, both crusty and fluffy. For the table, get an assortment of cold appetizers -- among them garlicky tahini-enriched hummus, silky babaghanoush (eggplant spread), subtly fiery ezme (minced vegetables) -- and you may want to call it a meal. A shepherd's salad of tomatoes and cucumber hits another bright note. So, too, does richly flavorful red lentil soup. Chicken soup, while good, comes in a runner-up.
Every component in a mixed grill of kebabs turns out juicy and savory -- lamb chop, house-made lamb gyro and even white meat chicken kebab, among others. While you want to keep forking away at the red bulgur pilaf that shares the plate, the perfunctory salad is easy to ignore.
A surprisingly moist success is the nicely spiced house-made chicken gyro, white and dark meat stacked on a skewer, rotisserie-roasted and sliced off in shards. On a night when it's chilly and damp outside, a hearty special of beef moussaka hits the spot.
While there's comfort to be found in manti, the Turkish version of beef ravioli, the ingeniously spiced little pasta pouches are served in a bubbling hot casserole nearly overflowing with watery tomato sauce streaked with dollops of yogurt.
No quibbles, though, with desserts from Yagci. His kazandibi, a burnt sugar-topped eggless custard, is airy-light, trembly. The showstopper, though, is an opulent chocolate pudding with profiteroles embedded within. Presented in a plastic dish, it epitomizes the strip-mall surprise.