When I visited Flying Carpet Turkish Café (1223 Washington Ave.) a couple of years ago (“Bold Blossoms on the Avenue,” Oct. 31, 2012), I was impressed by the kitchen’s updated version of Turkish cuisine and the attentive waitstaff. There was serious buzz around the restaurant/rug shop set in a quaint turn-of-the-century house. It seemed from an outsider’s perspective that just as the joint was getting its sea legs the sister team of chefs and the owner parted ways, and the Near Southside eatery shut down for more than a year.
On the WTF? scale, Flying Carpet’s sudden disappearance ranked somewhere between the glorious but quick flame-out of 24 Plates and the immediately forgotten departure of the vastly underrated Patrizio in the West 7th Development.
A few months ago, the Carpet started making noise about coming back. Weeks after that tease, the long-shuttered café announced it had hired a new chef, Jebrail Demirtash, a Turkish native who cooked in New York City for many years. There hasn’t been the same buzz around the place this time. Its operators haven’t exactly set the public relations world on fire, revealing information about the reopening piecemeal on social media.
But word seems to be spreading. On a recent lunch visit, there was only one open table in the tiny dining room. The interior has the same sophisticated, quirky charm of its first incarnation. Beautiful rugs line the walls and the floors of the homey venue. My occidental ears couldn’t handle the music: something akin to a wounded cat wailing over frantic strings.
There appeared to be just one person manning the front of the house, and she looked like she’d just finished a half-marathon. The swarming service that I admired on my previous encounters was replaced by a single polite, friendly but overextended waitress/busser/hostess. As the tables emptied one by one, the service got incrementally better.
The modern flourishes of former sister chefs Devon and Callie Doyle were nowhere to be found in Demirtash’s unflinchingly traditional offerings.
My dining companion and I started our lunch with siga borek ($5.95), fried cigar-shaped pastries stuffed with beyaz peynir cheese and parsley. The crispy treats were golden brown, and the mellow cheese had a welcome salty finish. Next came the slightly sweet dolmas ($8.95), grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions, currants, and pine nuts. The green morsels were a light, tasty palate pleaser.
The lunch combo comes with one of two soups, and both were complex and bold. The ezo gelin, pureed lentil soup ($4.95 a la carte), had enough paprika to tickle the throat without burning the tongue. The tavukk chorbasi ($4.95 a la carte) was swimming with chunks of chicken and orzo.
For entrées, we went in two completely different culinary directions. The seasoning on the lamb kebab ($8.95) was pleasantly intense, as though the chef had filled a confetti gun with turmeric, curry, and garlic and shot it directly into my mouth. The charred, well-done meat was served in a silken lavash, a soft, thin unleavened flatbread made in a tandoor. The delicious vegetarian falafel ($9.95), a mélange of chickpeas, parsley, and an exotic mix of Middle-Eastern spices, was served on a bed of fluffy rice pilaf.
The new version of Flying Carpet Turkish Café is decidedly old school. I’m not sure if it’s better or worse than it was before it went on hiatus, but like its previous incarnation, it is excellent. Now if they can just get that poor server some help.
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