- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Meyhane, a new Turkish restaurant on Capitol Hill, is unpretentious and fun and serves tasty food at a reasonable price.

It may not look like much from the outside, with its inconspicuous sign and Christmas lights in the windows. Once inside, however, guests are treated not only to Turkish pop-folk music and mezes (the Turkish version of tapas), but an atmosphere that feels genuinely Mediterranean. It is laid-back and friendly, with a restaurateur who frequently fraternizes with his guests.

The food consists mostly of cold and hot mezes. We started with the dolma platter, which features a green pepper, a tomato and a couple of grape leaves, all filled with rice, currants, pine nuts and herbs. The grape-leaf dolma, with its unique flavor, was by far the tastiest, while the pepper and tomato dolmas were a tad bland.

Other tasty mezes include the hearty shepherd’s dish, with tender and tasty lamb, cooked just right. Also nice is the shrimp baked in tomatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and mozzarella.

Another meze choice is the various dips. The hummus was perfect, with just enough garlic. The carrot meze, grated carrots with yogurt and garlic, was less satisfying, while the shak shuka — sauteed eggplant and green peppers in a tomato and yogurt sauce — was a nice flavor combination.

The meze menu also features such Mediterranean staples as grilled kofte (Turkish meatballs), calamari and sujuk (Turkish sausages).

There are 11 entrees, of which about a half-dozen are lamb — ground, slow-cooked and grilled. We tried the hunkar begendi, slow-cooked lamb in a tomato-based sauce on a bed of pureed eggplant and served with rice. The lamb was tender and succulent, and the mashed eggplant a nice, unusual touch.

Another delicious and well-prepared entree was the beyti kebab — lamb and beef kebab wrapped in pita bread and served with yogurt and tomato sauce.

Also on the menu are chicken stuffed with spinach and feta cheese, and grilled salmon with a buttery lemon sauce, capers and mashed potatoes.

The restaurant also offers several vegan dishes, including the delicious Meyhane portobello — a large fresh portobello mushroom grilled and filled with sauteed tomatoes, onions, artichoke hearts and green peppers and served with rice.

Spicing at Meyhane is generally mild but good, letting the flavors of the fresh vegetables and well-prepared meats speak for themselves. Some dishes, such as the slow-cooked lamb, definitely needed more salt.

The dessert menu is short, with a mere four choices. The mandatory baklava was as honey-infused as it should be, and the chocolate souffle was, as always, a chocoholic’s favorite. Both were good, but neither offered any surprises. The traditional Noah’s dessert, however, features an unusual mix of grains, nuts and fruit. It’s tasty, but like rice pudding, can seem a little heavy on the starch and almost breakfastlike.

Overall, the presentation of the food is very simple. There are no garnishes or other visually fancy culinary creations. This is, after all, a meyhane, a Turkish bar, and for bar food, Meyhane’s offerings are excellent.

The decor, too, is simple; the black tables are bare, the dinnerware plain and the white walls sparingly decorated with pots and lanterns. A really nice touch is the floor-to-ceiling windows in the front of the restaurant, which can be opened to the street. Eyes closed, it’s easy to imagine oneself in a Turkish town with bustling traffic, or even a harbor, outside.

The service at Meyhane is unique and contributes to the Turkish feel of the place. The servers are swift and attentive, but on the quiet, almost disinterested side.

Meyhane is a great alternative to American and Irish-style bars much more common on the Hill. The food is better and more interesting; the popular Turkish beer, Efes, is cold and tasty; and the atmosphere is friendly and fun. Not surprisingly, this eatery packs ‘em in almost every night of the week.

RESTAURANT: Meyhane, 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202/544-4753

HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

PRICES: Starters, $3.95 to $8.95; main courses (lunch), $6.95 to $11.95, (dinner), $9.95 to $16.95; desserts $3.95 to $4.95.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards

PARKING: Street parking

ACCESS: Wheelchair accessible

METRO: Eastern Market (Orange and Blue lines)

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