Not every restaurant review starts with a rave about dessert, but this one does, mostly as a suggestion to plan ahead. At newcomer Yayla Bistro, everything else is so good (caveat: everything so far tried) that you have to prepare for the grand finale.
The dessert menu itself is not long: chocolate and vanilla ice cream, Turkish rice pudding, fresh house-made baklava with layers of fresh filo dough and walnuts doused with a honey syrup, and another house-made marvel, Apricot Delight. The baklava is exceptional, fresh, flaky and not overwhelmingly sweet, but the piece de resistance is the phenomenal Apricot Delight.
In this easily shared (if you are really generous) dish, four small mounds of fresh mascarpone cheese and honey are topped with apricots and walnuts. The result: velvety smooth but with some texture, not too sweet, and totally satisfying. If you don’t want to share this dish, you also might order the baklava and the rice pudding and share all three.
This is not meant to suggest that Yayla Bistro’s talents begin and end with desserts. Superlatives readily apply to the rest of Yayla Bistro’s offerings. The restaurant, located behind the long-time favorite La Cote d’Or, opened in March without much fanfare. It has quickly been discovered as word spreads about the phenomenal dishes created by the two experienced Turkish chefs in the kitchen.
Not surprisingly then, Yayla Bistro specializes in Mediterranean, notably Turkish and Greek, dishes, not an overwhelming number of them, but a carefully chosen and diverse selection of skillfully prepared dishes, most of them from scratch.
Freshly baked rounds of pide bread arrive to start a meal, which makes an order of dips almost mandatory. Among the choices are a luscious, smoky flavored baba ghanoush, a creamy hummus with just the right accents of garlic and lemon, and the refreshing yogurt, cucumber, mint, garlic and olive oil mix known as cacik.
Other starters include a hearty red lentil soup, Patlican Kozleme (roasted eggplant and peppers with olive oil and lemon juice), Chef’s Cigar Boregi (lightly fried flaky pastry filled with feta cheese and dill), grilled calamari, and a number of entree salads, including Greek. beet, and Falafel salads.
The calamari are worth mention. Quickly grilled and tender, they have a slight charred flavor and are served with the “chef’s special sauce,” which is both sweet and lemony, and are a welcome change from most calamari dishes, no doubt due to the subtle sweetness (is it from honey?) of the sauce, and the fact that these are perfectly grilled--no rubbery texture--not fried and not bathed in tomato sauce.
Several different pita wraps are available at lunch--ground beef and lamb, chicken, falafel, grilled veggies--but the flat breads, known as Pideler-- offer an alternative, a kind of Turkish pizza. The spinach Pide, a flat bread topped with spinach, mozzarella and feta cheese, onions and tomatoes would rival most Italian pizzas, as would the Sujuklu Pide with Turkisn sausage and mozzarella..
The choice of entrees is not extensive, but considers all tastes and includes some gluten and peanut free dishes. Three kebab choices--cubes of marinated leg of lamb, ground beef and lamb with red peppers and onions, and chunks of chicken breast--are tender and evenly cooked (and that, in itself, is a skill), three marinated lamb chops, grilled to order, are tender and worth ordering again and again, and the creamy, melt-in-the-mouth square of Moussaka, which the restaurant’s owner considers the best around, also makes the must order again list.
Grilled bronzino and grilled salmon are on the seafood menu, along with Karides Tava, a dish of shrimp sautéed with garlic, tomatoes, lemon and olive oil, all saved for another visit--but if the other dishes are any indication, more superlative work from the two chefs in the kitchen.
Add to this exceptional service, friendly, attentive and knowledgable, a relaxing, well-designed and thought out dining room that is attractive without being overdone, and a welcoming bar, again with tasteful decor and great colors.
One should not be surprised, then, that the wine list, though short, is attractive and includes selections from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, Australia, and California. The prices, too, are attractive, ranging from $7 to $11 for a glass with bottles priced from $32 up to $65.
Yayla Bistro has set a high bar for itself in its early days. As word spreads about this remarkable newcomer to the local food scene, it might be wise to try it sooner, rather than later, and go for lunch or an early dinner to be sure they don’t run out of Apricot Delight.