Restaurant review: Cafe Istanbul

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Remember that bouncy old tune that went: "Istanbul was Constantinople/Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople"? Yeah, that song makes me wanna rip my ears off.

But when this unpretty ditty plopped into my brain recently as I was faced with the same old song of another Cafe Istanbul, instead of cringing, I actually thought about doing a little dance. Because based on numerous past meals from the Cafe Istanbul at Easton, I anticipated more great-tasting food. And - though service at the brand new Bexley branch was very far from a well-oiled machine - delicious food's exactly what I got there.

While the Bexley Cafe Istanbul strongly resembles its Easton sibling, it doesn't wholly lack its own identity. For instance, on al fresco-dining-mad Main Street, this Istanbul has erected a patio that's distinct and handsome enough to up the ante on its local competition. Sporting pretty pavers and meticulous landscaping, the charming patio's small but eye-catching.

The same could be said about Istanbul's cozy interior. There's a wee bar in there with a nice flatscreen, but the snug dining room is clearly distinguished by a simple, clean and warm slatted-wood look that blankets walls and forms booths and padded banquettes.

As expected, the menu is filled with all of those fresh, lively flavored and well-executed dips, appetizers, salads and kebabs that make Turkish food so healthy, fun and easy to love. If you 're grazing with a group or relatively new to this cuisine, after ordering your Turkish wine (Istanbul's cocktail menu does not excite), I recommend targeting two smorgasbord-like smile-athons: The Appetizer Sampler ($17) and the Mixed Grill Kebab ($24).

The former's a huge, segmented wheel spoked with super savories such as a thick and tart homemade yogurt dip; a sorta spicy and nutty salsa; a rich tomato and fried eggplant melange I cannot get enough of; plus other enticing starters like wonderful tabbouleh and hummus.

The cookout-bonanza-like Mixed Grill is spilling over with a hibachi-load of juicy seared cubes and slices of tender lamb and fragrant chicken plus sausagey adana and homemade gyro meat. This carnivore's carnival comes with (as do most entrees) top-notch rice and a fairly nice veggie medley - when it's not too heavy on the cooked celery.

Fans of falafel, listen up: Istanbul's fantastic Falafel Appetizer ($6), is worth the visit alone and arguably the best in the area. A quartet of ungreasy plump patties arrived with crisp-tastic, multi-textured, sesame-seed-sprinkled shells that led to popping green aromatic interiors. A must!

Here's a few less familiar but highly recommended Bexley Cafe Istanbul dishes:

• Spicy Beyti Kebab ($17) Smoky, salty and spicy sausages wrapped in lavash bread and sliced into little bundles; their racy flavor is in part tamed by great homemade yogurt

• Karniyarik ($15) Zesty, tomatoey ground lamb sauce atop its perfect foil of sweet, mashed fried eggplant. Think exponentially enhanced stuffed peppers.

• Grilled whole seabass ($21, can be filleted by your server) Crispy and salty skin encased delicate, delicious and clean-tasting white meat fish with a hint of smokiness clinging to it from expert grilling. Served with a brightly dressed salad, it's a light but filling and extremely satisfying dinner.

Photos by Jodi Miller

Cafe Istanbul

2455 E. Main St., Bexley