It sounds like a rich recipe: A family of Turkish builders and a chef who helped launch Zaytinya have joined forces to open a place that reminds the Turks of the group-friendly restaurants they miss from back home. Which is another way of saying that Ankara, named for the capital of Turkey, has begun serving stuffed eggplant and meat kebabs in a 120-seat dining room in Dupont Circle.
“In Turkey, they all go out in large groups” to dine together, says Erin Gorman, a spokeswoman for Ankara. She’s the wife of Utku Aslanturk and the sister-in-law of Ovgu Haluk Aslanturk, brothers whose company, Dila Development and Construction, turned the site vacated by Levante’s restaurant into the alluring Ankara. The replacement is distinguished with splashes of red the shade of the Turkish flag and sphere-shaped polished-brass light fixtures, plus a sidewalk patio that doubles Ankara’s seating capacity when the weather plays nice.
The family enlisted Jorge Chicas to serve as a consultant to set up the kitchen and train the staff. In theory, that sounds great. In reality, the former Zaytinya employee has a full-time job as executive chef at the Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia and isn’t around enough to see everything done properly. Mussels come to the table in doughy coats of batter with a walnut sauce that doesn’t taste like much of anything, while boat-shaped flatbread carpeted with spinach and feta suffers from a crust that needs a lot more time in the oven. Doner kebab, one of Turkey’s claims to fame, translates here to dry shaved beef with few signs of seasoning. A chicken kebab is similarly bland.
On a sunnier note, the kitchen’s pita is puffy and delicious, whether the bread is swabbed in olive oil or pressed into service as a bun for a tasty lamb burger that gets a flavor bump from feta cheese mixed into the meat. And rice-stuffed, cinnamon-spiced grape leaves make a pleasant impression.
I’ve eaten high and low — and almost always well — in Turkey. The food at Ankara is, for the most part, a muted version of the real deal.
1320 19th St. NW. 202-293-6301. www.ankaradc.net. Dinner entrees, $12 to $29.