The heartiest amuse bouche in town? Right now, my vote goes to cig kofte, a gift from the kitchen of the alluring new Ottoman Taverna in Mount Vernon Triangle. The welcome, made from brown cracked wheat that’s kneaded with smoky isot pepper, sweet-tart sumac and lemon juice, then served as short red ropes in lettuce leaves, is substantial enough to make you reconsider your dinner order.
The Turkish arrival brings to three the number of restaurants within a block of each other owned by Hakan Ilhan, whose nearby establishments are Alba Osteria and L’Hommage Bistro Français. The delay in serving the food of his homeland is explained by Ilhan’s insistence that the flavors be right. Kebabs are best cooked over charcoal, he says, which requires multiple air shafts, and it took him time to find the right building for a proper grill pit. A taste of beef and lamb seasoned with slightly fruity red marash peppers — adana kebab on the menu — suggests that the wait was worth it. So does the sesame-seeded flatbread, dropped off hot from a wood-fired oven.
In the open kitchen is Istanbul native Ilhan Erkek, who comes to Washington from the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla. The chef, 32, also channels Turkey with a glossy boat of roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions, and with doner kebab, shaved lamb and beef that gets a lift from a marinade of yogurt, onion juice, garlic and oregano. The latter is made festive and filling with a rice pilaf tinted red with tomato paste and sliced onions sprinkled with sumac and parsley.
East meets West — and old bridges new — in the light-filled restaurant, an expanse made sumptuous with a laser-cut steel screen that looks like lace dividing the dining room from the bar; floors that appear to have been bleached by the sun; a mural of the Hagia Sophia church; and arabesque light fixtures.
FYI: One of the best dishes, iskembe corbasi, isn’t on the menu. If you call in advance, though, Erkek will do his best to whip up the vinegar-sharpened tripe soup, said to be the best way to end a night of drinking. Even if you haven’t had a drop to drink, the ruffly innards and stinging broth prove restorative.
425 I St. NW. 202-847-0389. ottomantaverna.com. Entrees, $11-$25.