Dupont Circle's Levante's closed in January, but its replacement won't be straying too far, geographically speaking: Ankara, a new Turkish project from a family of first-time restaurateurs, is set to open in early May on 19th Street NW.
The venture represents the work of upwards of 20 relatives, according to Erin Gorman, who co-owns the restaurant with her husband, Utku Aslanturk, and his brother, Ovgu.
The brothers dabbled in restaurant work upon arriving in the area from Turkey in the 1990s, but spent most of the last two decades working in the family's construction business. Still, opening a dining spot was always a thought in the back of their minds, Gorman said.
"They're Turkish, and they really like to eat," she said. "And they really like to eat Turkish food."
Most of the family currently hails from the Turkish capital of Ankara, which inspired the restaurant's name.
Gorman said they all perceived a renewed interest in Turkish culture from Americans, and when the Levante's space became available, they decided the time was right to open their own place.
In describing Turkish cuisine, Gorman cited a definition offered by cookbook author and professor Ayla Algar. "She said to think about Turkish food is to think about archaeology and strata, because Turkish cuisine and culture is so old," Gorman said.
The food is something of a blend, with Persian, Mediterranean, Far East and Anatolian influences, Gorman said.
The menu will include the inevitable kebabs but will also feature hot and cold mezze, as well as entrees. Among the offerings: sigara boregi (feta cheese and herbs in phyllo), midye tavasi (fried mussels in a walnut tarator sauce) and the famous imam biyaldi (stuffed eggplant and olive oil). And at the insistence of Gorman's 4-year-old daughter, there will be yaprak sarma, grape leaves stuffed with beef and rice, served with a garlic yogurt sauce.
Ankara held on to Levante's wood-burning oven, which it will use to bake bread and pide, the canoe-shaped, Turkish-style pizza that bears a strong resemblance to the so-hot-right-now Georgian khachapuri.
Dishes draw from all across Turkey, but in the future, Gorman said she hopes to offer more regionally specific specials.
Chef Jorge Chicas, whose resume includes José Andrés's Zaytinya in Washington and Bazaar in Los Angeles, was brought in as a consultant to help oversee the creation of the menu and train the kitchen staff.
"This is a family business, but none of us are chefs," Gorman said.
Diners who patronized Levante's may not recognize the 120-seat space, which will also have room for 115 people on the patio. Gorman said the restaurant has been gutted and renovated. But don't expect anything antique-y -- the goal was to look forward, not backward. She called it "contemporary styling."
"We wanted it to be reflective of where Turkey is now," Gorman said.
Ankara, 1320 19th St. NW. www.ankaradc.net.