Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Turquoise: A Delicious Gem By: Tom Gull

Tom Gull is a sales manager who enjoys singing, bike riding, travel and of course cooking. Tom thinks that good food, unrushed service, and a knowledgeable wait staff makes a restaurant worth going to. He watches Check, Please! to see how others view the restaurants that he has experienced already.

I was introduced to Turquoise Café by a friend who is Turkish. My initial impression was how clever the name is. In subsequent visits with friends for whom it is their first visit, they too were surprised by the name that points to the cuisine – maybe everyone first thinks of the rare gemstone. 

This was one of the only restaurants I know of where I didn’t know what to expect. I figured the menu would be a cuisine that would be similar to Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants. Greek restaurants to me all taste too similar to each other and Middle Eastern restaurants also seem to be a slight variation on a theme – shawarma and kebaps. I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

Sure, there are kebaps and hummus but even these well known dishes took on a flavor all their own. The hummus, when served as an entrée is accompanied by all sorts of vegetables (wild mushrooms, carrots, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, broccoli) each cooked perfectly.  Each dish is unique unto itself. One of the kebaps I’ve tried is served with a reduced pomegranate sauce.

There were a dozen people at my first dinner at Turquoise. We went with a group of twelve who were in Chicago from all parts of the U.S. for a conference. It seemed like most had some food restrictions – gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian, diabetic. The server was knowledgeable and easily directed everyone to appropriate choices or asked the chef to alter the dishes to accommodate their needs. I do not have any food restrictions so I chose the sampler platter. I try not to overeat but I figured the sampler platter would be a great introduction to the restaurant. It was filled with shrimp, salmon, chicken, beef and scallops all on a delicate bed of rice pilaf. It was so flavorful that I knew I would soon return.

On future visits, our group has been six or fewer persons. Upon a recommendation from the sole male waiter, who will proudly tell you he is not Turkish, but Kurdish, we always order 2 appetizers and one less entrée than the number at the table to share. There is always plenty to eat. The appetizers tend heavily toward seafood (diver scallops, calamari, mussels, salmon carpaccio or vegetarian – think zucchini pancakes, or spreads made from roasted eggplant) all served with delicious warm, homemade bread. At Turquoise, each dish I have tried tastes completely different from the next. Each entrée is served with uniquely perfect sides – rack of lamb with roasted vegetables, braised beef short rib with a creamy polenta, grilled salmon with gnocchi in a light tomato sauce, gorgonzola chicken with roasted red peppers, salt crusted Mediterranean white fish with steamed vegetables.

With the waiter’s recommendation, I have literally had over 50% of their entrees. With each dish, I feel like I am experiencing eating for the first time with new taste buds being awakened.  Unlike many other ethnic restaurants where the moussaka, pasta marinara or Wiener schnitzel all taste the same, the chefs at Turquoise have created a menu where there are no similarities. The accompaniments to each dish are as unique as main dish itself.

Dessert tends to be traditional, offering crème brulee (odd for the region), baklava, gelato and cheesecake but then they surprise you with an almond parfait that is flambéed tableside and drenched with a warm chocolate sauce. Also available is Kazandibi, which according to the menu is a mixture of caramelized butter, sugar and custard served with vanilla ice cream. It is a dense custard but the caramelized top is reminiscent of the flavor of toasted marshmallows.

For the past twenty or so years, I have taken three of my nephews, who are brothers, out to lunch or dinner a few days before Christmas. This tradition began when the oldest was 9 or 10 to give my sister an afternoon to finish her Christmas preparation. Each year, I choose a different ethnic restaurant for our meal. Each year as we get into the car, I ask the boys “why are we doing this?” They respond in unison “so we learn to appreciate other cultures.” As a native Chicagoan, I enjoy taking my friends, visitors, and nephews to the many ethnic neighborhoods that make Chicago a world-class city.  Through the years, we have “visited” Mexico, Guatemala, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Ethiopia, Japan, China, Korea, India, Lithuania, Peru, Russia, and Thailand. As we drive, I give them clues to where we are going and along the way I detour through different neighborhoods to throw them off the track. In 2010, I took my nephews to Turquoise. When the meal was finished, they all proclaimed that it was the best restaurant yet.

Turquoise Restaurant
2147 W.Roscoe
est Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 549-3523

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