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Talking SCHOP! Turkish soul food in Harlem

Kysha Harris | 9/19/2013, 4:35 p.m.
Harlem, one of the homes of soul food: fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, greens, et al. It is called ...
Lebanese frozen yogurt and baklava Photo by Kysha Harris

Harlem, one of the homes of soul food: fried chicken, ribs, mac and cheese, greens, et al. It is called “soul” because we cook both from the soul and, when it’s good, to the soul. Yes, soul food has been coined as an American cuisine, but I would venture to say that we could find a concept of it in every country.

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Seafood salad

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Turkish delight

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Shephard salad

For example, when Harlemite, chef and owner Galib Ozbek invited me to a private tasting of his Turkish cooking at his newly opened restaurant, Savann (2280 Frederick Douglass Blvd., 212-222-7990, www.nycsavann.com), I was in! I am a big fan of Mediterranean food. It’s clean, bright and satisfying.

We arrived to see Ozbek in his chef whites, sitting at a candlelit table. Wine? “Of course!”

He took time first to tell us a little more about Savann, its original location on the Upper West Side and his excitement over opening in his home neighborhood. He then regaled us with the impending menu of Turkish foods we would eat.

First up was the delicious, slightly sweet bread that he makes daily. Featuring a tender, well-done crust housing a hot, fluffy center, it should be eaten daily! A tear and a dip into the fruity olive oil served with oil-cured black olives? Yes, please!

Our appetizers started with stuffed grape leaves with rice, currants and pine nuts. They were tender, not greasy and almost meaty without any meat in them. A flight of mezze, or salads, from the menu flew to our table with homemade hummus, yogurt/dill/walnut, tabbouleh, sautéed baby eggplant and baba ghanoush. With that hot bread, this could be dangerously inventive bar food!

Our final appetizers were mint zucchini pancakes with garlic yogurt sauce and shepherd salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, herbs, pink vinegar and olive oil. The salad is appropriately named, because I would follow it anywhere it wants to go. Again, that Mediterranean food, it’s clean, bright and satisfying.

Chef took a break at the table to check on how we were feeling, made sure the wine glasses were full and prepared us for the next courses. Though we were full without a piece of meat to be had (vegetarians, take note!), the next dishes made me an official co-signer of Savann.

A beautiful bowl of tender dumplings with ground lamb and herbs swathed in light garlic yogurt sauce, sumac and chili oil wafted past my nose en route to the table. The combination of it all was magic, not the least of which was how these tiny dumplings are made by hand. After, a deconstructed seafood salad with grilled octopus, shrimp and scallops served with a shallot-lemon vinaigrette-dressed mesclun salad took me over the edge.

But here comes chef. ”You must have dessert!” OK!

After a digestion-welcomed lengthy conversation about Turkish ice cream—it stretches like taffy—and his favorite ice cream, he told us about his love of plain Lebanese frozen yogurt. I was sold with a small piece of house-made baklava. O-M-G … my new favorite! That yogurt was creamy and naturally sweet like vanilla ice cream without the vanilla.

And just when you can’t eat any more, here comes chef again, with a small plate of Turkish delight—cubes of flavored firm gel housing nuts and dried fruits. I favored the nougat variety with pistachio.

Thank you, chef, and congratulations on Savann Harlem! I am looking forward to some belly dancing and live Turkish music soon!

Savann spoke to my soul. Might it have a word with you now?