Trail Mix: Baklava is an absolute treat

May 20, 2011, 12:40 a.m.
Trail Mix: Baklava is an absolute treat
Baklava, a Turkish restaurant off University Avenue, offers dishes like Yogurtlu Kebab -- marinated ground lean lamb flame-broiled and served with taziki and tomato sauce -- and traditional Turkish tea. (CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily)

In Palo Alto alone, there are approximately 100 full-service restaurants and about 90 more limited-service establishments. Sometimes, though, it seems like they are all Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. There are simply so many places serving falafel or similar fare that it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Baklava, however, stands out from the crowd with its incredible Turkish cuisine.

The restaurant’s décor effuses a strong cultural identity without being kitschy or sacrificing too much formality. The atmosphere works well for a long lunch or a somewhat nicer but low-pressure dinner with close friends.

Baklava cooks its meat expertly. The chunks of lamb in the Kuzu Kebab are mouth-watering and perfectly tender, and the chicken of the Tavuk Shish Kebab is juicy and seared with just the right amount of char to evoke feelings of an open fire without making the outside too bitter or dry. The grilled peppers partitioning the slices of meat are delectably savory; likewise, the eggplant in the Karniyarik melts away perfectly. However, the ground beef in the Karniyarik is not quite as exciting as the other carnivorous options. Neither the rice pilaf nor the grilled potatoes and carrots that accompany these grilled dishes particularly stand out in terms of flavor; the rice, especially, is underwhelming. Still, they frame the dish well aesthetically and can provide a nice interlude between the pieces of meat.

Baklava also features a rotating roster of specialties that are generally fantastic. The Swordfish Special, for example, is cooked perfectly. The fish has a robust yet smooth texture that makes it a substantial and delicious option. The Yogurt Kabob Special is perhaps a bit weaker. The lamb comes in a tzatziki sauce that is somewhat flat, but the meat picks up the slack and saves the dish. The only real disappointment is that these dishes are not permanent fixtures on the menu.

Trail Mix: Baklava is an absolute treat
CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily

On top of these specialties, Baklava does not forget its roots and manages to deliver exceptional cuisine even with the basics. The falafel appetizer is spot on. The falafel has a wonderfully light crispiness to encase its creamy filling, which has just the right amount of spicy kick. Even the complimentary pita is satisfying and comes with a phenomenal sundried tomato spread that by itself justifies a visit to the restaurant. And of course, the baklava dessert does not disappoint. The beautiful layers of phyllo rest on an absolutely scrumptious base of pistachios and walnuts with a touch of honey, producing an unforgettable dessert.

Not everything at Baklava is flawless. The Fish Sandwich, for example, is simply boring. The dish is reminiscent of cioppino in sandwich form, but the transformation isn’t entirely successful. Also, the classic dolma is actually fairly decent, but the flavor is sometimes drowned by the accompanying yogurt sauce; asking for it on the side may be a good idea.

There are a dizzying array of restaurants in the area falling somewhere at the intersection of North African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. There are only a few, however, that provide the type of fare worth returning for. Baklava is such an establishment, and it is “definitely worth trying.”

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