Turquoise is a variant of an old French word for jewel of Turkey, presumably since the blue-green stone reached Western Europe from there. Today, inside a modest-looking strip center at the southwest corner of Loop 410 and Fredericksburg, San Antonio’s Turquoise Grill has itself grown into a gem of the Westside these past five years. Though I’d heard tell of it from knowledgeable friends, I only got around to trying it a couple of weeks ago.
Turkish cuisine will remind you of other Mediterranean foods since it relies on many of the same regional ingredients. The appetizers of hummus and dolmas will be familiar to patrons of San Antonio’s many Greek restaurants. Eggplant also appears in numerous guises in Turkish cooking: fried, roasted, sautéed, mashed, cubed. Sadly, several listed eggplant-based appetizers (and main dishes, like my favorite, imam bayildi), were not being served. According to our waiters on two separate occasions, the absence was due to unfavorable weather in the eggplant fields of California. (Message to TG: Get over to H-E-B soon!)
So instead of the babaganoush, eggplant in sesame oil, we started with the hummus and sigara borek (literally cigarette-shaped), a generous piece of feta wrapped in phyllo dough and deep fried. The hummus was nicely balanced, i.e., the garlic was not overwhelming, and it made for a great spread on the thick slices of Turkish bread with its hint of onion. Pita flatbread is available for a dollar extra.
Waiters don’t hover in Turkey, or at this place. We had to stand and signal a couple of times for drink refills. However, the staff is friendly, though they do go a little overboard in pushing the more expensive meals. Try the variety of Turkish wraps, all $6.95 on the lunch menu (but not listed on the pricier dinner menu). We sampled the adana and doner wraps and favored the doner, a mixture of plentiful thin slices of lean beef and lamb with tomato, lettuce, and onion. It was a tad dry; some yogurt would have been welcome.
A highlight was the chicken tava, a casserole of bite-sized pieces of white meat in a buttery tomato sauce with peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes, served with a generous pilaf. It was as good as one I had in Izmir, Turkey last year. The dinner menu also offers a lamb tava. Less successful was the pasta a la Turca, which could have been a spaghetti Bolognese, only blander. If you’re super hungry try the mixed grill ($18.95 for two at lunch, $25.95 at dinner). Another good choice is any of the kebabs, Turkish staples throughout the country.
Turkey is famous for its sweets, and baklava is one of the best. Probably no two bakeries in Turkey prepare it the same way, but the basic mix involves lots of layers of buttery phyllo pastry wrapped over chopped walnuts and pistachios and smothered in honey. No matter how full you are, as our waiter said, there’s always room for baklava. We also tried the sulac (rice pudding), everyone’s comfort food. It was creamy, filling, and a nice cold finish to the feast.
Turkish food goes really well with a crisp, dry wine. Bring your own, because the restaurant doesn’t have a license. The good part is you pick your adult beverage of choice with no extra charge for corkage or glassware. Since restaurant markup is frequently 300 percent or more, you’re saving enough to go back for another meal. But call ahead — and ask about those eggplants.
3720 NW Loop 410
THE SKINNY: A welcome setting for a variety of Turkish foods, which are more affordable at lunch.
BEST BETS: Doner kebab, mixed grill, chicken tava, baklava, rice pudding
HOURS: 11am-10pm Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday
PRICES: Entrées: $6.95-13.95 lunch; $9.95-21, dinner. BYOB – no extra charge