Cazbar

Cazbar, Baltimore, MD Cazbar, Baltimore, MD

In 2015, I stopped over in Istanbul on my way to and fro Southeast Asia – see photos.  I fell in love with the city and the charming people, but I was quite disappointed by the eating offerings as I pretty much stuck to the touristy areas that was limited to kebaps. When I returned back, I brought back a bunch of typical Turkish spices from the Spice Market sitting next to the Bosphorus River separating Europe from Asia. The dried herbs and peppers were bought with the intention of helping a cookbook author test some of her recipes from this region. In the process, I discovered that there was a delicious unchartered territory that was definitely worth exploring. So, when I got wind of a Turkish restaurant located on a main street in Baltimore, I visited it a few times before writing this review.

Lentil/ Pumpking Soups, Cazbar, MD Ayran, Cazbar, MD

Walking into the Cazbar, you notice the rich-colored walls illuminated by the store-front window in the front and beautiful Turkish stained-glass lamps towards the back, reminding me of seeing them in a bazaar on my trip. The menu was easy to navigate and we honed on the set lunch specials that is available everyday including weekends for $14. After placing our order, we got our soups quite quickly. The first was Lentil Soup. It was made with red lentils and it was quite thin with the lentils pureed in it. It had a hint of dried mint that added some interest but it didn’t manage to wow us.  The Pumpkin Soup was interesting as it was quite orangy in color but its sweetness was a bit too much for my dining companion. It exuded a dark spice that was later confirmed as cinnamon, but not the usual American type. Not a bad start, but no surprise that these were not impressive since they were starters for the set lunch.  A glass of Ayra, yogurt drink, was quite refreshing as it was ice-cold, quite salty, and paradoxically light and creamy at the same time, and the brass container it came in exuded an Old World charm.

Babaghanoush/Ezme, Cazbar, MD

Hummus, Cazbar, MDThe appetizers were next. There was quite a variety to choose from but we focused on the familiar and a recommendation. The Babaghanoush arrived in a beautiful metal container, and one dip into it revealed its smokey, vegetable sweet, and smooth silky nature that has been enriched by some tahini.  The recommended Ezme was a surprising discovery. It is a vegetable dip made from finely chopped cucumber, tomato, onion and parsley, all brought together by some spicy pul biber pepper spice and sweetened with a recent discovery of mine, pomegranate molasses, that added a sweetness and tang to the delicious mix – my friends raved about it throughout the meal. The Hummus on another visit proved to be extremely smooth, tasting rather rich from the tahini and perfumed by a hint of cumin that didn’t overwhelm the palette, an opener that pleased everyone at the table. Worth mentioning is the fantastic bread that was used to mop up all the above goodness with its freshly baked, crusty, and pillowy light inside qualities. I have heard of good Turkish bakers, and this was an epitome of such standard.

Adana Iskander, Cazbar, MD Chicken Pirzola, Cazbar, MD

Kofte Kebap Sandwich, Cazbar, MDA trip to a Turkish restaurant would be amiss if one didn’t taste the famous Döner Kebap. The version here is worth raving about: crispy bits with a softer inside (an indication of the proper rotisserie cooking), and a well-seasoned mix of lamb and beef with a faint taste of the gaminess that was appealing. The side salad that came with most dishes was well-dressed with a vinaigrette scented with dried mint leaves, served along with a buttery rice pilaf studded with toasted orzo-like pasta that was good enough to satisfy. A supped up version of the above is Adana Iskander that is the same meat placed on pieces of light bread moistened by an amazingly light and fresh tomato sauce, and topped with a tangy yogurt sauce. The gestalt effect of each bite was extremely tasty and satisfying, making each forkful irresistible. An order of Chicken Pirzola arrived looking like Chicken Tandoori with its bring orange color as a result of its marination in fresh oregano, Turkish paprika and issot red pepper spice. No one spice stood out but the overall effect was a tasty one paired with the smokiness from the grilling that kept the chicken still moist while having a slight char. The side cucumber and fresh dill yogurt sauce was completely up my ally with its tangy, creamy and herbaceous quality. A lighter bite was Köfte Kebap Sandwich that composed of minced beef that has been seasoned with some spicy pepper, well-seasoned, but it was a bit tough. The french fries were a bit limpid but that was made up by the spicy French sauce-like dip that I couldn’t get enough of.  The kitchen really knows how to operate the grill properly judging by these well-executed dishes.

Cyprus Pide, Cazbar, MD

Lamb Moussaka, Cazbar, MDThere were a couple of non-grilled meat dishes that we had to try. The first was Cyprus Pide. I had the pizza-like long bread in Istanbul, but unfortunately, it was rather greasy and unimpressive then. The version here was freshly made and far better than my first experience. The baked dough was soft and light with a yeasty scent, with fresh slices of red onion, pickled artichoke, brined olives, fresh spinach, all held down by some soft stringy cheese. The fresh slightly charred vegetal qualities were perfumed by some fresh oregano or marjoram that made each bite interesting and equally satisfying – an order of only this bread would have sufficed due to all its goodness. The other order was Lamb Moussaka. It arrived baked in a metal ware looking like regular Italian lasagna.  Breaking into it, you could taste the meat that was coarsely ground, slices of soft potato, a slightly spicy tomato sauce that tasted rather fresh, and soft melted cheese that was not overwhelming in flavor or amount.  It was not the usual moussaka that the Greeks make, but my friend was happy with his selection and he disposed of it in no time.

Combo Kebap, Cazbar, MD

Lamb Three Way, Cazbar, MDA couple of Combo Kebap dishes were savored on the last trip. My order was a combination of whole shrimp and chunks of lamb. The seafood was well-grilled and the shells managed to keep them still rather moist while tasting well-seasoned and sea sweet. The lamb was a bit tough due to either the cut or its well-done state, which is common for cuisine from this part of the world.  However, the meat was well-seasoned paired with a smoky char that added a tasty dimension to the chunks. My friends order was Lamb Three Ways: lamb chop, lamb kebap (like above dish), and ground lamb köfte. The latter was a bit spicy and had a hint of sourness in the ground meat, and the chop was still moist and had a slight scent of lamb gaminess that is to expected, along with some good smoky char from the grill. My friend seemed completely sated from this lamb heaven indicated by his gnawing the chops down to their bare bones.

Turkish Tea and Baklava, Cazbar, MDCazbar is a great find, even though it is not in proper DC region. I really like this place for its location on the main street Baltimore where parking is free after 6 p.m. weekdays and all of Sunday. But what makes it worth visiting is its strong suits of the well-seasoned grilled seafood and meats (not too salty like many grill establishments), the amazing appetizers of babaghanoush, hummus, and that to-die-for Ezme, the thoughtful sides and sauces that balance each plate well, and the pide stuffed-bread and moussaka that are worth trying. For $2 more, you can finish your meal with a glass of Turkish chai that was both slightly bitter and aromatic (reminding me of sitting by the Bosphorus sipping many cups of it), and the flaky nutty not-too-sweet Baklava that would give the diner a truly happy ending.  To boot, the decor and service were both charming and extremely appealing, especially the congenial waiters we had on our visits. Cazbar is definitely worth many more visits with expertly cooked food like this, and it is high on my recommendation list.

Cazbar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lebanese/Syrian – Bistro LaZeez

Bistro LazeezJust a quick post on a dinner visit to Bistro LaZeez in Bethesda, MD.  Not enough for a blog but just a post with a couple of highlights.

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Bistro Lazeez - Falafel

The Falafels’ crunchy exterior held a moist and dark-spiced flavorful interior. The lemony tahini sauce was the perfect companion to these delicious bites.  Two couples next to us also ordered the same appetizer, as well as Kibbeh (like falafel but with spiced meat), which they also enjoyed.

Bistro Lazeez - Lentil Soup

Bistro Lazeez - House SaladThe Lentil Soup was not as thick as one usually finds, but it was full of flavor.

House Salad was your usual salad with a bit of Sumac and citrusy lemon olive oil vinaigrette.

Bistro Lazeez - BLZ Chicken Medley

Chicken Medley – the pieces of poultry were marinated in a tangy garlic sauce that added a zing and flavor, but the dark meat was cooked too long, hence the rather dry and tough pieces, even for these cuts of meat. However, I enjoyed the heavily scented yellow turmeric rice with almonds, along with the grilled vegetables. The sumac-laced baked pita bread added some textural and flavor contrast to the dish.

Grilled Cornish Hen

The Grilled Cornish Hen tasted of the same marinade as the above chicken which was a bit too tart for my dining companion, and he mistakenly poured the marinade over the pieces before trying them, adding to his woes. The pieces of poultry suffered the same fate as the above dish for they were overcooked – a casualty of being double-cooked (precooked first) and not grilled from scratch. Usually one to take home leftovers, his was not packed-up this time. The couples next to us confirmed that their chicken was equally dry.

Bistro LaZeez on Urbanspoon

K Town Bistro

During my youthful college days as a Spanish major, I was seriously contemplating running off to Cuba or Nicaragua to spend time perfecting my Spanish and realizing some kind of Socialist mission that filled my sense of idealism.  Knowing that my parents would balk and send an intervention team (aka my siblings), I toned this thought down and ended up in Spain.  In my mid-teens and as a boarder in a British high school, my classmates and I would go on field trips to London to visit the British Museum and the Tate Gallery, and invariably I would end up giving mini tours to my mates explaining the elusive messages hidden within the Modern Masters, albeit off the mark most of the time – again, my sense of reaching to the masses and breaking down the barriers between high art and the common man is evident here.  As an adult, I bring this same sensibility in my approach and search for French cuisine, which I find can be quite inaccessible both gastronomically and financially.

DSC_7486.jpgEver since my discovery of a quaint and irresistible French bistro, Yves’ Bistro (see blog), in the Alexandria, Va area, I have been keeping my eyes, and most surely my appetite, ready and wide open in finding another establishment that is worth visiting and writing about, accessible to the average person on many levels.   Recently, another online offer popped up which urged me to stop in at a new restaurant in the suburb of Kensington, MD.

K Town Bistro is located along the local commuter train tracks, nestled among a bunch of antique shops that appear to have aged nearly as much as the merchandise displayed in the storefront windows.   It is rather easy to bypass it without noticing its presence due to its understated facade and the lack of foot traffic in this quiet part of historic Kensington.  Such quietude only adds to the charm of the area, thus setting up a proper mind frame for a more relaxed and refined meal, as if one were to be transported to a small quaint town on the Continent where time and activity have slowed down by quite a few notches.  A bubbling brook instead of the railroad tracks would have framed the mood and ambience for this gastronomic experience as purely idyllic.

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The restaurant has been opened for just over a year and on my first visit, it was rather busy on a Thursday evening, which was a good sign for what was going to come.  According to the website, the owner had worked for around 20 years at the famed Watergate Hotel, and the chefs had done their stints at high-end restaurants in the area before leaving for further training in France.  With this information in mind and looking at the filled tables, a sense of anticipation started to creep in me, along with a fairly ravenous appetite and a stomach that was speaking its noisy familiar language.

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To start the meal off, I chose the Lobster Bisque, a classic soup which is a good indicator of the kitchen’s skill level.  The soup here is made with sherry and cream, and it arrived in a bowl that was dainty and elegant enough to showcase its luxuriousness.   The broth was packed with the rich crustacean stock, not overly rich by the cream, a slight boozy note from the sherry, and it had some depth from the use of aromatics, the slightly bitter tamale (head matter), and some proper cooking.  It arrived piping hot, as how I like my soups, with some garlic croutons that provided the flavor and textural contrast.  I could not get enough of this satisfactory slurp, and pieces of french bread were used to wipe up every drop in the bowl – it was bowl licking good! On the second visit, a companion’s order of the day’s special, Lentil Soup, was equally delectable.  The soup was rich and creamy, even without the use of diary, as a result of the use of aromatics that added rich flavor and body to these simple legumes.  Instead of a chunky version, it came in a pureed form which further added to the rich silkiness.  With these couple of bowls, we already notice the kitchen’s knowledge and skill in their set of first offerings.

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A couple of salads were the next course.  On one visit, I ordered the House Salad.  It was quite peppery from a combination of field greens and a hefty amount of arugula leaves, balanced by perfectly ripened rich bits of avocado, sweet pungent red onions, slightly tart creamy chevre cheese, sweet and tart tomatoes, all disparate elements perfectly dressed by a slightly sweet and light coating of a proper vinaigrette.  Simple but sumptuous.  A Beet Salad was the order on another visit.  Cubes of sweet yellow beets are paired with equally sweet but more mineral-tasting red beets, topped with slightly sweet fried parsnip shavings coupling up with candied pecans to provide the textural and flavor contrast to the soft beet cubes.   The tangy vinaigrette and nuggets of chevre cheese added some level of acidity to the dish thus avoiding any cloying sweet effect.  This was truly a vegetable delight worth calling a respectable vegetarian entrée.

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On my first visit, an offering of Cod and Crab Cake was my main course.  The piece of cod was amazingly fresh with no hint of ammonia, which cod tends to accumulate quickly.  It was cooked perfectly judging by the moist large flakes of flesh and the slightly golden exterior with the hint of buttery richness.  Perching on top of the fillet is a small crab cake that was decent with large lump meat barely held together by a binder.  The seafood was accompanied by a wonderful Bernaise sauce perfumed by tarragon that added the slight anise flavor thus lightening the butter base sauce – despite its richness, I was lapping up every drop of it.  The sides of mashed potato and greens were quite good but perfunctory in comparison to the staring ingredients.

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The restaurant offers a Prix-Fixe Lunch Menu which consists of 2 courses for $16.  On one visit, my companion ordered Salmon Cakes.  The fish rounds were made with fresh salmon flakes and studded with red and green pepper bits.  As in French cuisine, equal emphasis is placed on the sauce, and the Red Pepper Coulis was the perfect slightly sweet partner to the mild salty cakes.  The side of Spinach Fondue was decent, but the Roasted Potato wedges were quite heavenly with the golden crispy exterior and the fluffy inside, making this starch bites very irresistible.  This was a fulfilling and well-balanced lunch course.

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For my lunch order, I decided to go out on a whim and order something not favored by many – Calf Liver.  The pieces of organ meat were still tender from the proper cooking and not too bitter for being young of age.  Nothing can remove the strong flavors of liver, but the shallot red wine sauce helped to make the liver more palatable and even quite tasty for this reviewer.  The side of vegetables tasted fresh and well-balanced with pieces of sweet carrots, crispy haricot vert (French green beans), and sweet parsnips.  The mash potato was decent but I prefer mine with lots of butter and cream, which this version could have done with more.   However, this was indeed tasty and quite refined for a liver dish.

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A French meal is not complete without savoring the dessert offering.  For dinner, I forced my stuffed and sated stomach to make room for a couple of spoonfuls of the classic Creme Brulée.  The custard was rich, thick, packed with real vanilla flavor (judging by the seeds), and the burnt sugar topping was perfectly executed.  The dessert was doing a number on me at this stage but I had to pull in the reins and hold the horses as the custard came in a decent portion – the following day’s tasting of the leftovers was equally satisfying and I devoured it in a couple of minutes.  For my second visit, the owner was kind enough to offer us a complementary trio of desserts – K Town Bistro Trio.  It consists of the fore mentioned burnt custard, “banana split”, and dark chocolate mousse.  Banana slices have been caramelized and they sit on a pool of rich and irresistible creme anglaise and berry sauce.  The mousse was very rich with a slight bitter-sour aftertaste from the use of good dark chocolate.  Verdict on this trio – C’est tres magnifique!  Despite being stuffed from the savory dishes, we were diving into these sweet offerings like teenagers looking for a sugar high, and we were marvelling with each spoonful.  When you visit, make sure to leave some room for this must-order.

K Town Bistro is a gem of French cuisine due to the skilful kitchen that offers wonderful classic dishes at a moderate price, which fulfils my criteria for good accessible French food.  The charm of its location and the attentive wait staff add to the comfortable and satisfying dining experience.   I see myself becoming a regular at this inviting restaurant, returning back for their delectable courses.  I suspect you will do the same once you have paid it your first visit.

K Town Bistro on Urbanspoon