My first meal here started on an unseasonably cold night. My friends and I huddled around our table, grateful to be indoors, and listened to the young people at the table next to us talk about Turkish politics. I watched the shivering people outside read the menu and unfailingly come in to join us warm, happy diners inside. This was the place to be.
Especially when the bread arrived. We simply could not stop eating it. Fresh, piping hot, and almost reminiscent of focaccia (at a third of the thickness), it was the perfect thing to thaw out our appetites and get us ready for some appetizers. We started with the Ephe Combo ($10.95). It included tzatsiki, a cucumber and yogurt dip that was very light; a homemade hummus, which was so fresh we could taste the skins of the chickpeas (this was quickly polished off); baba ghanoush, which had a lightly smoky taste and was quite thick; a lovely oniony tabouleh; dolma with a pungent pickled taste; zatar for our fresh bread; and one large falafel. I think on its own that the falafel would have been a bit heavy, but otherwise the appetizer plate was an incredible array of fresh and unique tastes.
For our entrees we enjoyed lentil soup ($3.95), chicken shish plate ($10.95), and the lamb shish plate or shashlik ($11.95). The soup was pureed and incredibly light, an enjoyable choice to pair with the appetizers for a light dinner. The kebab plates came with white rice as well as bulgur, both of which were cooked perfectly, and a mix of fresh vegetables cooked al dente, including carrots, broccoli, yellow squash, and zucchini. The chicken kebab had a nice char and tasted fresh, and was easy to remove from the skewer, which I always consider a plus. The lamb was juicy and tender without tasting gamey, and was also accompanied by a salad with Persian cucumbers.
During our dinner our water glasses and hot tea were refilled as needed, and we never needed to ask for more delicious bread. The head waiter came over to ask us how we were enjoying our meals, and we were surprised when we were told: "My mother and father are cooking in the back. They cook everything; it is just like homemade." We had just met GalipVural, part of this family-owned venture, who sees to the front of the house. He explained that his father, Mehmet, has been a professional chef, and has 25 years of experience.
And their family pride shows in every aspect of the food. On another visit, we enjoyed generous servings of spanakopita ($3.95), which were filled with spinach and feta and had an incredibly flaky crust. My friend and I shared a gyro and cheese baked pie ($8.95), which was so large it spilled off the plate. It was filled with well-seasoned lamb and beef gyro, without being overwhelming with meat or cheese.
Perhaps my favorite dish of all was the manti ($10.95), which are tiny beef dumplings in a yoghurt and seasoned oil sauce. They were so light and delicate I couldn't stop popping them in my mouth.
But our delights did not stop at the entrees. We enjoyed a large selection of herbal teas, a wonderful cold ginger beer, and a selection of traditional desserts, including baklava ($3.95) and firin sutlac, or rice pudding ($3.95). The pudding is served cold and was very nice. It gives you that homey feel that is a great end to the meal, but the baklava is a revelation. Not too sweet, not too dry, this baklava was nothing short of perfection. And we kept tasting and tasting, trying to identify that subtle, citrusy flavor until I almost shouted across the restaurant, "Neroli! They use neroli!" OK, I'm fairly partial to the flavor of orange blossoms. You will be too when you try this baklava. You'll feel right at home.
Ephesus Mediterranean Cuisine
185 Castro St., Mountain View
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.