Grounds for returning
Rocklin, CA 95765
It might seem an unlikely spot for a Turkish restaurant, but the new Anatolian Table is certainly there, in a great big shopping center in the far-flung reaches of Rocklin. I headed there recently with an acquaintance who comes from Turkey and was delighted to sample a range of bright, sparkling, distinctive flavors that aren’t terribly available in Sacramento. The menu is longish and appealing, with kebabs, dips, salads, lots of meat (but some vegetarian dishes, too) and fish (many of them, like anchovies and red mullet, currently out of season), plus house-made pastries and desserts, yogurt drinks, Turkish sodas, and traditional coffee and tea. A brave effort has been made to pretty up the basic cavernous shopping-center restaurant space, and if the place had been full when we were there, I think it would have felt bustling and appealing; empty, it was a little barn-like, but colorful glass light fixtures and woven wall hangings helped.
We started out with a plate of mixed appetizers: creamy hummus, garlicky cacik (cucumber-mint yogurt), various cold eggplant dishes, dolmas, plus a basket of fresh, hot, well-risen flatbread with sesame seeds on its pretty glazed top. I wasn’t enchanted with the dolmas, which were gummy and bland, but everything else was very nice, especially those savory, smoky eggplant dishes. This was a flavorful way to start the meal, but be warned: As you nibble, it’s easy to fill up before the main event.
Our next appetizer was arnavut cigeri—Albanian liver is the literal translation—which is lightly floured and fried, served with a tangy red-onion salad tossed with herbs. The little pieces of meat, with their dryish texture and ferrous taste, were good with the sharp, crunchy onion for contrast. My friend noted that in Turkey, the meat is normally fried more than once for a crisper exterior, and I did think that crunchier fried coating would have benefited the pieces, but the liver-loving portion of the dining public (no guesses on how big that demographic is) should appreciate this dish.
Manti, traditional little poached dumplings with pale, thickish dough; a hexagonal shape not much wider than a nickel; and a tiny bit of ground-meat filling, had a firm chewiness and pleasantly mild flavor, offset by a topping of wonderful house-made yogurt and lush garlic butter. They’re a comforting, homey sort of dish, good for a chilly day.
Boat-shaped pide is like a Turkish version of a calzone, left not-quite-closed: a thin, yet soft crust, folded up around vegetables, meat and, in some cases, cheese. We tried the sucuklu pide with Turkish garlic salami and bright chopped peppers and onions; other versions included ground meat, cheese, vegetables, lamb or chicken. The “garlic salami,” a fine-ground, brick-red sausage cut into thick half-moons, was softer and finer-textured than salami; it reminded me of a dryer linguica. In any case, its full, spicy flavor was very good against the crunch of the red and green peppers and the fluffy softness of the bready crust.
The iskender—doner kebab (sliced marinated lamb, cooked on a vertical spit) over cubes of Turkish bread, topped with a tomato sauce and yogurt—was a huge, yummy, sloppy mound of meat and carbs. The duskily spiced, slightly gamy tender meat was offset by the cool, creamy yogurt and the thick tomato sauce, which was bright with the flavors of fine-chopped onions and peppers. (In Turkey, this would normally be a simpler, tomato-only sauce, but I liked the complexity of its flavor.) All of this soaked into the crisp-edged, yeasty, buttery-tasting cubes of Turkish bread, making the whole hearty platter a study in textural and temperature balance.
Stuffed, we could barely make a dent in the iskender, yet the thought of dessert—not to mention Turkish coffee—was too tempting to pass up. The coffee can be ordered unsweetened, lightly sweet or very sweet. I chose lightly sweet, and all I can say is that I can hardly imagine how sweet the “very sweet” would be.
Anyway, it was delicious, high-octane stuff with a syrupy kick, and it came with a little cube of powdery, delicately floral Turkish delight on the side—just the thing to nibble on while we waited for kunefe, a plate-sized disk of shredded filo filled with unsalted cheese in a moderate amount of syrup, topped with a sprinkling of pistachios. It’s made to order and takes about 20 minutes, but if you have time to linger (you’d better, as the meals are big, and the service is helpful but relaxed), it’s very much worth it: the crunchy, toasty filo and sweet syrup contrast tastily with the stretchy, mozzarella-like cheese. It’s a specialty of my friend’s home city, she said, and she pronounced it a good, restrained version: not as syrup-soaked and cloying as it could be, nor as oozing with cheese, but still authentic. I just thought it was perfect for nibbling at—an instantly likeable sweet. So was, to my mind, the baklava, which in the Turkish iteration is soaked in sugar syrup rather than (as in Greek versions) honey. This was a nutty, pure-tasting version, with a clean, modestly sugary taste and a softly sticky interior—just right with the dregs of that coffee.
Speaking of which, my friend said that in Turkey, it’s traditional to turn the cup over, let it stand and tell fortunes based on the patterns in the grounds on the sides of the cup. She took a look at mine and predicted that I’d be visiting Cappadocia in Turkey; the grounds resembled the region’s characteristic rock formations. I’m not sure how soon I’ll get there, but I think, grounds or no, I can predict that I’ll head back to Anatolian Table.