Atlas Adventures

You can get food from just about any country in S.F.

The beauty of living in this global bouillabaisse is that on any given day you can sit down at the kitchen table with a world atlas, close your eyes, point to a random spot on the map, open your eyes, turn to your bright-eyed roommate/houseguest/spouse, and say, "How's about we try Senegalese food tonight?" -- and your only qualm will be not whether you can find a Senegalese restaurant, but whether it takes credit cards.

Even more exquisite is the ability of your dining partner to squint dubiously, claim that Senegalese food disagreed with him the last time he had it, and invoke the best-two-out-of-three rule, while he tilts his finger toward the European continent, specifically the sliver of a peninsula between Yugoslavia and Italy known as Istria. Unfortunately, his aim is a little off (from all the Iron Goddess of Mercy monkey-picked Chinese tea he just consumed), and he skids over the Adriatic, landing midway into Turkey.

You and your partner debate a tiebreaker, shrug, and agree: Turkish cuisine it is. And here, of course, is the tiara on the pageant queen -- in the Bay Area you almost always have more than one option. So after dabbling with the notion of Bursa Kebab in West Portal, we decide on A La Turca in the outer 'Loin (869 Geary, 345-1011), partly because we've been there before and enjoyed a terrific meal, and partly because the word "bursa" keeps conjuring an image of fluid on the knee, which I am most definitely not in the mood for.

Surprisingly, for a less-than-savory stretch of Geary, A La Turca (or Alaturka, as its takeout menu calls it, which may settle an argument between rival publications) is rather squeaky-fresh. The Moorish exterior gives way to spit-spot tile-top tables, a sanitized-looking display case, and a cafeteria-style cooking area. The clientele seems fairly un-'Loin-like as well -- our dining companions include a couple of Marina-ish gals discussing wedding plans, a few young-and-eligible gentlemen, a pair of unreconstructed '60s types, and a small group of Turks (a good sign). After a brief scan of the offerings, I am momentarily disappointed to see no mention of the delicious Black Sea pies I'd had before. The pies' ingredient equivalents, however, are amply represented in the vegetable and meat pides, stuffed breads with fillings ranging from spinach and cheese to chicken and pineapple.

Note to other cuisine globe-trotters: From the menu description, you might lump these pides in with falafel or a sort of Middle Eastern calzone and opt for something more exotic. Don't. For one thing, A La Turca bakes its own pita and lavash breads -- and they are a far cry from the hummus scoopers at most places. I order the lamb and beef doner, one of the meat pides, and salivate while the aroma of baking bread and bubbling cheese wafts through the restaurant.

A good 20 minutes later, my order arrives, like a birthday present: a long piece of construction-paper-thin lavash flecked with black and white sesame seeds and glowing with egg glaze. The bread is folded halfway in on itself like an unbuttoned shirt, revealing small chunks of lamb and beef covered with melted feta cheese. The lavash is delightfully light, slightly crackly on the outside but soft underneath. Inside, tender bits of meat mingle with onion, garlic, parsley, and wonderfully tangy cheese. The accompanying salad of red cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and shredded carrot in a lemony dressing offers a refreshing respite.

We finish off with a sweet, strong, thick Turkish coffee, then thumb-wrestle for who gets first shot at the atlas next time.

 
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