Remember that episode of The Simpsons in which Bart and his pals meet their Shelbyville doppelgangers after the latter steal Springfield's hallowed lemon tree? Remember how the episode ended, with Springfield kids quenching their thirst with sweet lemonade, while Shelbyville's youngsters chugged turnip juice in disgust? And remember how your palate recoiled at the thought of the beverage, even if you had never conceived of it in your life, let alone tasted it? Well, turnip juice has been a Turkish staple for centuries, and you can order a glass of it at Istanbul Grill in Fountain Valley.
Man (or woman) enough to try it? Salgam suyu is not for the weak of stomach: it arrives in a giant glass filled to the brim, unapologetically purple. Wheatgrass juice can't hold a clod to its saltiness, its brininess brought on by the fermentation involved in making the drink, the vegetal tang of it all. This drink shows that, while Istanbul Grill wants non-Turks to come in and enjoy its dishes, it's a place for the diaspora, where families can go on a Sunday and tear through dozens of platters as they would in Constantinople.
People not familiar with the cuisine will be vaguely comfortable with some of the offerings—kebabs, hummus, the basket of pita placed on each table. But Istanbul Grill outdoes itself by offering rarities—an amazing olive-oil-and-roasted-tomato dip as a starter, spicy and filling; long, fried sigara boreks stuffed with feta cheese that resemble flautas; a gigantic bowl of sautéed lamb and veggies rightfully called a shepherd casserole. And, of course, there is the iskender kebab, which is fast becoming one of my favorite ethnic dishes in OC. I described it last week, but here we go again: toasted pita strips and slices of doner kebab slathered in tomato sauce and butter, with a scoop of yogurt on the side to make it even more unctuously wonderful.
Istanbul Grill, 18010 Newhope St., Fountain Valley, (714) 430-1434; www.istanbulgrillca.com.
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Istanbul Grill is at least the fourth Turkish eatery I know of to stand in Fountain Valley, which is fast becoming the Anatolian capital of Southern California. I just wish it were in a better spot—as it is, Istanbul Grill is in a weird shopping plaza off Newhope Street and Talbert Avenue constructed just a couple of years ago that has already seen multiple tenants come and go. May the restaurant stand as long as the Hagia Sophia—and may Turkish food in OC become the next cronut.