DC Gets More Authentic Turkish Cuisine:

Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan has unveiled his latest concept and this time it’s a restaurant directly tied to his own culture — the authentic Turkish cuisine offered up at Ottoman Taverna. The restaurant is tucked into the Mt. Vernon Triangle neighborhood, and after a soft opening, it officially opened its doors on May 2nd. On the next evening lhan welcomed a group to showcase what guests will be able to expect.

For Ilhan, this isn’t merely another restaurant. “It’s my homage to my country, my kids, my friends,” he said.

The space itself is beautifully designed, with an ornate copper-bedecked open kitchen with a charcoal pit and rotating skewers of schwarma meats, and a 12-person marble Sultan’s Table situated front and center. The bar consists of gorgeous onyx slabs mined and shipped from Turkey in 18 pieces, while the entire bar area is enclosed with an intricately designed steel divider showcasing Islamic art patterns.

The design sets the mood, but the cuisine must remain the key attraction. The menu showcases over two dozen starting dishes including cold and hot meze selections, with many of the traditional choices you may expect, such as falafel, hummus, a range of dips, and Icli Kofte. The meze is all served up with wonderfully warm bread prepared and baked on-site. Don’t skip the Sigara Boregi, a crispy stuffed dough oozing with feta.

A chef’s selection of six meze dips and spreads arrives carefully arranged on a serving platter with Ilhan describing the lineup as, “The Ottoman empire on a plate,” showcasing different flavors coming from Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. It’s representative of how the cuisine draws its flavors from a range of distinctive cultural traditions.

The entree lineup is dominated by a selection of kebabs and sliced meats with different sauces and preparations. The rich, savory tomato-based sauce, laced with chunks of that fresh, chewy bread and served with the Iskender dishes, is an addictive favorite. Other entree highlights include the Kuzu Pirzola marinated lamb chops, and pan-seared Branzino — of which we’re told, if you’re eating good Branzino in any restaurant these days, it’s Turkish Branzino.

To drink, match the fare with corresponding wines from countries including Turkey, Greece, Lebanon and Israel, among others, with more than 20 selections available by the glass. A lineup of specialty cocktails is also available, showcasing house-made shrubs and Turkish ingredient riffs on classics.

Don’t close out your meal without a plate of baklava, and a serving of Turkish coffee. If your sweet tooth is still clamoring for more, try the Kunefe, a cheesy baked kadayyf pastry soaked in anise syrup.

While dining, I mention to Ilhan that he seems genuinely happy here. “I am… there’s nothing like sharing your culture with your family and friends,” he said. “My girls are so proud… my American friends… this is so natural.”

That spirit and authenticity shines through.

Ottoman Taverna is located at 425 I Street NW (entrance on on 4th St. between K & I).

Happy hour lasts from 4 to 7pm at the bar and includes food and drink specials. Expect lunch and brunch service to begin in the coming months. The restaurant also has outdoor patio seating, weather permitting.

For more information including hours and the full menu, visit OttomanTaverna.com.