The Black Sea Comes to Brooklyn at Liman
The ramshackle restaurant—part screen porch, part tinderwood dining room—teeters on the lip of the bay. Decorated with cheesy nautical art, it looks like the sort of spot where anglers sit late into the night drinking beers and telling fish stories. No one seems to mind that the place turns its back on the ocean, with nary a window looking out onto the steel-blue water; it's as if everyone has had enough of it for one day. But the crowd isn't drinking Bud—they're drinking Efes. And this rustic spot isn't in Maine or in Montauk—it's in Sheepshead Bay.
Named after a Black Sea lagoon, Liman is a Turkish restaurant that offers some of the freshest seafood in Brooklyn. The royal dorado ($21.50)—black-striped from the grill and surrounded by lemon wedges, with skin as crisp as a new $10 bill—swims on a glistening swell of romaine. The creature has been expertly cooked so that the flesh remains moist and snowy, and pulls easily away from the large bones. Apparently, the fish has been farmed by sustainable means in the Mediterranean, though we may still wonder about its carbon fin-print. Branzino is another good Mediterranean fish choice, and so is the colorfully named St. Peter's fish ($22.75), which refers to a biblical parable in which the apostle snares a fish in the Sea of Galilee, and finds a shekel in its mouth. Lucky dude! Don't get too excited, though—St. Peter's fish is really a farmed freshwater tilapia, renamed by some clever PR person.
In its piscine sprawl, the menu includes some local species, which may or may not have been caught by the semi-commercial fishing fleet anchored just down the bay from the restaurant. Fluke ($21.75) is one such specimen, so big that a whole fish is not offered. Instead, you get a paprika-dusted and sautéed pair of scrumptious, skin-on steaks. Local flounder is also available, but here, the fish's status is murkier. If you really want something certifiably sustainable, go for the luscious fresh anchovies. Flour-dusted and fried, lined up like condemned prisoners, the fish have been rendered crunchy, and have a mellow maritime flavor.
A further advantage of Liman, apart from the wonderful fish, are the Turkish meze you can enjoy as appetizers or accompaniments, a refreshing change from the usual rancid cole slaw and limp fries that are the American staples of seaside dining. There's nothing special about the restaurant's fried calamari, but the grilled octopus salad ($12.95) is superb, tossed with tomatoes and sweet purple onions in a lemon vinaigrette. The extra-long boreks, delicate pastry flutes filled with feta and fried golden, are also worth ordering. Skip the fried mussels, which come thickly breaded and threaded on a pair of skewers, but by all means order the sautéed calves' liver ($10.75), especially if you're an organ enthusiast—the dark red cubes form an apt contrast to the fish that follow.
But, really, the best introduction to a meal—and you might order it as a pre-appetizer—is the magnificently plain roka salatasi, a glistening toss of pine-green arugula, with a few tomato wedges thrown in for a Christmas-y effect. If there's one drawback to these starters, it's the price. Interspersing small pink beans with potatoes and carrots, the salad called barbunya pilaki is so garlicky that it sets your mouth on fire—but the teacup size of the serving ($6.50) might make you gag. Above-average prices combined with small portions hit you twice in the pocketbook, as far as the meze are concerned. Note that the seafood mains come unaccompanied, too, and you might find yourself ordering the mediocre French fries ($2.99) just to fill up. Luckily, the free bread is excellent, a bulbous round loaf dotted with black sesame seeds.
The wine list includes some drinkable bottles, especially among the whites, of which the Turkish Kavaklidere Cankaya ($26)—a blend of emir, narince, and sultana grapes—sports a dry demeanor and a mild taste, providing the perfect backdrop for seafood. This being a Turkish restaurant, the menu provides a selection of grilled meats. Steer clear of anything involving chicken, which is made with skinless and boneless breast. Served with vermicelli rice (a/k/a Rice-A-Roni) and fried potatoes, the mixed grill ($24.75) is not a bad deal; the delicate lamb chops are the standouts of the plate. But don't neglect the so-called Turkish meatballs. Known as kofte, they're smoky, greasy, and as salty as the bay that extends behind the restaurant, unseen.
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