Coney Island Avenue is Brooklyn’s most brilliant and diverse food thoroughfare, and motoring down it in a car makes you feel like Magellan on a circumnavigational cruise. Around Avenue P you descry the first Turkish restaurant, and the Ottoman action only intensifies after you float past the city’s Camino Real, Kings Highway. Skirting the treacherous shoals of Gravesend, you approach Avenue Z with shivering trepidation—is your vessel about to fall off the edge of the world?
Luckily, just short of the last lettered avenue, a neon sign blazing “Fish Kebabs” appears through the early spring fog, and with it the promise of reprovisioning your starving crew. Despite a drab location on the fringes of Sheepshead Bay, Istanbul Seafood Restaurant’s interior turns out to be all glitz, with a coffered ceiling, clashing wall treatments, and—strangest of all—3-D artworks made of hammered silver that bulge out of their frames like some lost pirate treasure, including images of stallions breaking free on a deserted beach and rug merchants in an ancient village square. Istanbul Seafood is that rare Turkish restaurant that specializes in seafood rather than meat; there are only two others like it in town. The selection and freshness rivals that of Astoria’s Greek restaurants, and you can have most of the fish charcoal-grilled, sautéed, or breaded and fried. Nevertheless, you’d be nuts to let the cook do anything to your cupra (a/k/a royal dorado, $16.75) but grill it, which renders the thick skin crisp and the white flesh moist and sweet.
There’s no choice of cooking methods with red mullet. This Mediterranean standard, which looks like a runty red snapper, arrives in a set of five lined up like newborn quintuplets—pink, thinly dusted with flour, and not overfried. The only problem is the tiny bones, which must be picked out of your mouth one by one. Bones are no problem, however, with hamsi tava (appetizer $9, entrée $15), wondrous silver fishlets that reminded me of Lake Michigan smelt, a freshwater delicacy that invades Wisconsin bars for one week in late winter. Just chew up the bones along with all the other fish parts, propelled by a squeeze of lemon. Another don’t-miss selection is a cheese-topped octopus casserole that doesn’t sound very good as described on the menu, causing me to ignore it till my last visit. Out it sails in a shallow vessel of cast iron, so heavy the waiter grunts under the exertion. Inside, under a bubbling mantle of kasseri cheese, is a tangle of octopus tentacles, bell peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes, cooked just enough to make gentle the demon of the deep.
Oddly for a Turkish spot, the meat bombs. The mixed grill ($19) offers a comprehensive selection of kufta, lamb kebab, lamb chop, lamb shish, and the very strange “chicken chop,” which looks just like a lamb chop, leaving us wondering what part of the chicken it was cut from. If I were stranded on a traffic island, one dish I couldn’t do without would be cold stuffed mussels ($7). Placed inside artfully overlapping shells, the organism—a plump,perfect specimen—perches atop a sculpted wad of pignoli, rice, and currants. Enjoying this luscious treat with a group of friends, I reflected that I didn’t feel much like Magellan at all, at least in one respect: He dies in battle against a Filipino chief halfway through the round-the-world voyage.