Orhan Yegen is New York’s greatest champion of Turkish cuisine, though a peripatetic one, darting from joint to joint. Having proclaimed Turkey’s food one of the world’s best, it’s odd he chose to name his latest spot Bi Lokma, or “one bite.” Who, other than a model prepping for a lingerie shoot or a college freshman on a pre-finals Adderall binge, would be content with a single morsel? Especially when Yegen serves up tasty, amply portioned, downright affordable eats. In my book, that’s a many-mouthful meal.
Don’t come expecting gourmet grub in a sultan’s surroundings. Think of Bi Lokma more as a weekday lunch hub or a cozy corner for chow just like babaanne—er, granny—used to make. Only a few diners can enjoy the narrow nook, but no worries. Much of the office-worker gang grabs their lunch to go; come dusk, crowds head to nearby Grand Central instead, making it easy to nab a seat. That’s also when Bi Lokma abandons cafeteria-style dining for cheery table service. The fluorescent lights dim, and hanging red and green lanterns illuminate the large jars of pickled peppers and cucumbers that line the walls. Like a bazaar, but without the stress of haggling.
Begin with hot yogurt soup ($4), a tangy, rich bowl of herb-flecked stock that should get the rep as Ottoman penicillin (it’s far superior to Bi Lokma’s underseasoned and runny red-lentil soup, also $4). Stuffed grape leaves ($4) packed with pine nuts, rice, and currants translate to fun finger food. Cold braised artichokes color-coordinate with fresh fava beans ($7) in a salute to springtime. Popeye, meanwhile, might nosh on the tepsi börei ($2.50), a flaky spinach-stuffed pie, if he cared more about culinary satisfaction than bulbous arm muscles.
Appetizers lure the vegetarians, but herbivores are (mostly) out of luck come entrée time. Lamb reigns proud and loud, featured in most of the 13 options. Ali nazik ($9.50) drapes the ground meat over a bed of smoky mashed eggplant. The flavors both pop and nurture—Anatolian campfire fare. Stuffed cabbage ($9.50) showcases meatballs and caresses them with a light tomato sauce ($8.50). Or skip the leafy green and eat the portly orbs naked, along with a knoll of rice ($8.50).
Still, some dishes might leave you feeling a little fleeced, including the döner ($9.50), dry and flavorless. Lamb tandir ($9.50), a meat-and-rice medley heaped on the plate like landfill detritus, won’t excite the taste buds (or eyes). And too-salty feta spoils the börek ($3)—crispy, cheese-stuffed phyllo rolls.
For dessert, a standard pistachio-stuffed baklava ($4) pairs nicely with a glass of hot apple tea ($2.75)—think of it as a fragrant Muslim appletini (no booze here). Or bust up the usual sweets routine and dig your fork into the butternut squash with walnuts ($5). Two massive chunks of the gourd cook in syrup until supple and sweet, a thick dollop of whipped cream stand-ing guard alongside. Those sneaky Turks—figuring out a way to get kids to eat their veggies way before Jessica Seinfeld ever wrote her book.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 25, 2011