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Roka: Kew Gardens welcomes big Turkish tastes

Adana kebab served at Roka Turkish Cuisine, 116-35 Metropolitan Ave. in Forest Hills. Photo by Suzanne Parker
TimesLedger Newspapers

Last spring I was all excited that a Turkish restaurant had opened up on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills. I was impressed, in more or less equal parts, by the quality of the food, and by the fact that there was a new cuisine in this rather Italian-heavy stretch of geography. As often happens in the restaurant business, the relationship between the two partners began to fray. Eventually Annette Dulger broke away to found a new Turkish restaurant Roka, less than a quarter of a mile west on Metropolitan Avenue in Kew Gardens.

First impressions couldn’t be more different. Ms. Dulger’s new establishment is handsomely appointed. Serpentine recessed blue lights oversee stone mosaics of Mediterranean scenes on both the walls and floor. She has left the homeliness of her former venue behind her.

The Roka menu is pretty similar to the one at the Forest Hills location. It includes all of the Turkish standards, and a few surprises.

The house-made Turkish flat bread is a test of your willpower. It takes a supreme act of self-control not to fill up on this seductively fragrant baked offering before your meal begins.

We started with a lentil soup that had a lightness about it uncommon to the typical lentil soup. There was a familiar, yet unidentifiable herbal note that we later learned was mint.

Mucver (zucchini pancakes) added to my appreciation of Turkish cuisine. The dish inspired me to remember this when I’m desperate to find ways to use up the surfeit of zucchini in my garden. They come with garlic yogurt sauce here. Although they’re billed as an appetizer, paired with a salad, they make a perfect lunch. A Coban salad, or the more robust Ezme salad make good partners.

The meats I tried in the mixed grill were tender and juicy, but there are two entrees that really stand out. Iskender is a platter of the vertically roasted Doner kebab lamb blanketed with a piquant tomato sauce over pieces of the house bread. A generous glob of yogurt sidles up to the meatier real estate. This takes what is already good, the Doner kebab, and makes it better.

My absolute fave was the Adana kebab. I attempted to make this dish at a recent Turkish cooking lesson, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Theirs was sooo much better than mine. Expertly spiced ground lamb flavored with red bell peppers is grilled on skewers and then wrapped in a tortilla-like flat bread and sliced in sections. These sections are decorated with squiggles of yogurt and arranged around a hemisphere of rice. Shaved onion sprinkled with sumac heightens the piquant flavors, along with a grilled tomato and a dangerously spicy grilled pepper. This dish is as much a pleasure to look at as to eat.

Have you O.D.’d on pizza, but still long for something to fill that niche? Pide, its Turkish cousin is well represented here. They can be ordered with ground lamb, mozzarella cheese, Turkish pastrami, or Turkish sausage, or in various combinations of the above. They are boat shaped, thick crusted (except for the Lahmacun, which comes as three thin crusted rounds). Forget tomato sauce, though. That’s not how they do it in Turkey. Just meat and/or cheese.

The Bottom Line

Roka is a tasty new addition to Kew Gardens. The ambiance is inviting, the food is enticing, and the prices are modest. Sounds like a home run.

Afiyet olsun (bon apetit)!

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Roka Turkish Cuisine

116-35 Metropolitan Avenue

Kew Gardens

Price Range: Apps: $4–8

Cuisine: Turkish

Setting: Small but snazzy.

Service: Attentive

Hours: Tues.—Sun., noon-11 p.m.

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: License pending

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit cards: Yes

Noise level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Yes

WIFI: No

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