The Hanging Gardens of Babylon remain the most mysterious of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Unlike the Great Pyramid of Giza, which can still be visited, scholars and historians are still debating over whether the gardens ever existed at all. Whether fact or fiction, the gardens are legendary for their lush beauty and it's fitting that Babylon Turkish Restaurant was named after them.
The restaurant, which opened about two months ago in South Beach, features a gorgeous garden courtyard, with trees covered in lights and glass evil eyes for good luck.
The inside dining room is decorated with handcrafted Turkish pottery and glass lamps. The menu is as authentically Turkish as the decor.
Although Miami has quite a few Mediterranean restaurants that offer Turkish dishes, partners Orhan Duz, Sinan Kilinc, and Ahmet Demir decided to focus on traditional Turkish cuisine for the restaurant, flying in chef Ali Cinar from Turkey to helm the kitchen. Cinar comes from Antep, a city in the southeast region of the country, only about an hour's drive from the Syrian border. The restaurant focuses on that cuisine, known for light and bright cuisine.
Partner Ahmet Demir, who invited Short Order to sample some dishes, says that although Turkish food may have similarities to Persian, Israels, Iraqi, and Greek cuisine, there are major differences in taste in preparation. "We use less cumin in our dishes, which are generally prepared only with lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil. The flavors are very fresh, and everything is prepared in-house daily." A good example of the bold, bright flavors of Turkey can be found in the extensive array of cole appetizers found on the menu. Ezme is a blend of finely chopped vegetables, mixed with lime juice, olive oil, and a kick of spices ($6).
All appetizers are served with Ramadan bread, named after the Muslim month of fasting. Demir shares that during Ramadan, everyone flocks to their local bakeries to buy this special bread to break their daily fast. The bread, made with dry yeast, is a denser, richer version of traditional pita bread.
Perusing the menu, you'll find familiar dishes, many of them with a twist. Instead of grape leaves, sun-dried eggplant is used in Turkish dolma and walnuts are substituted for pine nuts in the Kli Kofte. The results are subtle differences in taste that allow you to explore a menu that is both familiar and exotic at the same time.
Ali Nazik is a traditional dish that dates back to the Ottoman Empire, where a chef named Ali was said to have been famous for this meal and his kind demeanor. The dish, literally translated into "kind Ali", is a comforting mix of roasted eggplant, topped with beef and lamb ($19).
Beyti features ground lamb rolled in lavash, served with a savory sauce ($18).
Nearly every country has their regional pudding. In Turkey, it's Kazandibi, a rich custard baked until it "burns" on the bottom. The custard is flipped over to showcase the caramelized part, then sprinkled with pistachios.
Of course, you can't have Turkish cuisine without a cup of thick, strong Turkish coffee...
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Or belly dancing.
Babylon is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. until midnight.