On Monday, Mushtak Almosaadi opened Babylon Gardens, his restaurant in the Kenmore building that formerly held Torches.
I visited Tuesday night. Amid the typical service stutters of a startup restaurant, I found food you should know about.
Buffalo hasn't had any Turkish restaurants since Sofra closed on Elmwood Avenue a decade ago. Babylon Gardens isn't a purely Turkish restaurant, in that Almosaadi and his chef are Iraqi, and have Iraqi kabobs and chicken souvlaki on the menu. But the chef worked in Turkey for 10 years, Almosaadi said, and the Turkish specialties on the menu suggest he learned a lot.
A server in her first week of serving brought us complimentary lentil soup and pita bread while we read the menu. First up was appetizers, including resolutely crunchy falafel ($6.95), served with a thick tahini-garlic sauce and fries. The sauce had more punch than the typical thin Mediterranean tahini dip, for a terrific vegan starter. (The menu also lists foul ($5.95), fava-bean puree.)
Another vegetarian treat was the jajeek salad ($4.95), rich, mildly tart yogurt bolstered with mint, cucumber and herbs.
The tabouli ($6.95) wasn't the fluffiest version I've found - that's 755 Restaurant in Niagara Falls - but it was satisfyingly juicy, with plenty of fresh crunch and chewiness from the bulgur wheat.
Kubba halab is an Iraqi-Syrian appetizer ($8.95) is five little footballs of seasoned ground beef stuffed into a mashed rice crust, then fried. The results were savory, chewy and a little oily. I liked dipping bites into that tahini-garlic sauce.
Eskander kabob ($12.95) is a Turkish dish I've enjoyed before. At Babylon Gardens, it's beef shawarma piled atop croutons and soaked in buttery tomato sauce. Thin Iraqi-style pita bread comes with it, and you make little bites using the plentiful housemade yogurt with pistachios, onion-sumac salad, and if you dare, grilled chiles. Those quarter-rounds are Arabic-spiced beef on a flatbread.
Adana kabob ($12.95) is ground beef spiced with chile flakes and other spices, grilled to a crust and served with onion-sumac salad, grilled tomato, chiles, fries and pita bread.
There's also a Turkish wrinkle on chicken wings ($11.95 for 8). The wings have been marinated in a red pepper sauce, then roasted to a crisp in tandoor-like heat.
My favorite dish of the meal was a Turkish kabob new to me called beyti kabob ($13.95). It starts with seasoned ground beef, grilled, like the Iraqi kabob ($12.95). The meat is wrapped in thin pita bread and toasted, then chopped into bites and doused with spiced tomato sauce. With a big dollop of yogurt, Arabic beef flatbread and more of that onion-sumac salad, it was an impressive plate.
If Babylon Gardens can put our plates like that on its second day in business, the future seems bright.
Sandwiches include falafel ($4.95), beef or chicken shawarma ($6.45), and beef kabob ($6.45).
If you go, be patient with the new servers, and you should be rewarded.
Info: Babylon Gardens, 1141 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore. Phone: 768-0194. Credit cards accepted, but no alcohol. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days.
You can view the menu on its website, at babylon-gardens-restaurant.com.
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