Tarla - Mediterranean Bar + Grill | A Turkish Delight
This group of hungry locals was back at it with a downtown favorite, Tarla Mediterranean Bar + Grill. Full disclosure . . . we are not strangers to this place. We’ve enjoyed the flavorful, Turkish inspired cuisine since it opened on Christmas Eve of 2011. We wouldn’t be able to count the meals we have enjoyed at Tarla, or the happy hours spent with friends at the bar. Late night––it is not unusual to find us schmoozing with the staff and owners of other establishments, who show up to socialize and let off steam, after a long shift.
The staff warmly welcomes us as at the door, but in that aspect, we are not special, it’s that way for everyone. The lively interaction between guests and staff really make this place feel like the neighborhood hangout where everybody knows your name. From the beginning, Yusuf Topal has put his heart and soul into every aspect of the restaurant. Their talented chef, Jason Naaman, and the staff––who are quick, and knowledgeable with the menu––make for a phenomenal dining experience. Sit back and relax as we run you through our evening.
As you walk in the door the first thing you notice are the aromas, spices from around the world whet the appetite and make the mouth water. The open-kitchen concept invites the diner to observe the chefs at work. The well-stocked bar is lined with about a dozen chairs which are quite often filled, even between shifts. What began as a small, thirty seat + a bar kind of location––has since expanded to include two additional, uniquely decorated rooms which can be sectioned off or open and inclusive. In the new rooms––from the exotic, mosaic-glass light fixtures, mirrors and dark ceiling tiles––to the art on the walls, the atmosphere is luxurious. Add in the people-watching opportunity the glass walls provide . . . Tarla is at the top of our list.
Speaking of lists, the beverage menu is extensive. Not only will you find Napa Valley wines, an international selection is featured. Beers––domestic, imported and on tap, are also available. Specialty cocktails are featured, and any of the classics, Tarla’s bartenders won’t disappoint you. It was the weekend––cocktails were in order. Dark and stormy is one of our petite friend’s go-to. Made of ginger beer, dark rum and lime––she only orders it at Tarla ––where they know how to make it right. The festive atmosphere is contagious and we tried to keep our boisterous laughter down. We had to shush each other just to get our order out. We feel at home at Tarla. “You can make that two,” our next friend whispered. The drinks came to the table and before we knew it, we were laughing even more.
On to the food––Yusuf’s heritage, and the culinary fare of Turkey is predominant. A hint of Geek influence gives way to a wide range of flavors, spices, and cooking techniques. Whether you are in the mood for a quick Shish Kabob lunch special, Happy Hour bites, a traditional Turkish meal or an American favorite––beef short-ribs and salmon are always on our list–– Tarla has a delicious dish for you.
Our stomachs were growling and we were ready to order. We began with the White Cheddar Mac and Cheese ($10), the Brassicas ($11), the Saganki, ($16) and Turkish Meatballs ($16).
The Mac and Cheese was a favorite. The preparation was straightforward, pasta shells in a rich and creamy sauce with a bold cheddar taste, and the crunchy topping gave texture to the dish. The Brassicas (brussel sprouts) were accompanied with kale and cauliflower, roasted and sprinkled with lemon-garlic tahini. The Turkish Meatballs arrived, and we were in for a treat. A generous serving of three, full-flavored, beef meatballs were served on a white truffle, chickpea pesto, a dice of yellow potatoes, and mushrooms, garnished with fried kale; this is an incredible take on meatballs. (These are probably the top seller from the happy hour menu too!)
The next item to the table is a must have on your list of things to try at Tarla. Saganki (a fried cheese dish) is Halloumi cheese from the Republic of Cyprus––a semi-hard, un-ripened, brined cheese made of goat and sheep milk. It was flambéed at the table and was a memorable experience to say the least.. As it ‘cured’ from the flames, it left a little crunch on the outside. Chardonnay poached apricots and raisins rested alongside, with a drizzle of truffle honey. The table-side presentation of this sweet and savory treat was impressive.
The first entrée brought to the table was the Pan Roasted Salmon ($27); it came out with perfectly crisped skin, atop a bed of butternut squash puree, with zucchini, roasted beets, fennel, apple, and arugula to top it off. We shared, as always. One item regularly on our order is the Pomegranate-Cabernet Short-Ribs ($29). The beef is fork-tender and richly seasoned, served with roasted mushroom, truffle risotto, beef au jus, and house-pickled cherry peppers. The Stuffed Eggplant ($19) was full of flavor, and the presentation is stunning. A full-sized, deep purple eggplant is stuffed with California rice, caramelized onion, red pepper, chickpeas, and tomato sauce, and then roasted to a silken perfection. Heads turn every time this dish is brought to a table.
Chef Naaman, as usual, cruised through the room, table-by-table, asking how everything was. It was a subtle, yet nice touch to know he cares about each guest’s experience. This evening, as always––in our opinion––the meal and service were impeccable.
After we stuffed ourselves on entrées, out came the dessert menu. Even though we were full, we gave it a look. Traditional Baklava with Vanilla Bean Gelato ($8) was the dessert we always ordered and enjoyed every time, tonight we wanted to try something different. We asked about the Coconut Cheese Kunefe ($10). Our well-versed waiter told us Kunefe is a traditional Arab dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry, or in Tarla’s case, fine filo dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup and layered with cheese. We had to try it (if you couldn’t already tell, we like our cheese). The menu noted the dish takes fifteen minutes to prepare, which was fine since we were already sipping our authentic, Turkish coffee. It was rich and thick, served in a traditional Turkish coffee cup. When the Kunefe was brought to the table, everyone oohed and aahed.
For your next date night or family gathering, be sure to give Tarla a try. The restaurant is also available for special events, parties, and catering services. Good food and great service––your party will be the talk of the town.
Indoor and patio seating. No corkage fee on Tuesdays! Call for your reservation.
707.255.5599 | 1480 First Street, Napa | tarlagrill.com
Open seven days a week | Daily Happy Hour | Brunch Sat-Sun.