Almost all of the interesting restaurants in Bloomington sit on one of two adjacent streets, 4th and Kirkwood, within a mile of the IU campus. Around here, people call this “downtown.” Amongst other things, downtown has an Israeli falafel shop, a Creole restaurant, a Moroccan cafe, and not one, but two Tibetan restaurants. (The Moroccan cafe Casablanca has since closed down, as did Snow Lion, one of the Tibetan restaurants, but we’ve also picked up a Malaysian restaurant, several more Thai restaurants, and many other places to get ethnic food. I’ve even heard a rumor that Snow Lion reopened somewhere else, but I have yet to see this with my own eyes. -Erik, April 2014) I’ve eaten at about half of the ethnic restaurants in the area, but I somehow managed to miss Anatolia, which claims in the phone book to serve “Mediterranean and Turkish Cuisine.” I know of quite a few good Mediterranean establishments back in Tempe, Arizona, but I haven’t had such luck in Bloomington. So I went in to our first restaurant, hoping for some good lentil soup or bakhlava. But Turkish? This I know from nothing. I always enjoy trying something new.
The clouds dribbled on us as we walked the block from the parking lot to Anatolia, but due to the mild temperature, I felt comfortable running around in shorts and a t-shirt. Almost as soon as our host seated us in the little shop, the skies opened up with a thunderous clap and a brilliant flash. Everyone in the room jumped, and I breathed a sigh of relief that the waiter didn’t have anything hot or fragile in his hands at that moment. The clouds began unloading their content with earnest, and soon after we ordered our food, the tornado siren started up. I still haven’t really come to terms with that thing. I know what the weather advisories have told me to do, but only once have I actually gone downstairs and sat in the corner of the laundry room. So it relieved me to see everyone else looking around the room, perhaps to check if anyone expected us to go huddle in the bathroom or hide under our tables. Even the waiter, who had a very friendly and helpful demeanor, seemed at a bit of a loss. He tried and failed to get any useful info off the radio for a while, but eventually he settled for suggesting that nobody sit in the area with the cushions since large windows surrounded that section. Strangely, no one asked for outside seats, even though an awning covered the patio.
Despite the fact that everyone had to sit in the main area, the small restaurant didn’t seem crowded. The well-designed, wood-lined interior comfortably fits quite a few more people than the outside might imply. I particularly liked the look of the cushioned area, with its angled wooden ceiling lending a cabin-like feel to the room without seeming slipshod or dirty at all. For some reason, the bathroom has a sliding door. Strange as it struck me, I don’t consider this a bad thing; it does its job. On the other hand, I feel I should warn you about the string curtain in the hallway in front of the bathroom. The yarn strings may look like beads, but they don’t pull out of the way like beads, and the tassels have a way of getting tangled up that could take the head off of an unsuspecting visitor. The walls sported posters promoting Turkish tourism and the IU Turkish film festival (this weekend!). I’d never before eaten at a restaurant that had a news article about health code violations posted next to the cash register. Apparently, unlike the vast majority of other Bloomington restaurants, Anatolia has a perfect record of no infractions.
We never had to wait to give our order, receive our food, or get the check. In fact they would have set a new record for soup-delivery time, if I kept records on that sort of thing. I’ve never really had any fondness towards beans, but I ordered the “white bean soup,” thinking that I like lentil soup, so this might have some similarities. If you ever order Anatolia’s white bean soup, don’t let its orange color surprise you. If their menu had featured italics for emphasis, it would have read “white bean soup,” not “white bean soup.” Regardless of the color, I enjoyed the thick soup with its meaty flavor. I didn’t immediately take to the lentil soup that Kira ordered because it didn’t quite taste like the lentil soups that I’ve eaten elsewhere. I’d give more detail, but if you read much of this blog, you’ll quickly learn that my taste buds, while sensitive, do not discern between different flavors very well. I know what pleases my tastebuds, but I often have a very difficult time identifying flavors. So whatever the name of the unexpected spice in the lentil soup, it will remain a mystery to me. (It’s mint! -Erik, April 2014) In any case, after a few spoonfuls, I had to force myself to admit that it actually tasted pretty good. (After bringing many friends here, I’ve learned that almost everyone loves the red lentil soup, so I usually recommend it to people, but I still prefer the white bean soup. -Erik, April 2014)
Kira ordered some Turkish tea, and I had a sip on the principle that one should always try new things, even when one thinks that they will taste bad. But no surprises this time; tea still tastes like somebody put leaves in my water.
For the meal, she ordered a spinach pide, which, while a very different dish, has many similarities to pizza in appearance, taste, and pronunciation. The pide had cheese and spinach (no sauce) on a boat-shaped flaky crust that tasted a bit like matzoh to me. Kira neither agreed nor disagreed with this assessment.
I ordered a mixed kebab plate. I often bet on the “mixed ___” at any new restaurant. Unfortunately, it seems that the waiter only heard “mixed ___” because he brought me a mixed pide. As much as I enjoyed picking at Kira’s food (I heartily recommend Anatolia’s pides), I really wanted to try the kebabs. The waiter apologized and dealt with the whole thing very well. And I didn’t just say that because he brought us free baklava. Incidentally, I recommend the baklava as well. I never put up a big fuss when a mistake happens at a restaurant. This time, I almost felt guilty mentioning it to the waiter, who compensated for the mix-up so much that it probably resulted in improving my opinion of their service.
Eventually, I did get the right mixed ___, a kebab plate with rice, salad, and bits of chicken, lamb, and “meatball” kebab. The meatballs looked and tasted suspiciously of kofta to me. (In Turkish, they’d be called köfta. -Erik, April 2014) The meatballs didn’t do anything for me, but then I’ve never really enjoyed kofta either, so it probably falls into the large category of those acquired tastes that I’ve never bothered acquiring. The chicken, on the other hand, came in large, moist chunks, and if you’ve ever cooked large chunks of chicken, you know the difficulties with keeping them moist. I don’t think anyone would give Anatolia an award for their chicken kebabs, but they tasted good to me. The shish kebab (lamb), on the other hand, impressed me quite a bit, and I immediately regretted telling Kira that she could have some.
It didn’t occurred to us to take any pictures of the food until after we’d eaten almost all of it, so you really only get to see the aftermath of our meal, just before the take-home box arrived. I asked if we could take some pictures of the interior of the restaurant, and the waiter told me I could do whatever I wanted. I think he just wanted to make up for the “mixed” mix-up. Kira and I have planned to come back later when the weather decides to cease this end-of-days act to take some pictures of the exterior, but until then, you’ll just have to settle for this.
Final thoughts? I’ll definitely come back to get pide for lunch, shish kebab for dinner, and baklava for dessert. I still think that tea tastes like dirty water, no matter which country it comes from. And lastly, I should mumble my orders more often.
Erik’s Rating: Yum – 4, Ooh – 4, Ah – 3.5, Wow – 3.5 (Huh?)