Su: Turkish Cuisine in Verdun
Chef Fisun Ercan's Turkish cuisine at Su Restaurant in Verdun is a whole lot more than kebabs and tahini-based dips with pita bread. It's still all about meze: those small plates of eggplant, grilled tomatoes, chopped salads, and vine leaf-wrapped rice - but here they're beautifully presented, and the rest of the menu features a few original items you won't find at most other Middle Eastern places in Montreal.
Two giant scoops of wonderfully creamy purÃ©ed fava beans with dill, olive oil, and caramelized onions. All the flavour comes from the onions and a few olives, some greens for garnish, and a couple of cherry tomatoes seal the deal.
(Clockwise from top left corner) Fava beans with caramelized onions; artichoke hearts in olive oil with carrots and dill; eggplant with tomatoes and garlic; red pepper and walnut spread; roasted beets with arugula
Artichoke hearts cooked in olive oil, topped with carrots and dill. Very simple, but they look stunning. I loved the contrast of the melt-in-your-mouth fava beans and the crunchy, sweet carrot cubes, and slight brine of the artichoke bottoms. Since the dish is cooked in olive oil, it isn't exactly light or grease-free, but the longevity of the Turkish tradition makes me think the dish just wouldn't have been just as good in water, or less oil. Too bad you couldn't taste it. I guess you don't want to use a really flavourful oil if you're going to cook with it?
I'm addicted to eggplant when it's covered in this much olive oil and slippery roasted tomatoes. It's addictive, but a tiny portion at $6.50 a plate? Is that worth it? Probably the kitchen knows you've got a long way to go and a whole lot more olive oil to ingest before the evening ends.
The red pepper ice cream scoops were gorgeous studded with walnuts and herbs. They really like ice cream scoops here. I wonder if they'd do olive oil ice cream here in summer...
Simple roasted beets with yogurt and olive oil with a little arugula bed for garnish ($7). It was supposed to be drizzled in yogurt but the lactose intolerant elephant at our table kept it on the side.
I normally wouldn't pay $7 for beets on their own. I would happily pay $6.50 for the fava beans purÃ©e or red pepper spread. They're tons of work! Some poor person's hands in the kitchen are purple, but he or she is better off than the person who scrapes the fuzzy insides out of the artichokes (appropriately priced at $8 for the hard labour).
But I would get the sample platter of 5 appetizers for 4 people for $48 (or 5 apps for 2 people for $26 - this food is meant to be shared, so the more the merrier, and the lower the price).
While there's nothing fancy about the $26 rabbit main course (slow-cooked rabbit leg, impossibly tender, with boringly sweet root vegetables and bland potato purÃ©e. More braised fennel would help reduce the monotonous flavour), most people don't have expensive sour cherries sitting at home in their freezer from the summer, waiting to be made into bistro-fare.
The Aphrodisiac Chicken wouldn't throw me into bed or anything, but with resuscitated figs and prunes, a big cinnamon stick, and a creamy, sweet sauce coating chickpeas, red peppers, and grilled almonds I'll just say I've had worse...and of all the main dish options it's definitely the most interesting for the tongue; there's a great texture and flavour balance of sweet fruit, savoury chickpeas, chewy chicken and crunchy almonds. It's similar to some Moroccan tajines I know, but the quality of the meat is better than most of the city's renditions (grain-fed, at least). And the lamb on the menu is even from Quebec.
The other important part of the menu is its list of dishes with 4 common food allergies and restrictions: dairy, gluten, onions, and garlic - perfect for anyone avoiding only those four items. Still, with a hard-to-understand listing of the dishes that jumps in language from Turkish to French, and from specific names of dishes to general titles such as "poulet", it's best to ask the extremely kind server about what you're ordering before they have to run into the kitchen to berate the person in charge of adding mashed potatoes with butter to a lactose intolerant's plate. Menu card or no, it's tough eating out with restrictions. Points for trying?
Su avoids a lot of the Middle Eastern restaurant stereotypes, but when it does steer into the world of bulgur (cracked wheat) it does it well with mint and sumac-flavoured lamb chops with pomegranate olive oil. A pot pourri of sliced peppers topping the orange-tinged bulgur brightens up the grill-marked chops.
If you prefer fall-off-the-bone style lamb to a really strong lamb flavour, go with the braised meat. It's very...um...lamb-y. That's all. It's a horrible description but there's really nothing else going on in the dish, which isn't really a bad thing. When you bump into the two sprigs of theme on the plate you kind of go, "Oh! Thyme! Hurray! Flavour! You could make this at home with a slow-cooker and expensive Kamouraska lamb from a good butcher but you probably wouldn't go to the effort, or you'd be afraid to mess it up and ruin the meat (or maybe that's just me), so the $34 price tag might be worth it at Su.
So come for fava bean ice cream scoops and olive oil-simmered artichokes, and then invest some time in hunting down a "wascally wabbit" (at the market...) of your own to plunk in a slow-cooker. Well, no, it's not quite that simple to make a great meal, but Su's mains are rustic (though exotic, because it's Turkish not French) bistro fare at fine-dining prices.
And unfortunately the vegetarian mains aren't vegan-friendly. You could order the vegetarian manti - mixed vegetable-stuffed Turkish ravioli, but with just the tomato sauce instead of the combo tomato-yogurt sauce. And cheese-eaters can opt for the piruhi - cheese and herb-stuffed ravioli with creamy walnut sauce.
But anyone could enjoy a whole meal of just meze here - better than a mix of apps and a main, even. There are also appetizers for the carnivorous, including a chicken and walnut patÃ©, deep-fried calamari or sardines, sautÃ©ed veal, and lamb brochettes with pita. They add up quickly price-wise, though, so beware.
And there's a very reasonably priced wine list, including a few Turkish options and a bunch of French (south-west = affordable), Spanish, and South American bottles (with organic options indicated).
Dessert means homemade baklava (the not-so-sticky kind of sugar syrup sprayed phyllo pastry with pistachios).But the menu gets more interesting with Kadaif pastry (in the form of Angel's hair - like the pasta) with fried fresh, unsalted cheese and a vanilla-pistachio syrup, or fig cream with fruit and nuts.
Really you don't need dessert, though, because you get a sweet loukoum (Turkish Delight) candy with your bitter Turkish coffee. You need to take a sip of the coffee and then a bite of the loukoum, then a little more coffee. One really shouldn't be without the other unless you absolutely love bitter things and hate sweets, or vice versa. Together, they're perfect. Turkish food has a few things figured out.
Su La Cuisine Turque
Where: 5145 rue wellington
How Much: $50-$70 including tax and tip, without wine