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Tuba Restaurant & Grill

Fresh Turkish Food in the Mission

The word “Mediterranean” in reference to cuisine has been bandied about a great deal over the years, but it is all too often a generic label for one or another specific nation’s food, most commonly Lebanese or Israeli.

By and large, it’s become something of a trope, and people have come to expect the requisite falafel, hummus and baba. In a city that is always on the hunt for new and interesting flavors, it’s surprising, then, that we don’t see more regional Mediterranean foods.

Tucked away in a little eddy of restaurants on the edge of the Mission District, Tuba offers up a taste of Turkey (the country, not the bird). Despite the names in the famously impenetrable Turkish tongue, the dishes actually have a broad appeal, and many things will be familiar to anyone who’s dined on cuisines from adjacent Greece, Persia and the Levant.

The restaurant occupies a space that has been home to a number of eateries, most notably the all-white dot-com darling Neo back in the 90s. Now, chef Coskun Bektas has toned down the starkness in favor of paprika-colored walls with saffron draperies. Inoffensive art adorns the walls. The overall effect is warm and inviting.

The menu features a wide selection of appetizers, organized into groupings of hot and cold dishes; sampler plates of each make for a great way to dabble in a variety of tastes and textures, meze-style. We loved the cold appetizers ($15 for the sampler) for their brightness and diversity. Piyaz ($6), a white bean salad, sparkled with acidity and freshness. Dill and mint lightened up the richness of the yogurt dip haydari ($6). Even the familiar dolma ($7) and hummus ($6) were above par, the former being pleasantly firm and dry, with a tantalizing sweetness from currants. The sampler plate is ample for a table of four, but we wouldn’t rule out the possibility of tackling it solo with a bowlful of pita bread.

Hot appetizers ($19 for the sampler) are an exercise in frying, and while the kitchen has a deft hand, they generally run heftier than their cold brethren. We loved the sigara bore_i ($7), a classic Turkish dish of sticks of feta wrapped in filo and fried, as well as the pleasantly herby crab cakes ($9) and, yes, the pleasantly not-too-dry falafel ($6).

Mint features prominently in many of the dishes on the menu, but it takes on chameleon-like properties, shifting from star player to haunting top note to lingering aftertaste. It’s refreshing to see so much diversity coaxed out of a single ingredient.

Chef Bektas knows his way around a grill, and the kebabs are a major highlight on the menu. Skewers of lamb ($16) or chicken ($15) shish kebab were seasoned and grilled perfectly, even the white meat of the chicken retaining moisture and tenderness. The ground-meat köfte ($14) and adana ($15) kebabs also excelled. As with the appetizers, Tuba offers a mixed grill ($24) that features a sampling of the kebabs as well as a juicy lamb chop ($22).

Vegetarians need not feel left out; the appetizers are largely veg-friendly, and a few entrées also accommodate, such as musakka ($13) and stuffed eggplant ($13). As with mint, eggplant is another repeat visitor on the menu, such as in the hünkar beendi ($15), pureed eggplant with mozzarella cheese and lamb cubes which, while flavorful, had a pasty consistency that might be a hard sell for the American palate.

Tuba has a few traditional Turkish desserts, such as künefe ($7), shredded filo dough stuffed with sweet cheese and drenched in syrup. However, the restaurant’s servings are so copious, you may find all you have room for at the end is a nice cup of strong Turkish coffee ($3) or mint tea ($2).

Mission, $$
Reservations accepted