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Written By Scott Joseph On October 27, 2009

Anatolia, a new restaurant in Restaurant Row Orlando, combines the best of two wonderful Middle Eastern cuisines: Lebanese for the appetizers and Turkish for the entrees. The sum of these parts is one really terrific restaurant.

Anatolia occupies a small space in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace with such neighbors as Tang’s Thai and Morton’s Steakhouse. Tables are covered with white cloths and a gold runner under the lamentable pane of glass. Chairs are a comfortable high-back leather, and walls have a hue of rich mild chocolate.

A counter at the far end of the narrow restaurant gives the impression that perhaps the previous tenant offered counter service. A refrigerated display case detracts a bit from the overall pleasant ambience and prevents a better view of the kitchen.

On the evening that I dined, a musician played guitar and sang traditional Turkish tunes, which helped set an authentic tone.

I sampled a number of items from the extensive menu, beginning with the ezme salatasi, a salad that was like a salsa of finely chopped tomatoes, red peppers, a hint of mint and chopped walnuts to give it a bit of a crunch.

Appetizers are divided into hot and cold lists. And by the way, this would be a good time to mention that a majority of appetizers are designated as vegan. You could make a feast of appetizers free of meat products and leave feeling quite full.

A feast is what I had, though admittedly not all vegetarian. It included an array of dips, some familiar, such as hummus and babaganouj, and some less familiar, such as a pulpy eggplant salad, kisir, a variation on a taboule theme, and cacik, a yogurt-based dish that was both thick and creamy.

To best enjoy the dips, be sure to order the lavas (lavosh), which is baked in the brick oven and comes to the table all puffed up like Jiffy Pop.

Hot appetizers included arnavut cigeri, which sounds so much better than fried calves liver. This featured little bite-sized chunks garnished with tomatoes and raw onions; and icli kofte, an egg-shaped patty fashioned out of cracked wheat and filled with ground lamb. All of it was delicious — even the liver.

For my entree I had the mixed grill, an ample sampling of meats, each available also as a single entree, that could easily serve two people. It had adana kebab, seasoned ground lamb formed around a skewer; lamb shish kebab, cubes of tender meat; lamb chops, just in case you didn’t have enough lamb before; dana kebab, cubes of grilled beef; and tavuk kebab, which would be chicken. All were well seasoned and delicious, and were accompanied by rice, a medley of grilled vegetables and small, skinless baked potato.

My favorite dessert was the kazandibi. Described on the menu as baked caramelized milk pudding, it reminded me of a cross between creme brulee and flan. It was so creamy and wonderfully rich. Anatolia’s baklava, the iconic dessert of phyllo pastry with pistachios and rose syrup, was less cloying than most. And I also liked the kunefe, which resembles Shredded Wheat, only less crunchy and much sweeter.

Service was prompt and proper, and owner Neil Sahli made a gracious host, making a point to  greet diners inside and also at the tables on the patio.

Middle Eastern and Mediterranean restaurants have been growing in numbers in Central Florida, introducing their rich traditions to more appreciative diners. There’s always room for another, especially one that serves such fine, thoughtful food. One such as Anatolia.

Anatolia is at 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-352-6766. The restaurant’s Web site is not yet functional.

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