Efes Turkish Cuisine certainly has an ideal location. Situated on the the shore of Lake Monroe it commands a beautiful view of the water. That is, if you can see through the
mosquitos that attach themselves in swarms to the screening on the patio. A much bigger problem at sunset than during the day, I imagine, but an unappetizing one nevertheless. I would choose to eat inside, in the cool of the air-conditioned atmosphere, far enough away from the bugginess, if I were to return, but based on my meal there recently I don’t see much point. Nothing that I tasted was unacceptable, but neither was anything particularly wonderful; most of it had an unfortunate blandness, not the sort of thing you would expect from Turkish cuisine.
I had high hopes that Efes would be wonderful because it is operated by the original team that opened Bosphorous on Park Avenue. Bosphorous was originally owned by Abdurrahman and Ayse Cecen, who sold the business to its current owner and moved back to Turkey. Ayse’s sister, Nejla Ozturk, continued to work at Bosphorous while looking around to find a place of her own. When she found the building on the lake in Sanford, she fell in love with it. She sent pictures to her sister in Turkey, and soon the Cecen’s were back in the U.S. to help Ozturk open Efes.
My companion and I started with appetizers of stuffed baby eggplant and falafel. The eggplant was stuffed with pine nuts, tomato, green pepper, onions and parsely, but very little spicing. The falafel actually had good flavor, the pureed chickpeas mixed with parsely, onions and celery. But the resulting patties had been over fried so that they took on a hard crustiness. Maybe I was just spoiled by my recent falafel sandwich at L’As du Fallafel.
For an entree my friend selected the lamb sautee, a generous portion of cubed meat with tomatoes, onions, green peppers and onions that would have been impressive if there had been more of the “chef’s own blend of herbs and spices” that were mentioned on the menu. It was just bland.
So was my hunkar begendi, or sultan’s delight. The main part of the dish, an Ottoman specialty, is comprised of smoked eggplant puree mixed with kasseri cheese, which becomes an elasticized blend. In the center was a veal stew, much less ample than my friend’s lamb sautee but with the same muted seasoning.
I know this team is capable of producing wonderful Turkish cuisine. Their food at Bosphorous won my accolades on numerous occasions. Why did they feel the need to squelch the flavors here?
Efes, which is short for Ephesus, truly is a lovely restaurant in a beautiful setting (when not viewed through a mass of mosquitos). I hope the kitchen will return to making the kind of food that will again earn it praise.