Tuscaloosa, on the whole, is not a friendly town for the lover of ethnic cuisines. One Indian place, two Thai places, some Greek-ish spots. The Japanese is typical teppanyaki, and the Chinese is commonplace Cantonese. Our only great Mexican restaurant was destroyed in the tornado. Any new ethnic restaurant is a cause for celebration.
Yakamoz Turkish Restaurant opened in the final week of July 2011. It’s hard to notice it right now; a hand-written Pepsi sign simply reads “Yakamoz. Now open!” without any indication as to what a Yakamoz is. It sounded like an ethnic restaurant, so I went inside. I knew immediately that I had made a good decision. The décor is among my favorites in Tuscaloosa: the walls are painted mint green with deep red trim. Turkish rugs are hung from the walls. A Turkish seating area (sit on pillows, no chairs) is prominently featured. Lots of good vibes.
Service was amongst the friendliest in town, though a little bit frazzled. There was one waitress working the whole restaurant, so it took longer than desired for water to be refilled, etc. But she was too friendly and helpful to be upset about it. The owner was very chatty as well, asking the tables their true opinions on the food, telling jokes, etc. This friendliness made up for them being out of what I had ordered, and for the cooking times that went on too long (it was explained that they had an unexpected rush, and had to do a lot of new prep). The small staff seems determined to improve the dining experience as the restaurant goes on.
After orders are taken, a woven basket is brought to the table filled with warm bread. Bread this fresh is plenty good on its own, but even better with a dish of olive oil to dredge it through. We ordered an appetizer of dolma – stuffed grape leaves, in this case stuffed with rice, onions, currants, and mint, and dressed in a cold sauce of tomato and lemon. The sweetness of the currants played really well with the mint, and the dolma were cooked very well, though the tomato-based sauce was a bit too one-dimensional. Entrees sampled at our table included kebob Adana and something called a “Turkish pizza.” Yakamoz makes their pizza dough in-house, which is always a plus. This pie was fairly typically adorned with little slices of tomato, some parsley, and more cheese than expected. It was something of a mediocre pizza, though that could be partly due to it being ordered sans-lamb; the Turkish Pizza comes with ground lamb and “Turkish spices,” but it seems that ordering it without the meat causes you to miss out on those spices as well.
Much better was the kebob Adana – a long kebob of hand-minced lamb, roasted red peppers, and fresh herbs. It came with a small salad, some spiced onions, a garlic-yoghurt sauce, and a hefty portion of bulgur & tomato sauce. The lamb was tasty, spicy, and very authentically prepared. The coolness of the chilled garlic-yoghurt sauce was a delightful contrast to the near-sizzling kebob, and the onions provide the kind of sharpness and textural contrast here that makes them so invaluable to authentic Mexican tacos for the same reasons. My only complaint with the Adana is that I expected more lamb for the $11.95 pricetag. But with as much freshly-baked bread as we were given I was not walking out of Yakamoz with even a slight bit of hunger.
To help make up for our wait, our table was given orders of rice pudding on-the-house. This had a more chewy texture than I usually see in rice puddings, but it worked well because of that uniqueness. Well, that and the bit of vanilla ice cream it came with and the sprinkling of cinnamon. Far better is the Turkish coffee, traditionally served after the meal. It has a solid foundation of bitterness, but ultimately finishes strong and sweet. It has some wonderful floral notes as well. A must-order.
As I write this, the restaurant had been open for less than one week. The service problems should work themselves out in the coming weeks. The friendliness will suffice in the meantime. As we were presented with our checks, our server gave each of us a plastic “Evil Eye” token/fridge magnet. It is meant to ward off bad spirits and negative energy. And indeed I hope that bad spirits avoid Yakamoz. What I sampled from their menu was good enough to warrant future trips. I have a feeling that this kitchen is going to really specialize in a few particular dishes, and I want to figure out what those dishes are. Frankly, it is worth coming back for the bread and Turkish coffee alone.
Yakamoz Turkish Restaurant is located at 501 Hargrove Road E., Ste. A., catty-corner from The Comic Strip.
Hours: Currently unknown