Oct 27, 201109:18 AM
Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene
Photo by Robert Peyton
When I wrote about Fatoush restaurant in a recent edition of Haute Plates, I remember thinking, but not writing, that while there are a number of restaurants in New Orleans owned by folks of Turkish descent, we do not have much in the way of Turkish cuisine here. I couldn't think of another restaurant that serves Turkish food at the time, but then I was reminded of the Courtyard Grill, which opened about a year and a half ago in an unassuming space at 4430 Magazine St.
The restaurant's signage announces that it serves Mediterranean food, which is true in that Turkey lies at the eastern end of that sea. The menu will be largely familiar to anyone who dines in what are most commonly called Lebanese restaurants in New Orleans. There's the roasted eggplant puree flavored with tahini, garlic, mint, and parsley known as baba ganoush most places (babaganush at Courtyard), a light chickpea hummus, and grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and onions. Falafel are available as an appetizer or pressed flat in a sandwich, and gyros are still other familiar fare.
But the strengths of the menu are the Turkish dishes, which are distinct variations on the cuisines of Turkey's neighbors. Kisir, for example, is recognizably the cracked wheat salad usually called tabouleh, but with the addition of mint, black olives and dried Turkish chile flakes that give the dish a slightly red hue and a smoky bite. Chachik is similar to labnah, a mix of yogurt, cucumber, mint and garlic, but the quality of the yogurt at Courtyard Grill sets it apart, as does the garnish of dried herbs. Agili is a blend of sauteed tomatoes, bell peppers, parsley, mint, olive oil, and garlic, and there are puffed pastry pies stuffed with spinach or ground beef.
The bread at Courtyard Grill also sets it apart. In place of the pita that's ubiquitous at typical Middle Eastern restaurants, Courtyard Grill serves freshly baked loaves of leavened bread topped with sesame seeds. It's delicious whether sliced and filled as a sandwich or just eaten out of hand.
The entree portion of the menu is made up largely of kabobs. Options include lamb, beef and chicken, in chunks, ground, or sliced thinly from a rotisserie. The Iskandar kabob features both lamb and beef sliced off of the rotisserie and served over chunks of the aforementioned bread, topped with a tomato-butter sauce. Rice, Turkish yogurt and vegetables accompany the dish. The meat is far different from that used for typical gyro sandwiches or described as shawarma in many other restaurants. It's clearly sliced from a primal cut, rather than being processed and pressed. The heat of the grill gives some pieces a nice char, and the tomato sauce worked very well both with the meat and as a sop for the bread.
The hunkar beyeni is chunks of lamb kebab served over roasted eggplant with more of the tomato sauce, and adana kabob is ground chicken seasoned with red pepper, onion, and parsley, grilled, then served over grilled tomatoes and rice. There's also a stuffed chicken breast, tavuk sarma, in which the stuffing is rice, pine nuts, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. No Turkish restaurant would be complete without doner kebab; grilled marinated beef and/or lamb that's sliced like gyro meat. At Courtyard Grill they call it NOLA Doner, and it's served over rice or in a sandwich.
Courtyard Grill offers a half-pound organic hamburger and a number of other sandwiches and wraps filled with the kebabs and other offerings on the entree portion of the menu.
When I dined, our server had to ask for details about some of the dishes when I had questions, but otherwise service was attentive and prompt. The “courtyard” portion of the restaurant's name is more of a covered deck, but it's a comfortable space even if some liberties are taken with nomenclature. With the weather we've been having lately, I highly recommend it. Courtyard Grill received a liquor license in March of this year, and serves wine and beer, including brews by Abita and NOLA Brewing.
Courtyard Grill is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. You can get in touch with them by calling 875-4164.