<<EDIT 2:53 PM, 5/28/10: I’ve been informed that Agora’s chef is now Ghassan Jarrouj, who comes to Agora from Sitti in Raleigh, NC. Jarrouj has 35 years’ experience heading up kitchens with a wide range of Mediterranean influences including Neyla in Georgetown and Taverna Kefi in Wheaton. My apologies for the confusion.>>
There’s a reason I got as excited as I did when I discovered Urfa Tomato Kabob in Penn Quarter last year – Turkish cuisine is still woefully underrepresented in the DC dining scene. But not for long. This week, a taste of Turkey arrived in Dupont Circle in the form of Agora.
If you’ve ever made the trip out to Vienna to taste the authentic Turkish flavors at Nizam’s, you’ll be thrilled to know that Chef Rasit Gulsen is heading up the kitchen in the new 17th Street restaurant. And if you’ve found yourself wondering how Turks can live almost exclusively on kabob and pide, Agora has the answer you’ve been looking for: seafood. The riches of the Mediterranean make up a sizable portion of Agora’s menu in a variety of presentations that is likely to surprise most DC diners.
I stopped by Agora just as they were putting the finishing touches on the decor and the kitchen, getting ready for their big opening this week. While I was there I had a chance to take a look around, take some pictures, and even get a look at their menu.
One look at Agora’s menu and you’ll see that owner Latif Guler and Chef Gulsen have put together a selection of small plates that immediately brings to mind the diverse offerings at Zaytinya. Classics like imam biyaldi (decadent oil-soaked eggplant) and grilled octopus are readily available, but so are five kinds of fish native to the waters around Turkey: dorade, branzino, anchovies, brook trout and turbot. And what’s more, they’re reasonably priced between $7 and $15 a plate. There are plenty of veggie dishes as well, making this a new contender for Meatless Monday gatherings.
A charcoal grill and a custom-made adobe oven are just two of the secret weapons in Agora’s kitchen. To make sure the flavors are just as they should be, Guler has called on a true expert: his father, Chef Hasim Guler. The elder Guler has traveled from Turkey to help start things off on the right foot. And he’s brought reinforcements in the form of olive oil pressed from fruit grown on the family farm in Foca, Turkey. It’s a potent combination of native tools and talent that you won’t find anywhere else in DC.
But let’s not forget that this is Dupont Circle. It’s all well and good to offer a solid menu, but if you can’t back it up with a deep beverage bench you’re not going to draw the crowds. Fortunately, Agora has that covered as well. They may not call it craft bartending here, but Agora is going the extra mile to make sure that all of their cocktails are made with the freshest ingredients available.
A selection of seven beers from around the world are available on draft and another twenty are available by the bottle. Try an Efes Pilsen from Turkey for a taste of home, then get rowdy with a bottle of Keo Lager from Cyprus. The wine list is vast, with an entire section of “Recession Selections” priced to move and roughly two dozen wines available by the glass. You can try a $1 one-ounce teaser for any wine available by the glass and feel good about the fact that a portion of your purchase will be donated to a local no-kill animal shelter.
If you remember this space from when it was Jack’s, you’ll be impressed by the work that’s been done to the interior. The exposed brick walls and original beams are complemented by a more modern glass-and-bottle display at the bar. Big bay windows give diners a view into the kitchen so they can watch their flatbread pide come sliding out of the oven. And soon an upstairs space will open to accommodate private dining and large groups. For now, diners can choose between the indoor space and a large covered patio.
Whichever you choose, Agora offers a new taste of Turkey that is likely to be a hit. Just try not to be the nerd that makes the joke about territorial squabbles with Komi (just down the block).