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Pasha Café and Restaurant offers Turkish cuisine in style in a former Shadyside home

Late summer might be the best time for Mediterranean food, with ripe tomatoes, fresh herbs and grilled meats in abundance

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Pasha is a throwback term, the Ottoman title for governors and generals. It is also the name of a Turkish restaurant in a former residence on Ivy Street, in Shadyside. Its dining rooms evoke Victorian parlors more than the palaces of Istanbul, but there’s a pleasing elegance to the combination of marble fireplaces and the colorful, glass-mosaic light fixtures that provide the primary decor. Double garage doors open onto the raised deck that’s one of our favorite platforms for outdoor dining, being both along the sidewalk and separate enough to maintain a distinct atmosphere. 

The deck was crowded on the hot, late-summer evening of our visit, but we snagged a table just inside the open doors, allowing us to partake of the ambience within and the stirring air without. Late summer might be the best time for Mediterranean food, with ripe tomatoes, fresh herbs and grilled meats in abundance. We ordered with abandon, and soon plate after plate began crowding the table, hinting at an imperial feast.

Meze — starters — come hot or cold, so we tried a bit of each. On the hot (sicak) side, there were cigarette borek: four skinny phyllo rolls, fried crisp and filled with feta turned creamy from the heat, flavored with dill. Zucchini fritters were thin and herbal but, despite the frying, not especially crisp. It can be hard to coax all the water out of late-summer zucchini, as these fritters could attest.

Our cold (soguk) meze were nearly flawless. Piyaz, a salad of white beans, red pepper and tomatoes, was by turns creamy, crispy and juicy, with a lively array of flavors punctuated by red onion and parsley. Parsley was perhaps too forward a flavor, however, in the shepherd salad, made with an abundance of peak-season tomatoes, cucumber, onion and a dressing of sumac, lemon, vinegar and olive oil.

Sauced eggplant featured fried chunks of aubergine that looked, frankly, like bits of brown leather, but had an extraordinarily silken texture, with just a bit of resistance on the exterior. Their intensely smoky flavor belied the fire-free preparation. Tomatoes and onions provided contrast and brightness for a wonderfully balanced, standout dish.

Cacik — pronounced sha-sheek, and similar to Greek tzatziki — had an almost pudding-thick consistency, with subtle notes of garlic and mint, and diced cucumbers adding a bit of crunch. All good, but the star was unquestionably the rich, full-bodied yogurt. This was particularly delicious dolloped onto the thick, pillowy flatbread that came gratis to our table.

Entrees are almost exclusively grilled, mostly kebabs of various types. The mixed grill included no fewer than five distinct items. Lamb chops were too thin to retain any rosiness inside, but the char flavor was good, and the meat wasn’t dry in the least. Shish kebab — chunks of beef — was suitably tender yet hearty, while lamb kofte — ground and spiced — lacked succulence and tasted a bit gamey. Best on the plate were the chicken chops — boneless thighs pounded flat and grilled to create a distinctive texture and a flavor that hinted at spice while deferring to the lusciousness of the dark meat.

While the execution of the mixed grill was, well, mixed, our salmon entrée went for a high level of difficulty and nailed the landing: Two thin, boneless steaks were grilled on one side only, leaving char marks and a light smokiness without overcooking the flesh or inducing fishy flavors. Such impeccable results are especially hard to achieve with such thin steaks, so kudos to the chef.

The entrees came with a few sides. Rice with vermicelli was a mild, satisfying accompaniment to the hearty meats of the mixed grill. Grilled tomatoes took on a glorious amount of char and a not insignificant kick from the jalapeños sharing their skewer. A house salad of shredded red cabbage and carrot made a pleasant counter to the heavier bites of meat, but a green salad was, unaccountably, just a pile of salted romaine leaves.

There are many pleasures to be had at Pasha, gustatory and otherwise. The atmosphere, akin to the welcoming, elegant home of a foreign neighbor or frequent traveler, was so pleasing that the good food was almost a bonus. We’d tell you to hurry while the deck is still open, but we have a feeling that a table by one of those marble mantles, under the twinkling of the glass-mosaic lamps, will be awfully cozy on a winter’s night.


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