Anatolia is one of the few places where you can find Turkish food, culture and arts in Toronto.
Passionate about revealing her homeland, Chef/Owner Ayse Aydemir has built her lively little restaurant in Etobicoke through her personal journey, cumbersome obstacles and inspiration.
Technicolour tapestries, ceramics and decorative plates adorn the whitewashed walls. Bright azure beams graze the ceiling, giving the space a much more intimate feel. There is a definitive Mediterranean feeling to this place.
Much of the menu is completely foreign to me, and I seek Ayse's help to decode it, despite the English translations. There are no lahmacuns or donairs here. Rather, I am confronted with unfamiliar titles and descriptions that list a slew of ingredients not commonly mixed together: "eggplant with tahini, butter and yoghurt?"
Ayse leads her restaurant with a simple approach: "I want to make people happy." Impeccable hospitality and quality food has kept customers returning for the past ten years. Anatolia's approach to cuisine is simple, straightforward and true to tradition, but newer adaptations of classic recipes are also a feature with the introduction of young Head Chef Tin Tin.
Most of the dishes include phyllo pastry. Whether it's deep fried, baked or soaked in syrup, phyllo is the foundation of most dishes. This is what Ayse built her mini empire on. Her humble beginnings started in her own apartment kitchen, where Ayse sold her homemade phyllo to restaurants to make ends meat. Anatolia's phyllo is crisp and light, but somehow also dense, with a bite to it, unlike the store bought variety that has all the crisp, but none of the texture.
One bite into the Sigare Boregi ($9), fresh phyllo rolled "cigars" with melted feta and fresh parsley and I'm hooked. They are crisp, with a smooth creamy filling. Beyti ($19), phyllo drizzled in tomato sauce, toasted pistachios and melted butter enveloping savoury lamb meat.
The rich blend of flavours is unlike anything else that I've ever experienced. Ayse's signature Walnut spread comes in a complex tomato and red pepper reduction, as opposed to the peanut-butter nuttiness that I'm expecting. And Ali Nazik ($19), succulently charred lamb meat on a bed of smooth eggplant puree infused with rich spices, creamy tahini, tomato and butter, is a harmonious blend of flavours.
Each dish bursts in flavour and freshness; revealing that a firm commitment to quality and health is not necessarily linked to organic, local or fair trade produce. Rather, Anatolia dishes out quality home cooking with the love and pride that you can taste in every bite.
Unbelievable Pistachio Baklava is a must at Anatolia. The buttery hand-rolled phyllo pastry is soaked in a simple syrup of water, sugar and a twist of lemon. The baklava is at once dense and moist without being overly heavy or sweet, a perfect accompaniment to the thimbleful of strong Turkish coffee.
We get our fortunes read by Nadire, Ayse's assistant. She peers deep into our dark, grind-filled espresso cups as we are both captivated by her intensity. Based on the shapes that our grinds form, she begins to unravel the tangles of our past and deconstruct our future. It's all very mysterious and absorbing. Who knew that coffee could be so revealing? We are completely entranced and caught up by the insight of a complete stranger. A great ending to an exotic afternoon during which we seemingly journeyed into a distant land, far away from just another strip mall in Etobicoke.
Photos by Francis Jonas Yap.