"Regular readers know that with each restaurant assignment I bring along persons whose particular expertise is in the field of cuisine being presented. Therefore, it was with considerable good luck that friend Meryl (who lives in Union County) was available to cover Sofra Kabob House/Helal Turkish Restaurant with me. She was looking forward to dining at this ethnic restaurant located at 166 Getty Avenue in a quiet section of Paterson. An international world traveler Meryl knows about preparation of this type of cuisine from the countries that border on the Mediterranean; she can speak numerous languages and read their language, thereby easily relating to the owners. Therefore, for me, dining at Sofra was a double pleasure and it was a new and interesting world - right in my own backyard.
Attractive and dedicated Zehra Ustunluk...spent her adult life desiring a restaurant of her own. Brought up in a restaurant family and taught how to cook by her father, a top chef in a five star hotel where he cooked for presidents and other dignitaries, Zehra's dream was to own even a small place where she could prepare the dishes her father had taught her. At 80 years old, her father is still educating his daughter in the fine art of food preparation.
Zehra's husband is a musician and he plays in the band on weekends. Her young pretty daughter Dilek helps out in the restaurant at night. So, it ís kind of a full family operation.
Sofra has only been open for two months. It has two floors. On the first floor, there are a few tables and chairs with the kitchen to the right. The main dining room upstairs is attractively decorated. Tables are set with beige linen cloths topped by glass. Vased flowers are on the tables. Yellow and light wooden walls are filled with eclectic framed pictures of various sizes. In one corner there is a small bandstand with instruments, ready for the weekend. The highly polished wooden floor shines brilliantly presenting an aura of fastidiousness. While not fancy, the dining room, which accommodates 50 is neat, definitely sparkles and offers an agreeable atmostphere in which to dine.
When we arrived on an early weeknight we were the only customers. Soon three other tables, one a large group, arrived on the scene. The man seated at the tables next to us began a conversation explaining how much he enjoyed the food at Sofra's and that it was the first time he was bringing in his friend to dine. He assured us we would like our dinner.
Well, we didn't need his help. We were busy with our salad. Served on a large platter, we polished off the salad in no time at all. The platter held large slices of fresh tomatoes, sliced peppers, cucumbers, onions and chopped parsley in an olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice dressing. Freshly made, it was excellent! It ís Shepherd Salad on the menu, which is printed in two languages English and Turkish.
We followed this with a dish for which I'd like the recipe. It ís Patlican Soslu (Eggplant). Served cold, the fried, rolled eggplant is served in a fresh tomato sauce, with a flavor that begs for more. At a price of $4.00 this appetizer is a sure winner and the portion is hefty. Was it delicious! Then we asked for another cold appetizer, the Russian Potato Salad, although it appeared to have an American quality. It contained potatoes, carrots, peas and hard-boiled eggs in a fresh lemon juice, olive oil and mayonnaise dressing. This too was slightly different and very tasty. Meryl thought it was sensational and kept asking me if I was certain I wanted more. I made a bargain with her. Give me the rest of the eggplant and you can have the rest of the potato salad. It worked well.
Before we received our main course we had a side of Yaprak Sarma, stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, green peppers, parsley and onion. I've eaten stuffed grape leaves many times and these were as good as any I've had previously.
Then came the piece de resistance, our main entree, a variety of Kabobs, beautifully garnished and presented. Sofra offers over 35 varieties of Kabobs prepared with chicken, lamb, beef, and a blend of ground meats with the above and Gyros, with a starting price of $9.00. You'll find combinations starting at $9.50. For the unknowing, no pork is served at Sofra. We had a ball with the Kabobs, tender, tasty and for me different and ate till we popped. We doggie-bagged leftovers and noticed other diners did likewise. During the meal we had the most delicious, fresh white ethnic bread. We finished what was in the breadbasket and asked for more.
You may BYO at Sofra's. The restaurant serves nectars, imported bottled water, sodas and tea and coffee European style - in a tiny glass and saucer.
Sofra was a delightful adventurous dining experience for me. Zehra noted she has done everything to make her restaurant present the finest cuisine in the field and after dining at her Sofra, I absolutely believe her. Her cuisine is "made to order," it's delicious and presentation is picture perfect and the price is right.
Sofra, large portions moderately priced, open 7 days from 9 a.m., credit cards, lots of street parking, live entertainment Fri. & Sat. from 9 p.m. Call 973-345-1333."