West Caldwell, NJ 07006
- Cost: $$
- Credit Cards: All Major
- Alcohol: BYO
- Parking: Private Lot
- Take Out: Yes
March 30, 2017
Not that long ago, finding Turkish cuisine in New Jersey meant a trip to towns like Clifton in Passaic County, or Cliffside Park in Bergen County, communities where many New Jerseyans of Turkish anscestry live. Turkish eateries are now scattered across the state, including in some suburban towns without signifiacnt Turkish-American populations. Cinar Turkish Restaurant, a popular Cliffside Park spot, opened a West Caldwell location in 2015 and has plans for a third in Emerson.
On a cold Sunday afternoon last month, we pulled off Bloomfield Avenue into the ample lot surrounding Cinar West Caldwell. The standalone building originally housed a Friendly’s, then the short-lived Pudsters burgers. Look for the yellow leaf of the Çınar tree on the restaurant’s signage. Inside, Cinar’s dining room of a dozen or so dark wooden tables is decorated in warm shades of yellow and orange.
Thick Turkish pita studded with sesame seeds arrives on your table quickly. It’s hard to resist the warm bread dipped in the fragrant olive oil served alongside. Service at Cinar is efficient yet unhurried. Servers are happy to explain any dishes that may be unfamiliar to diners.
Cinar’s menu features Turkish versions of popular Eastern Mediterranean dishes, Turkish favorites, and some twists on traditional Turkish preparations. The warm, creamy, hummus, served with diced roasted red pepper, a black olive paste and crisp falafel, is an excellent starter, as are the homemade stuffed grape leaves filled with rice, pine nuts and currants. Appetizers, both cold and hot, include salads like smoked eggplant babagannush and parsley-bulgur tabbouleh, and the bulgar and ground beef fritters called kibbeh. Breaded fried calf’s liver appears on Cinar’s small plates menu with little fanfare.
Cinar delivers distinctive versions of traditional Turkish dishes by tweaking the usual ingredients. Borek, flaky phyllo rectangles, commonly layered with spinach and feta, can also be ordered with leeks and goat cheese. It’s a worthy updated combination, even better with a dollop of tangy-sweet tomato marmalade. Every grilled item we tried, like the ground chicken adana kebab, is well-spiced and flavorful. Lamb kebabs abound – ground, in chunks, and as meatballs. For something a little different, try one of the yogurt kebabs, like the sliced lamb served in a creamy yogurt tomato sauce over croutons. If Turkish cuisine has a master sauce, it probably includes yogurt.
Traditional Turkish entrees on Cinar’s menu include lamb shank, stuffed eggplant, and Hunkar Begendi, an Ottoman specialty of lamb or chicken in tomato sauce over warm eggplant puree. Turkish dumplings filled with lamb and onions, piled atop a savory garlic yogurt sauce, have the al dente chew of the best homemade peirogi. Flaky baklava, a Turkish flan called kazandibi, and kunefe, phyllo dough squares layered with cheese and sweet syrup, are among the dessert options. For a traditional Eurasian drink, try the yogurt-based ayran. Cinar is BYOB.
Cinar is a nice place to linger over a meal. Grab a bottle of wine and head to West Caldwell to taste some of New Jersey’s best Turkish cuisine.