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Cosy eatery takes diners on trip to Turkey

Nar means pomegranate, and much like its namesake, this little Turkish eatery reveals myriad tiny delights.

Nar means pomegranate, and much like its namesake, this little Turkish eatery reveals myriad tiny delights.

When you step into the former south Oak Bay home, you may be drawn to the cosy former living room downstairs with about a dozen seats, or the former bedroom above with good views of Windsor Park -- particularly handy if you find yourself obliged to watch a rugby match in unco-operative weather. Drop by soon and you can enjoy a leisurely visit on the rear patio, scented with flowers and many of the herbs they use in the kitchen.

The $24 three-course set dinner means a chance to try a range of Turkish dishes, choosing what you like from the menu with only two exceptions. Begin with a house salad dressed with pomegranate molasses and olive oil or a cup of traditional soup, perhaps hearty red lentil with dual kicks of flavour supplied by crushed mint and red pepper. Follow with Iskender kebap with your choice of grilled chicken or lamb served with freshly made pita, yogurt, tomato and brown butter sauce, and finish up with lemon cake.

Though I love the set menu, when I dropped by for dinner with a friend, it meant we could dine in a more traditional manner.

Jessica and I began with meze, small dishes in the same manner as tapas. Hot choices included shrimp baked with tomatoes and peppers under a layer of bubbling cheese; borek (crisp phyllo pastry cigarillos stuffed in this instance with feta cheese and parsley) and dolma (subtly seasoned rice and beef wrapped in grape leaves). Cold meze change periodically and may include zeytinyagli fasulye (marinated green beans) and muhammara (red pepper and walnut dip).

Our selection included a creamy salad of walnuts and cauliflower and a couple of Turkish must-haves: yogurtlu havuç salatasi (a rich blend of shredded carrots, yogurt and fresh dill) and Imam bayildi, a melange of roasted eggplant, tomatoes and onion seasoned with olive oil, herbs and lemon so delicious that the name means "the Imam fainted." The price for all this was a mere $26.

The menu changes periodically, but current entrées include seafood, lamb and assorted kebaps. All appealed to us, but despite an extended break, we were still pretty full and opted to share one of the evening's specials -- moist roast lamb shank with hints of lemon arrived with creamy rice pilaf dotted with pomegranate and pine nuts, tender fresh vegetables, smoky eggplant purée and grilled mushrooms stuffed with walnuts and cheese.

We had just enough room left to squeeze in a dessert sampler, which included sumptuous apricots sprinkled with chopped nuts and syrup, a slice of chocolate mosaik cake (an unbaked Turkish gem) and crisp baklava.

Traditional coffee arrived with handmade Turkish delight and yet another smile from owners Cemil and Ozlem Karahasan's charming daughter Ozge, who not only knows the menu inside out, but like her parents seems genuinely happy to share her culture with customers. If you happen to be wandering by here at closing time, don't be surprised to see the Karahasans waving goodbye to customers from the doorstep in the same way you would see off friends or family from your own home.

Nar offers well-prepared food, typical of what you would find in a family style eatery in Turkey, but what might be even better is the refreshingly genuine welcome you receive every time you cross the threshold.

The only thing that might be a problem for some people is the size of the rooms, as you sit close to other diners, meaning you will not only hear their conversations but will be hostage to their appalling manners, as well. Perhaps the only thing worse than being forced to listen to pompous people trying to outdo each other is when they do so with their mouths full of food or on their cellphones.

On the other hand, the size provides an easy way to get around such horrors -- organize your friends and you can have one of the rooms to yourselves.

Next door to the dining room, the owners have recently opened a new café (open Tuesday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) providing a great diversion from the Oak Bay Tea Party this weekend. Drop by on Sunday for free samples of tea, coffee and pastries -- and a smile or two.