From days of yore, the enmity between Greek and Turk has erupted on the sparkling Aegean Sea, on the blood-soaked battlefields of Troy, and in the antiseptic boardrooms of the United Nations. Now, however, as Turkey is preparing to join the EU (Greece is already a member), the two ancient enemies have embarked upon a tenuous rapprochement. Instead of blood feuds, stolen wives, and epic wars, they compete today in a more culinary fashion, brandishing gyros and kebabs on the rain-dark streets of West Seattle.
Stepping into Kokoras Greek Grill, which occupies a nondescript storefront on California Avenue Southwest, is like entering a traditional Greek taverna in Athens or Thessaloniki. Greek paraphernalia covers the walls—there's a picture of a salty old sailor, a grinning rooster, and some painted plates. Strains of what seems to be a Greek pop song emanate from the back kitchen, where a man shaves slices from a rotating leg of lamb. A pleasant rumble of conversation fills the small space.
We are ushered immediately to a corner table. Our server, one of the best I've encountered in Seattle, is passionate about the menu, offering several suggestions for both food and drink. He's especially enthusiastic about the small wine list, bringing us samples of a few Greek varietals I've never heard of, all the while checking on other tables, and welcoming new arrivals.
He recommends the calamari ($7.95), which arrives lightly breaded, not oily at all, and with a thick skordalia (potato and garlic dip) and some vinegary, shredded cabbage that brightens each bite. The salads are basic Greek mixtures of iceberg, tomato, cucumber, onions, olives, and feta; but the touted "secret vinaigrette" boasts just the right amount of sweetness, tempering the olives' Adriatic tang.
It's all a prelude to the heaping plate of mixed meats ($22.50 for the "small" platter) that arrives with a clatter. Though the beef could have been a bit more flavorful, smoky chicken, piquant pork, and addictive, razor-thin slices of lamb combine with a dollop of garlicky tzatziki, a cool slice of cucumber, and a twist of pita bread for a satisfying mouthful. One complaint: Only a single measly pita comes with this bounty of meat; extras are two bucks.
At the Turkish Ephesus, just a mile north on California, we're served a heaping basket of bread. (Perhaps a starting point for better Greek-Turk relations could be their shared love of dipping fresh-baked pita—pide in Turkish—into savory sauces.) The crispy parts of the bread at Ephesus are just firm enough to cradle the mushy goodness of the ezme ($8.95), a puree of eggplant, tomato, walnuts, and pomegranate juice that's perfectly sweet and spicy.
More sedate than Kokoras, Ephesus seduces with its soft folk music, gracious service, and massive, comforting wooden chairs (some made from barrels!). A few plants twine around an improvised trellis, reaching up toward the skylights and the last light of the day. We're fighting over the last dabs of ezme when the salads arrive. The vinaigrette doesn't have the same punch as the one at Kokoras, but the fresh ground pepper leaves a pleasant charred aftertaste on the tongue.
Chicken toprak ($14.95) comes bubbling in a stoneware pot. Poured over rice, the tomato-based stew of tender chunks of chicken, crispy potatoes, spicy peppers, and onions makes a hearty meal. It's the rice, though, that's really special—long-grain, cooked perfectly, tasting faintly of garlic, and with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top as though it were rice pudding; we save some to eat without sauce, marveling at its subtle flavors.
Spinach bocek ($11.95), a plate of phyllo stuffed with dense, rich spinach and feta, is spectacular until about halfway through, when it becomes a bit much. Not finishing, however, leaves room for a dessert of thick, sweet Turkish coffee ($3.95) and crispy baklava ($4.95) drenched with honey. We leave happy and somnolent, feeling like pashas in the Ottoman Empire.
And perhaps this is where the confluence comes, where the swords must be put aside and the enemies brought together: over a plate of heavenly baklava (which the Greeks and Turks both claim to have invented) after a satisfying dinner, when old grievances can be forgotten and Greek and Turk can stand arm in arm, gazing out over the Puget Sound as though it were the Ionian Sea, glittering in the moonlight. Peace, harmony, and dessert—the dawn of a new era.