The modest space doesn’t do justice to the terrific food being prepared in the kitchen at Otto Turkish Cuisine in Federal Hill.
Orkun Ayrac and his cousin, Emrah Gulum, are sharing their treasured family recipes in a small dining room that was formerly occupied by the short-lived Grano Pasta Bar.
“This is the only business we can do,” said Ayrac, who has worked at other restaurants for several years. “There was nothing like this in Federal Hill.”
We arrived early on a midweek evening and managed to snag two seats at the window counter, which was neatly set with woven place mats, silverware and white china.
Two women occupied another table. It was almost a crowd when you consider about nine people can be seated at a time, not including a table for two outside. But it’s cozy, and there is a server. Later, a foursome came in, with one couple raving about a previous dining experience there.
We couldn’t help but eavesdrop, and learned about Otto’s exquisite calamari as we were wrapping up our dinner. We’ll have to go back for that dish — not that we need an excuse to return for another wonderful meal.
Scene & Decor: The compact dining room with tangerine and olive walls is comfortable and cheerful, with jazz music playing on a sound system. Black-and-white photos of celebrities like Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey add an interesting element.
Appetizers: The Greek salad ($6.99) was a generous portion. It had the requisite components — lettuce, feta cheese, olives, cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, green peppers and red onions — but the vibrant, lemon-tinged dressing set it apart. The excellent cig kofte ($8), served chilled, featured 10 bulgur wheat nuggets bolstered with aromatic spices, tomato sauce, garlic and onions. Our server explained how to eat them: Wrap the ridge-shaped morsels in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon to enjoy the flavors.
Entrees: The pretty chicken shish “kebap,” a Turkish version of a kebab, ($13) was a great platter. The marinated and chargrilled chicken cubes were served with rice, two piquant salads (one with red cabbage and the other with cucumbers and carrots) and strips of pita bread. The enticing manti ($16), a popular Turkish dish, featured delicate beef dumplings topped with yogurt and garlic sauce.
Drinks The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee. The house-made mint lemonade ($4.90) is pleasantly refreshing, with ground mint permeating the drink. A yogurt drink, Turkish black tea, sodas and water are also available.
Service Our waiter was pleasant and helpful with the menu.
Dessert We really liked the baklava ($5), which was cut into five squares. The phyllo layers were flaky, the chopped nuts were plentiful, and it wasn’t overly sweet. Other choices include a cheesecake and a brownie.
Otto Turkish Cuisine
Backstory: Business partners Orkun Ayrac and Emrah Gulam opened their Federal Hill restaurant in March, serving their native Turkish cuisine, after working at other restaurants for seven years.
Signature dish: Chicken shish kebap
Where: 1043 S. Charles St., Federal Hill
Contact: 443-835-4543, ottoturkishfedhill.com
Open: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday and Thursday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Credit Cards: All major
Bottom line: Prepare to be charmed by the hospitality and Turkish food in this tiny spot.