Promising Mediterranean in Govans sunk by small portions, uneven flavors

Sometimes when you

are underwhelmed


by a meal that you were looking forward to, the glut of emotion that hits you can be surprising: anger at paying for a subpar meal, disappointment that your expectations weren't met, excitement about the shit you're going to talk about the place, and then the eventual apathy that kicks in when you insist you couldn't care less about that stupid place and its stupid food.

The next day, with a little hindsight and a little leftover tasting, you realize that the truth of the meal was somewhere in between the great meal you wanted and the hot garbage you thought you ate while grumbling about the meal in the car ride home. Our experience at Bosphorus Bistro (5716 York Road, [410] 323-0300, in Govans was like that, but the place only needs to tweak a few things to be a restaurant that we would revisit.

Walking into the empty dining room, we could see how this place could be warm and cozy when full of people, as it is in the pictures on their Facebook page. It is a big open room decorated in warm umber and dark reds with a pleasant vibe about it. But without all of those happy, smiling, heat-emitting patrons, it was quite chilly where we sat. Fortunately Bosphorus serves Turkish tea ($2) and coffee ($5). The tea was hot, fragrant from a variety of leaves, and served in a stylish glassware. It was not a lot of tea, but a good way to warm up and prepare for the meal. The Turkish coffee was strong and frothy, with a little sugar to balance the bitterness, served in the traditional ornate-yet-diminutive cup and saucer, but it seemed a bit too diminutive for $5-a problem with a few of the dishes we had at Bosphorus.

The appetizers are broken into cold and hot categories. The baba ghanouj ($5) was a bright and chunky version of the classic dip with a great bitter eggplant flavor, but it needed salt. I only point this out because most of the things we ate at Bosphorus desperately needed salt. I understand undersalting dishes, but if you're going to cook your food that way, you should have salt at the table. The baba ghanouj-and all of the appetizers-improved at home with a few sprinkles of salt. Slices of untoasted pita, toasted at home, were better as well. If they were served warm and toasted at the table, the impression would have been totally different.

The "pink sultan" ($5) was delightfully shocking in color and complexity of flavor thanks to a mixture of beets, garlic, and labne (thick strained yogurt); the harmony between those three ingredients balanced sweet, bitter, garlicky, and creamy to great effect. Falafel ($7) gave us a little chickpea-on-chickpea action, with creamy hummus acting as a dip for the fried fritters of chickpea and fava beans. The falafel was moist and crisp and shared a similar, slightly gritty texture with the hummus. Even though they're kind of the same note, they worked well together.

The manti ($8), served in an intense tomato sauce with tzatziki, was not as successful. The ravioli-filled with a spiced ground-beef mixture-were so small, there was barely any filling in them. The dish was basically dumplings in a creamy tomato sauce. As an appetizer it was frustrating, but if we had ordered the entree version ($14) we would have been upset.

Lentil soup ($5) was great, the hit of the night. Flavorful, complex, with a slight smoky undertone and a deep lentil flavor, we could have eaten five more bowls. Like all of the pureed dishes at Bosphorus, it had a rustic texture-and was seasoned perfectly.

The mixed shish kebab platter ($18) was disappointing. The small chunks of lamb and beef were both overcooked to the point of being indistinguishable from each other. Bits of chicken were fine but would have been better as one piece, to make a mouthful. The Adana meatball and ciz biz köfte meatball were both good but very small. The Adana meatball was spicy and a good foil to the grilled vegetables (which were, along with the rice, the best parts of the dish). It would have been nice to see more kebab for our buck.

At $5, the Turkish delight also seemed overpriced. The four half-inch square gummy candies topped with pistachios were great. If you've only read about this confection, it is fun to get, but it won't keep you coming back. The irmik helva ($5) is a simple, subtle, sweet dessert made from farina cooked in butter and milk, then bathed in a lemon and sugar syrup. It was rich without being over the top.

Bosphorus opened in October and still may be experiencing growing pains. It's a BYOB and it rents hookahs. If you go, bring a bottle of Yeni Raki, order a pineapple-head hookah ($30) and some food, but don't expect too much or you might find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster.

Bosphorus Bistro is open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and Sunday, and 11-2 a.m. Saturday (hookah available till 4 a.m.).