Family-run restaurants often have a special kind of warmth and true to form, the folks at GG’s Bistro seem genuinely friendly and caring. This small Turkish-Italian cafÃ©, tucked into the Collection on Coast Highway, has a large, pleasant outdoor patio, complete with ocean view, potted plants and two cozy fire pits. Surrounding glass walls and big umbrellas protect you from the elements.
The Gundogar brothers, Ragit and Bulent and their wives, Franziska and Hande, serve the only traditional Turkish fare in Laguna Beach, as well as a wide range of Italian dishes.
If you are not familiar with Turkish food, have an adventure. You can get a feast for two for $55, complete with gyro, boreks, koftes, and chicken and beef kebabs, served with rice and sautÃ©ed vegetables, followed by dessert.
We love appetizer plates because we get to report on a lot more stuff.
At GG’s try the meze (appetizer) platter, which is almost a meal for two by itself for $17, with boreks, pilaki, two kinds of dolmas, feta cheese, eggplant salad, kisir, hummus and a stack of pita bread.
Boreks are a like a Turkish egg roll. They are deep fried pastry rolled around feta cheese and parsley. These had a crust that was so crispy, yet so greaseless that we argued over whether they had been baked or fried. Bulent solved the mystery and told us they were indeed fried.
Pilaki a delicious salad of large white lima beans with tomatoes, carrots and onions, was new to us. The beans tasted creamy without being over-cooked, and the light and flavorful dressing added just a hint of sweetness.
We had two different dolmas, both stuffed with spiced rice, one wrapped with tart grape leaves and the other cooked cabbage leaves. Elle preferred the grape leaf and Terry the cabbage.
The two nice wedges of excellent feta cheese had a salty beginning and a creamy finish. They were very flavorful without being strong or briny.
A good contrast to the cheese was a smoky eggplant salad. It had lots of texture, with onions, tomatoes and chunky eggplant pieces perked up with garlic and a touch of olive oil. It was lighter and better than most with a very fresh taste.
The highlight of this lovely mÃ©lange was the kisir (tabbouleh). This bulgur wheat salad was the best version we’ve ever tasted. It had an ingredient we couldn’t identify and had an unusual reddish tint. Once again, Bulent came to the rescue. Pomegranate juice was the answer, apparently used in some regions of Turkey, giving it a unique sweet and sour flavor.
The lowlight, however, was the hummus, which was too bland for us. We wanted more garlic, more lemon, more cumin and more salt.
Italian style appetizers include: grilled or fried calamari, fried mozzarella, eggplant parmigiana, pizzetta and tomato bruschetta.
We chose the grilled calamari at Bulent’s recommendation and it was great. Strips and tentacles were brushed with olive oil and garlic and quickly grilled, rendering the seafood tender but slightly chewy with a nice bit of flavor from the grill. It was served on Romaine lettuce, which made a fresh, tasty background.
There is also a nice selection of salads from the capressa (tomatoes and fresh mozzarella) to the NiÃ§oise and from Caesar to seafood salad with shrimp, smoked salmon and fried calamari. Gyro meat, chicken breast, shrimp or salmon can be added to any salad, making it an entrÃ©e.
Because we had sampled their Turkish fare, we decided to go Italian for our entrÃ©e. The seafood pasta had a tomatoey seafood sauce rather than seafood on top of pasta. Then again, the price was more in line with the former. In fact, on Mondays, all pasta dishes are $8. The pleasant sauce had fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and a splash of white wine with lots of chewy bits of tiny black mussels, calamari and octopus, but none of the advertised shrimp. Other pastas include the classics: Bolognese, primavera, Alfredo and lobster ravioli.
Turkish entrÃ©es include their famous homemade Gyro plate (spit roasted meat), beef koftes (seasoned grilled beef patties), or kebabs of chicken, beef, shrimp or gyro.
The less adventurous can still be happy with baby lamb chops, grilled Pacific salmon or sea bass.
We both remembered that on our last visit, GG’s side order of vegetables was especially good and so it was again. The mÃ©lange of very fresh, very good quality produce was cooked so that each was just tender enough while retaining some nice crunch.
There are five continental desserts: molten chocolate cake, crÃ¨me brulÃ©e cheesecake, tiramisu, apricot almond bar and a mixed berry tart but we were tempted by the selection of house-made Turkish delights. We had a hard time making up our minds from the three choices, so the lovely Hande brought us a sampling of all three: baklava, kadayif and sakizli muhallebi. During the winter months they are available Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes Mondays. You are probably familiar with baklava, the Middle Eastern honeyed filo/nut pastry. You may not know kadayif, shredded filo wrapped around a honey nut filling, but we would be quite surprised if you have heard of sakizli muhallebi, which is like a light vanilla pudding without the vanilla. In English it is called mastic pudding or gummy pudding. Mastic is a resin with an exquisite aroma taken from an evergreen shrub that grows prolifically in the Mediterranean. It was our favorite of the three with an interesting texture and a subtle flavor.
A nice feature at GG’s is a special kid’s menu with chicken fingers, a burger, a pita pizzetta, spaghetti Bolognese or a ham and cheese sandwich.
In addition to Monday’s $8 pasta special, Tuesday any gyro plate is $10. On Wednesday all bottles of wine are 50% off.
Thursday is Locals Night with a 20% discount after 6:30 p.m. All sandwiches including a soda are $7.95 at lunchtime Monday through Friday.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned a la Carte for 20 years and can be reached at email@example.com.