Easy On The Tomato Sauce: Mediterranean Pasta Is Here

“Comfort on a plate.” That’s chef Sayat Ozyilmaz’s description of su borek, his San Francisco restaurant’s Middle Eastern pasta dish.

“The idea of Middle Eastern pastas has never been celebrated as a cohesive concept,” says Ozyilmaz, who shares an owner-executive chef title with his wife Laura at Dalida Mediterranean restaurant. “For instance, our su borek is traditionally made, akin to a breakfast lasagna, humbly garnished with feta and parsley. It would tradionally be served from a small, one-trick kiosk, and the shop would close by 3 p.m. We’ve turned this dish completely upside down and modernized it for dinner service.”

Ozyilmaz explains the transformation.

“We open our sheets of yufka (Turkish flatbread), cook them and gingerly layer them with barrel-aged feta, parsley and mozzarella. Then we cut the pastry into slices and pan-roast them with butter and comte cheese. Currently, we are serving it with a spinach comte sauce and pine nuts. It’s basically a fluffy dough ball with a gentle crispy crust, served with a cheesy sauce.”

The menu of Dalida, which opened in June at the Presidio, offers two other Middle Eastern pastas: manti and erishte. The manti is described as “butter-roasted lamb dumplings” with garlic yogurt and tomato sauce.

Erishte is “humbly presented with walnuts, tulum cheese and a gentle butter coating,” Ozyilmaz says. “We turned this into a butter-roasted noodle with wild morels from Shasta County, favas from the Central Valley and a white wine sauce made with an unoaked California chardonnay.”

Noodle and pasta traditions in the Middle East “are very rich,” Laura Ozyilmaz says. “Crete makes a carob-flour pasta and often serves it with snails. Iran makes noodles into ash reshteh (a Persian noodle soup). On a recent trip to Nemea, Geece, we had one of our favorite fresh pasta dishes: tomato and butter stewed seafood orzo.”

Any hints for cooks at home attempting to make their first Middle Eastern pastas?

“There is a concept in Turkey that’s called yalanci manti,” Sayat says. “Instead of stuffing dumplings one by one, you can technically create the same experience with minced meat and noodles. The magic is in the sauce — the pairing of garlic yogurt and tomato sauce.”

Sayat’s mother cooked a basic kavurma — sauteed lamb and onions.

“She would then serve the meat over spaghetti with garlic yogurt and tomato sauce,” he says. “This really plays well with the idea of cooling and warming flavors of Persian cuisine — yogurt to cool and zesty tomato sauce to warm.”

Laura, who is originally from Mexico, attended Centro Culinario Ambrosia in Mexico City and continued her education at New York’s Culinary Institute of America. There, she met Sayat, who is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, and earned an economics degree from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Each worked at well-known New York restaurants before moving to San Francisco.

“We cooked at some of the best restaurants in New York and got hitched in my hometown, Acapulco,” Laura says. “For our honeymoon, we worked as stagiaires (interns working in professional kitchens) at more than 20 restaurants across Mexico and the United States, but, of all the places we visited, we picked San Francisco as our home.”

Their San Fracisco restaurant seats 120 diners and is located on the southwest corner of the Main Parade Lawn in the Presidio. The Presidio is a 1,491-acre national park adjacent to the Golden Gate Bridge that has more visitors than the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park.

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