Little Turkish Delight: Graham Hicks' Weekly Dish review of Sofra Restaurant originally published in the Edmonton Sun, March 7, 2012
After a string of superlative Edmonton dining spot reviews, of East, Corso 32, Culina Mill Creek and Cafe Amore, the Weekly Dish has run into a major disappointment.
Sofra, the much-praised, cute but elegant Turkish restaurant just south of MacEwan University, is not what it is cracked up to be.
On a Saturday, before the 50-seat restaurant had filled, service was slow and somewhat shoddy.
The food was OK, but by no means lip-smacking. The bill reflected champagne prices ($25 to $30 for the fish/meat entrees) for beer food.
I was surprised, given this restaurant’s good reputation, from both word-of-mouth and on the Urban Spoon website.
Sofra sits in a storefront unit within one of the city’s first downtown condo complexes, on 106 Street south of 104 Avenue.
It’s actually a dull building, but to walk into Sofra is to be transported into a pleasant, lofty, bi-level bistro — with hardwood floors, a burnt apricot colour scheme and a balcony with private dining spaces.
In the middle, guarding the stairs to basement washrooms, is a dramatic Trojan Horse-like sculpture.
How sad that what came to our table was up to neither Sofra’s reputation nor its ambience.
For four, we ordered the “Sultan’s Sofrasi” (sofrasi being a Turkish term for a dining table) — a $75 full-meal deal suggested for two, but, with augmentation, fine for the four of us.
In the multi-course offering came yaprak sarma (similar to Greek dolmades), hummus and pita bread, house greens and bulghur (a cooked grain) pilaf, a mixed grill sampler of chicken and lamb kebabs, beef meatballs and rack of lamb. Finally, for dessert, four baklava squares.
My complaint is not with what was, but what could have been.
There was no disputing the quality of ingredients. The greens were fresh, the hummus fresh-made, the meat obviously of premium quality.
But why such blandness from an ethnic cuisine that ought to burst with unusual flavours?
Yes, the hummus was fresh — but rather bland.
The pita lived up to Sofra’s reputation for coming straight from oven to table. Good, but not sensational.
The meats were good, but suffered from timidity of taste. If you chewed slowly and considered carefully, Turkish flavours — citrus, nuts, garlic, parsley — could be found, but deeply buried and only in hints. The rack of lamb was especially disappointing. It should have been a showcase, but was an afterthought.
There was no presentation, no garnishes, just meat on a platter with a slice or two of roasted vegetables and a puddle of yogurt and cucumber cacik sauce.
The house salad was little more than lettuce piled on a dish alongside a pilaf, a non-descript mound of lukewarm bulghur. Again, there wasn’t the least interest in presentation.
Our last main dish fared better: A shrimp casserole (Karides Guvec) came in a colourful bowl, was hot, generous on the shrimp and nicely infused with near-Eastern flavours.
Desserts? Once again, a good, but not great, baklava, and Firin Sutlack, a creamy rice pudding with buttermilk, cooked and then cooled. Tasty, but white pudding in a white bowl does not present well.
Somewhere along the line, Sofra has become lazy.
The kitchen is putting out dishes needing much more zing, with no presentation whatsoever.
Our waitress was pleasant, but indifferent. No attempt was made to explain the menu or cuisine. Cutlery would be removed with one course, not replaced for the next. The wait between dinner and dessert was distressingly long.
Sofra, pull up your socks before it’s too late.
108 – 10345 106 St.
780 423 3044
Food: 2.5 of 5
Ambience: 4 of 5
Service: 2 of 5
Dinner for two, basic, $70; loaded $100.