Cousins Orkun Ayrac and Emrah Gulum opened Otto Turkish Cuisine just before the turn of spring, in the tiny Federal Hill storefront space that formerly was home to Ruben’s Crepes and, briefly, Grano Pasta Bar. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood. Everything here feels fresh, and well looked after, and Otto works very well as a quiet oasis to catch up with friends over a good, solid lunch or dinner.
The sunny yellow dining space, which accommodates six at a large farmhouse table and another three at window seats, is relaxing, glamorous even, with rows of framed photographs of movie stars and Turkish celebrities.
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On our visit, Ayrac was running the place by himself, providing thoughtful table service and then retreating to the kitchen to prepare the food. Considering Otto is basically a one-man operation, a meal moves at a comfortable pace.
Otto has a small, manageable menu—about a half-dozen each of cold and hot appetizers, and about a dozen main dishes, a few of which are wraps. This is good thinking on Otto’s part. Absolutely, you should try the house versions of the classic hummus and baba ghanoush, which are impressively smooth and mellow. Also try the ezme, a piquant, vividly red spread of herbed tomatoes, onions, and peppers mixed with red-pepper paste; and the sarma, a plate of elegantly thin, tightly wrapped tender grape leaves stuffed with herbed and seasoned rice.
The main dishes focus on variations of the kebab (spelled kebap here), the international calling card of Turkish cuisine. A favorite was the adana shish kebap—a long tube of assertively seasoned ground lamb—but other options were excellent, too, including the kofte kebap—small, firm, ground-beef patties—and the shish kebaps—chicken or lamb—which are flavorful cubes of grilled meat.
Kebaps are served handsomely, with a shaped mound of white rice, pickled cabbage, and choban salad—a Turkish specialty mixture of finely chopped cucumber, tomato, pepper, and parsley.
It’s also worth noting that there are good vegetarian options here. In addition to the savory appetizers, there is a splendid kofte wrap, stuffed with bulgur wheat and seasoned with Turkish spices, and a vegetarian version of manti, pillowy white little dumplings topped with yogurt and garlic butter. Otto is BYOB and doesn’t charge a corkage fee.
Even if you don’t indulge in a drink, you’ll likely linger for a while with a cup of strong Turkish coffee and a plate of sweet and silky baklava squares.
›› Otto Turkish Cuisine 1043 S. Charles St., 443-835-4543, Sun.-Tues. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Wed. 4-11 p.m., Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight.