Turkey is a land where intriguing conversations and warm hospitality reign supreme, and a couple who grew up with that way of life have been sharing it with Rocklin through cuisine. Now, the owners of Anatolian Table say surviving the Recession and expanding into Sacramento has given them a larger vision — a plan to open a lively center for Turkish culture in the region.
The story of Anatolian Table started 20 years ago in London, when Erol Hazar met his future wife, Tugce, while working at a restaurant. Both Erol and Tugce were raised in Turkey, and Tugce had just graduated from a four-year culinary institute in her homeland. Tugce had formal training in cuisine, but her main passion for cooking remained forever linked to timeless Turkish recipes passed down from the women in her family.
In 2004, the Hazars made their first visit to the United States, eagerly touring the Sacramento region and the Bay Area. They soon had a dream of bringing a Turkish touch to the area through Tugce’s family cooking legacy. After ten more scouting trips from London, they settled on opening a restaurant location at the Blue Oaks Marketplace.
“Rocklin was one of the fastest growing places at that time,” Erol remembered. “The schools were good for our kids. It was just coming up really fast.”
Walking into Anatolian Table, customers are met with an array of Old World ornaments that hint to the bazaars of Istanbul. The dining room’s rich red walls are accented by oriental carpets, eastern ceramics and oil paintings of Turkish landscapes. Glass mosaic lamps with jeweled hues dangle over the tables. The far side of the room is highlighted by a deep, sea blue corner of exotic plates.
“My wife handles all the décor,” Erol said, laughing. “Everything you see walking in comes from her.”
And Tugce’s ideas also extend directly to Anatolian Table’s food. She and her husband describe Turkish food as a healthy amalgam of Mediterranean influences, with less hot spices than dishes from Persia but more herbs and accentuations than plates from Greece. The food is cooked in a clean, open kitchen that customers can see into. Tugce and her prep cooks use fresh local produce and an arsenal of spices imported directly from Turkey.
One popular appetizer on the menu is the spicy humus, a stir of subtle flavors with a smoky aroma and distinctly warm flick on the bloom of its aftertaste. The mixture is served with soft, hand-baked bread. Another sought-after appetizer is the Sigara Boregi, a pan fried, phyllo wrapped pastry stuffed with feta cheese, which strikes the palate with a crisp flakiness covering a slight salty tinge and smooth sour note in the center.
The main courses at Anatolian Table have unique arrangements. One favorite, Yogurt Adonai, is a plate of tender, savory lamb with balanced spices that are earthy and tepid, popping over a cool tang from the mote of yogurt the meat sits in. Another local favorite is Chicken Kabob, which Anatolian Table offers as big, plump cubes of juicy white meat with a rough, butter-broiled taste seared on the edges.
The restaurant’s approach to dessert involves serving Balklava with a spoonful of whip cream and raspberry sauce. While there are thousands of Balklava recipes from Tehran to Athens, Tugce’s Turkish take on the delicacy is heavy on the sticky sweetness and thin layers of melted honey.
“I love to cook, and I have ever since I was a child,” said Tugce. “I cook in the traditional way that I learned from my mother.”
And that approach has earned Anatolian Table consistently high marks from California food critics. In 2013, the Hazars opened a second location in the competitive culinary battleground of Mid Town Sacramento. They started small, opening a barebones bistro that features their mainstay courses. Now, Erol shared that he and his wife are broadening their horizons.
“We survived during the Recession in Rocklin, even though it meant both of us sometimes working 15 or 16 hours a day,” he recalled. “Now our second location has made it through the hardest time — the first year of getting established. What we hope to do is move the Sacramento location into a much bigger space that can also be a Turkish market and a Turkish center for the entire region. It will be a place where people share and experience all of the aspects of our culture.”
He added, “We try to show what Turkey is like through what we do here.”