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Turkish delights at Petaluma’s Real Doner

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Friends keep talking about how much they like Real Döner, and every time we drive down Petaluma Boulevard South and see the sign pointing to it we remark that we should give it a try soon.

Then someone brought a variety of their wraps to a potluck event recently, and we were amazed at how good they were, so we made a plan to check out Real Döner. Now we are just sad that we waited so long, because this restaurant will definitely go our on list of restaurants to visit regularly.

One of my personal criteria for eating out, rather than cooking myself, is when there are items on the menu that are a lot of trouble to make. Since trying the Turkish cuisine at Real Döner, I see that their menu is full of exactly those kinds of dishes — things that are delicious, but are a lot of work to make at home. Another aspect that always keeps me coming back is when I see there is real value for my dollar. Clearly that is the case here.

The restaurant very unprepossessing and could use a serious makeover in terms of the interior, but that is not what I go to a restaurant for. When the food is good, and I can get it in a reasonable manner, and the prices are affordable, I am happy. If you are looking for lovely surroundings, don’t bother coming to this hole-in-the-wall style café.

If you haven’t been to Real Döner (pronounced “reel dough-naire,” Turkish for meat rotisserie), you could do what we did and order a couple of the combo plates. Between the appetizer combo plate ($12.95) and the Real Döner combo plate ($19.95) there was enough for all three of us to enjoy a hearty meal, and we were not even able to finish it all.

The appetizer combo included excellent hummus made traditionally of chickpeas, tahini, a tiny bit of garlic, lemon juice and olive oil; the excellent eggplant salad, a combination of char-broiled chunks of eggplant, green and red bell peppers in an olive oil vinaigrette; Baba Ganoush, which is char-broiled eggplant puree with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil; pink sultan which is plain yogurt with red cabbage and garlic, and which tastes like a lot more than that.

Also included in the same combo are tabouli made traditionally with bulgur wheat, lots of chopped parsley, tomatoes, onion and lemon juice, dressed with olive oil; potato salad with tomatoes and red onion, green and red bell peppers; Turkish tabouli which is similar to the traditional tabouli but made with more bulgur, less parsley and the addition of pomegranate paste and Turkish pepper paste; and one dolma — a grape leaf stuffed with rice, parsley, mint and olive oil.

The appetizer combo was served with a basket of warm pita bread, pillowy and cut into pieces for easy scooping of the various dips on the platter.

This combo platter would make a lovely meal for a vegan, or could be a nice thing to pick up to-go to take to a party, especially if you knew there would be some people with special dietary restrictions in attendance.

The items included in the entrée combo included a chicken shish-kebab, which was perfectly cooked — still juicy and not dry like some chicken breast kebabs can be. A lamb shish-kebab also was perfectly cooked, a lovely medium well, still lightly pink and juicy inside.

The kofte-kebab is a ground beef and lamb patty that is seasoned and then grilled. It was my least favorite of the meat dishes, although there was nothing wrong with it. The “döner” on offer are two different kinds of seasoned meats that are stacked on a skewer and then cooked while they spin in front of the heat source. The meat is then carved off into thin slices, and served on the platter, or are available in a wrap.

There are two differing kinds of döner meat — chicken is one type, and the other kind is a combination of beef and lamb on the same skewer. Some people call this kind of meat preparation gyros, so perhaps that name is useful for you in imagining what you will be eating. For the combo we had, all the meats are served on top of rice, alongside salad, and there is a large ramekin of a tasty yogurt-based sauce as well. This platter is also served with their homemade bread.

We also tried a couple of traditional Turkish coffees, and a two of their desserts including the housemade pistachio baklava ($3.95 for two pieces) which was excellent — not too sweet, and we really loved the use of pistachios instead of the more traditional walnuts. The Revani ($4.95), a baked semolina cake soaked in syrup, was also delicious.

On a second visit we tried the Cigarette Borek ($6.95) which were an order of six crispy wrapped cheese sticks, each one about seven-inches long, served with a yogurt-based dip, and the Falafel plate, consisting of five large ovals of homemade falafel served over a mix of various kinds of salads and vegetables, with hummus and a tahini-based sauce.

We were not crazy about the tahini sauce, but that could just be a matter of personal taste, so we used up the rest of the yogurt sauce that came with the borek, and it was great. This dish was served with a basket of warm pillows of pita bread.

I spoke with Oktay Gencsoy who is their chef of nearly seven years, and who was a genial host as well. He told me that the owner, Ozkan Appaydin, was in Turkey for the past several months, and the owner’s cousin was standing in for him while he was back home. Clearly Oktay, the chef, is much more than the chef, as he was doing a little bit of everything, and representing the restaurant very well.

The link from Google to their menu is broken, and I hope they will fix that soon. I had to get to their website through Yelp, which does have the correct link. I mentioned this to Oktay on our second visit, and he assured me that the owner would take care of it as soon as possible.