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THE owner is adamant: Beyoglu (pronounced BAY-oh-loo) is not a Turkish restaurant, he insists. It is a meze house, a meyhane. That, he hopes, will be a satisfactory explanation to american diners stymied by Beyoglu's menu, which includes only one or two dishes that can be construed as main courses. Instead, the menu consists of 20 or so mezes, or little tastes, a snacking tradition -- the rough equivalent of Spanish tapas -- in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Perhaps no dining experience is more typically Turkish than visiting a meyhane. They can be found lining certain streets in Beyoglu, a district of Istanbul. In the meyhanes, diners spend long, exuberant evenings sharing mezes, fueled by wine or raki, an anise-flavored spirit, and the pleasing company of friends. It's easy to see why meyhanes are popular. In the summer heat, I can't think of a more attractive meal than several of Beyoglu's superb mezes and a glass or two of wine in its airy second-floor dining room, which overlooks the corner of Third Avenue and 81st Street. It's a casual system, even if it does occasionally require a word or two of explanation from the owner, Orhan Yegen, who takes his educational duties seriously. You simply order a few mezes. If you're still hungry, order a few more. Many of the selections are familiar, yet deliciously executed, like creamy hummus ($4.50), which balances its chickpea and tahini flavors, and exceptional tabbouleh ($3.75), heavy on the bulgur and hot pepper and light on parsley and lemon juice. There's lots of parsley in the refreshing shepherd's salad ($3.50), but watch out for the slender hot peppers, almost imperceptible among the cubed cucumbers and tomatoes. Taken in a nibble, the peppers offer a welcome piquancy; taken unexpectedly in a gulp, they are lip blistering. Smooth patlican salatasi ($3.75), a mashed eggplant salad, has the creamy, smoky flavor of good baba ghanouj. In patlican domates soslu ($3.75), cubed eggplant is pan-fried and then tossed with sautéed tomatoes and garlic until all the ingredients seem to meld together. Cacik ($3.75), a dip made of thick yogurt laced with mint and cucumber, offers a cooling counterpoint to briny taramasalata ($3.75), carp roe whipped with olive oil and lemon juice. I do wish Beyoglu offered better bread to go with the dips and spreads than the crusty peasant loaf, which never seems as fresh as it ought to be. Narrow cylinders of salty feta wrapped in crisp phyllo ($4.50) are delectable treats, and so are rounds of Turkish beef salami ($4.50), sizzled briefly on the grill until practically oozing with garlic and cumin. Octopus marinated in olive oil and vinegar ($5.50) is as tender and flavorful as can be, and I wouldn't miss little sardines ($5) bathed in olive oil and salt. As good as these dishes are, the highlights for me included a lovely, pastoral soup of creamy yogurt, rice and mint ($4.50) and crisp little cubes of pan-fried calf's liver ($4.50), served with red onions dusted with cumin. I would skip the lackluster steamed shrimp ($6) and soft, tasteless lumps of smoked mackerel ($7). Pride of place on the menu is reserved for doner kebab ($12.50). It is a full plate of food, which arrives, if you've ordered it, after the mezes have been cleared. The lamb-and-beef slices, shaved from a vertical spit, are tasty, but somewhat dry. Beyoglu has a modest wine list, but it offers some good choices, like a tangy Babich sauvignon blanc ($24) from New Zealand, which stands up to most of these dishes. Of the small selection of desserts, my favorite is the beautifully textured halvah ($5), with a nutlike flavor as welcome as a desert breeze. Mr. Yegen, the owner, has made something of a career of adamant stances. His last place, Kebabi Musiki, in Deer Park, N.Y., was not a Turkish restaurant, he asserted, but a kebab house. In the mid-90's, he used to insist that Deniz, his restaurant on East 57th Street, was not a Turkish restaurant but one that served Mediterranean seafood. Beyoglu may not be a Turkish restaurant, either, but it's no doubt a Turkish delight.

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