After Hours: Kervan in Itaewon serves pricey but tasty Turkish eats
I didn’t go to Kervan, a busy Turkish restaurant in the heart of Itaewon, just for dinner.
I really went for dessert — specifically, for the promise of one of Kervan’s honey-drenched, nut-filled baklava at the end of the meal. The pastries have become somewhat well-known in the area thanks to Kervan’s tiny bakery and coffee shop, located about a block from the restaurant, where trays filled with hundreds of baklava — walnut, pistachio, carrot — sit on display in the front window and routinely stop curious passersby in their tracks.
Kervan offers an extensive Turkish menu that includes Middle Eastern standards familiar to many Americans, such as falafel and the chickpea dip humus to more exotic fare, such as yogurt- and spice-marinated chicken and Turkish kahve, or coffee. All of which complement the interesting dessert menu that includes everything from baklava to slices of dondurma, a Turkish ice cream; and blackberry- and cherry-topped yogurts.
Kervan is popular but pricey, with many dishes costing 20,000 won (about $19) or more. Still, it was packed on the Friday night we dined there, with Koreans as well as Middle Eastern expats and a few Westerners.
After a 20-minute wait to be seated, a friend and I started our meal with the nur dagi salad, described in the menu as “the most famous of Turkish salads,” a mix of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, walnuts and sumac, and topped with a drizzle of pomegranate sauce and olive oil.
It was fine but unexceptional and certainly not worth the 17,000 won we paid for it.
“This is exactly what I make at home, except it has walnuts,” my friend said, estimating that she could have spent 5,000 won to make the same dish herself.
The meal gradually got better. The next dish to arrive was a vegetarian pide (20,000 won), a flat crust topped with cheese and vegetables, something like a pizza without the tomato sauce. It was tasty but unremarkable aside from the chewy and flavorful crust that would have been at home at any good Italian restaurant. Kervan offers other pides with toppings including seasoned beef or lamb, cheeses and veggies.
The standout, and the one item that will keep me coming back to Kervan despite the cost, was the yogurt sarma, a plate of savory grape leaves stuffed with cinnamon-spiced rice, pine nuts and onion and served with a generous helping of yogurt and a drizzle of tomato sauce for dipping. The one shortfall was that bread wasn’t included with the dish; it was so good that we wiped up the remnants on the plate with our fingers.
We also ordered a glass of ayran, a homemade yogurt drink (5,000 won) and a mango lassi (6,000 won), neither of which was delivered to our table. Which was just as well, since we were so stuffed after our meal that we couldn’t even order dessert.
The menu also includes an extensive list of chicken, lamb or beef kebabs (19,000 to 39,000 won) and an array of interesting dips like ezme, a mixture of roasted bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic, parsley and olive oil.
Kervan offers lunch set menus for 9,900 won, as well as set menus for two, ranging from 52,000 to 62,000 won, that include soup, bread, meat and drinks.
Kervan doesn’t offer alcoholic beverages, making this a good choice for families who want to avoid the Itaewon party atmosphere, but does offer coffee, tea, juices and soft drinks.
This is a great place to go with friends to try some unusual dishes, although not the best place for a night out if you’re on a budget. Our three-item meal cost 69,000 won, and while filling, might be more than many servicemembers might be willing to spend for a casual meal. Still, with its laid-back but polished ambiance, this is a good bet for a night out.
Location: Take exit 3 from Itaewon station. Walk straight for about two minutes. Pass Starbucks and you’ll see Kervan on the second floor. Reservations and valet parking are available.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Menu: In English
Prices: Items vary widely in price, but expect to spend 8,000 to 15,000 won on salads and appetizers and at least 20,000 on entrees. Portions are generous enough to share.
Website: www.kervanturkey.co.kr d, a mix of chopped vegetables and walnuts topped with pomegranate sauce, olive oil and sumac, a Middle Eastern spice.