Pleasanton on the Mediterranean
Lokanta: Stretch out your summer with this simple yet sophisticated Turkish fare.
Photography by Jennifer Martiné
Shish kebab and sunshine are hot right now. The sultry flavors of the sun-scorched Mediterranean translate well to California summers, and Lokanta—one of several new East Bay restaurants focused on the olive-drenched goodness of Turkey and Greece—captures this culture with confidence.
The decor, stripped of tablecloths, with exposed brick and a glassy sunroom, mirrors a cuisine that is simple, bright, and indulgent. And like Lokanta’s pillow-strewn banquette, the food here—from the cast-iron skillet sporting roasted fruit and flaming halloumi cheese to the pressed house-made yogurt strewn with ripe berries and darkly roasted nuts—is a blend of the exotic and the comfortable.
Consider the chicken talas, a pastry-wrapped mixture of chicken and savory vegetables spiked with coconut curry and tart julienne apple. It’s essentially a Turkish potpie with an Indian twist. Or Lokanta’s whole bass, called branzino. Crispy, flaky, and (lightly) smothered in a summery ragout redolent of anise, it’s both rustic and racy.
And that’s just the vibe owner Dogan Ozdogan set out to create. He wants Lokanta to be a neighborhood spot where grown-ups come for a little sensory stimulation. His partner, chef Muhamet Culha—whom he worked with at the neighborhood restaurant Pera in San Francisco—recently added a late-night $5–$10 noshing menu (check out the hummus and shish kebab pita wraps), and will soon be adding cocktails to an intriguing wine list with Turkish labels.
But it’s in the earlier evening hours that one can appreciate small plates such as oven-roasted prawns in a rich tomato broth laced with fennel, feta, and a scintillating splash of ouzo. Here, grilled scallops take on a Cal-Med flair, with cilantro aioli, a spicy pomegranate glaze, and crunchy almonds. And Lokanta’s aubergine—roasted eggplant stuffed with sweet peppers—shows off the natural richness of olive oil and sun-ripened produce.
Late one afternoon, I dined alone on luscious lentil soup followed by one of the best lamb shish kebabs I’ve ever had. With a gentle breeze and the warm sun on my face, it was a joy watching downtown Pleasanton unwind. Main Street is awash with restaurants offering street-side dining, and sitting in Lokanta—with its whitewashed brick exterior and cozy outdoor tables—I could almost picture myself in Europe. In fact, Ozdogan worked at a restaurant in Belgium, where he became enchanted with the country’s narrow streets dotted with bistro tables (he also worked at the five-star Elegance Hotel in Turkey). He hopes to capture a similar feel at Lokanta by turning the restaurant’s side alley into an alfresco walkway.
My two best meals here have been when we’ve taken it slow, European style, and indulged in appetizers and dessert. (Choices include light baklava and apricots stuffed with mascarpone and rolled in pistachios, both dainty enough to find room even after a big meal.) To really stretch out the evening, create another course by sharing one of Lokanta’s refreshing salads, such as barley with grapefruit, or the giant white beans marinated in onions, parsley, and red wine vinaigrette.
Regardless of your approach, it’s a seamless weave of small-town charm, contemporary urban decor, and exotic Mediterranean cuisine. Lokanta has quickened Pleasanton’s pulse.
At a Glance
What makes it special: Upscale Turkish cuisine. The space: Relaxed and contemporary, with a lively exhibition kitchen and comfortable back sunroom. When to go: Early evening in the sunroom is particularly lovely. What to order: Lamb kebabs and branzino (whole bass). Baklava and stuffed apricots. Bonus: Turkish wines.
Contact: 443 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 223-8074, eatlokanta.com. Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, weekend brunch. Price: Appetizers $6–$12; Entrées $16–$24. Alcohol: Beer and wine (full bar expected by fall).
Dining on the sunny side
There seems to be a trend afoot. Shish Kabab Show opened last year to throngs. Then came Bosphorus, Santorini, and Lokanta, restaurants celebrating that sunny clime between the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It’s hardly a new idea, of course. Persia is the cradle of civilization, and Shiraz in San Ramon has been showing off its cuisine since 2004. And our recent trip to 34-year-old El Morocco—where an affordable multicourse meal can include belly dancing and a luscious lamb entrée—proves that the exotic has staying power.
» Bosphorus | 1512 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-5484. Lunch and dinner daily.
» El Morocco | 2203 Morello Ave., Pleasant Hill, (925) 671-0132, elmorocco.net. Dinner Tues.–Sun.
» Santorini | 105 Town and Country Dr., Danville, (925) 743-1035, santorinidanville.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
» Shiraz | 21314 San Ramon Valley Blvd., San Ramon, (925) 829-5558, shirazsanramon.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
» Shish Kabab Show | Rheem Center at 376 Park St., Moraga, (925) 388-0351, shishkababshow.com. Lunch and dinner daily.