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606 Kinderkamack Road
River Edge, Bergen County, New Jersey

By The Artful Diner
Special to NJ.Com
October 13, 2008


At one time situated in the gargantuan Huffman Koos Shopping Center, chef/proprietor Samuyel Aydin's Babylon subsequently lost its lease and had to search for new quarters. At the time, of course, this event seemed a hardship... but it has subsequently turned out to be a blessing.

The old Huffman Koos location -- ensconced between the River Edge Deli and H & R Block -- was utilitarian and completely nondescript. The present digs, sporting 22 glass-topped tables, crisp white napery, and a warm contemporary décor enhanced with Middle Eastern accents, is infinitely more inviting. The new location also came with a liquor license, which Mr. Aydin subsequently sold (the restaurant is now BYOB); there is, however, an attached deli-bakery.

But the cuisine -- classic Turkish/Middle Eastern favorites and innovative adaptations bolstered by ample portions -- has remained a crowd-pleasing constant...

...And you begin with a basket of pide, addictive slices of Turkish flatbread that may be enjoyed au naturel or with butter. I would suggest, however, that this delicacy's ultimate destiny lies in conjunction with either the baba ghanoush (mashed roasted eggplant seasoned with fresh garlic, sesame paste, lemon juice, cumin, and parsley) or hummus (mashed chickpeas blended with fresh garlic, sesame paste, and herbs), both of which allow you to dip right in or slather away.

The coban salatesi, shepherd salad (available in large or small portion), is also an excellent starter. The combo of plum tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and parsley is coarsely chopped and then tossed with a light and engaging vinaigrette, preparing the palate for the good things to come.

The patlican soslu, chopped morsels of eggplant combined with tomatoes, green peppers, and garlic in a zesty tomato sauce, is pure delight; currants give an ingratiating touch of sweetness to the yaprak dolma, traditional stuffed grape leaves; and the falafel, patties of fresh ground chickpeas, are companioned by a zesty tahini dressing.

But among the appetizers, my absolute favorite still remains the arnavut cigeri, sautéed calf's liver. I know that liver is something of an acquired taste, but if you are at all inclined, this is definitely the place to give it a try. The morsels of organ meat are marvelously tender and served up with onion and parsley. It's difficult to think of liver as addictive... but the rendition proffered here surely leaves one crying for more.

Among the entrées, kebabs -- skewered portions of meat, fish, or fowl that have been marinated and then grilled -- are exceedingly popular... and all are prepared to perfection. The cubed lamb is moist and succulent, ditto the chicken. Variations on the theme include the "adana," chopped lamb or chicken spruced up with red bell pepper and generous seasonings of garlic and paprika.

Yes, the aforementioned are very, very good... But my nod still goes to the kebabs jazzed up with yogurt. Sautéed buttered bread is slathered with yogurt and then topped with either morsels of chopped chicken or lamb patties. The result is a savory point/counterpoint between the richness of the butter and the silky tanginess of the yogurt. And a delicious gyro with tomato sauce is embellished in precisely the same manner.

If you find it impossible to make up your mind, you can always opt for the combination plate, which, in addition to half portions of adana, chicken shish, and shish-kebab, also comes with a single moist and meaty lamb chop. Definitely not for the faint of appetite. And it should be noted that all entrées are accompanied by generous portions of nicely seasoned bulgur wheat and rice pilaf.

Seafood selections also have a great deal to offer. Shrimp, for example, may be simply grilled and accompanied to table by a green salad embellished with slices of plum tomato; or, as a house specialty, sautéed with garlic. This latter presentation incorporates mushrooms, peppers, tomato sauce, and topping of mozzarella cheese. Grilled fish possibilities include salmon, whiting, and striped bass.

Desserts are straightforward but seductive. The baklava is benchmark, crisp and flaky, exhibiting just the proper degree of sweetness. And the kazandibi, "bottom of the pan," is a light, luscious custard reminiscent of a Spanish flan.

The Bottom Line: This friendly neighborhood restaurant affords an extremely welcome alternative to the frenetic ambiance, questionable service, and cookie-cutter cuisine usually encountered at the run-of-the-mill chain chophouses that seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate in this bustling section of Bergen County. The food is impeccably fresh, the atmosphere is relaxed, the portions are prodigious, and the price is right... Just don't forget to BYOB.

Cuisine: Mediterranean/Turkish
Hours: Mon - Thurs, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 11:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m.; Sun, 12:00 noon - 10:00 p.m.
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Attire: Casual
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Onsite
Alcohol: BYOB
Price: Appetizers: $7.95 - 10.95; Entrées: $13.95 - $24.95
Handicapped Accessible: Yes

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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