A very good friend (and frequent dinner date) lived on 17th St. and P St. for a long time before moving to New York earlier this year. At least once a month we would meet at her house with no real dinner plan, walk out the front door and…stand. There were plenty of restaurants on 17th St., but none of them ever really struck us as compelling. It was all very poetic – restaurants, restaurants everywhere but not a bite to eat. There was Komi (too expensive), Sushi Taro (too long of a wait), and the slew of restaurant slash bar establishments that I could never really tell apart. Enter Agora to solve all my problems.
Opened earlier this year, Agora is the third incarnation of the restaurant space for owner Latif Guler, who has turned to his native Turkey for inspiration after unsuccessful runs as a French restaurant (Le Pigelle) and bar (Jack’s). Well, as they say, third time’s a charm. Guler has finally hit his stride with Agora, and I’m loving it. To explain to you how much I love it, you first should know about my disdain for all things tapas. I get so annoyed with the tiny tiny plates and the normal sized prices, that I practically go apoplectic when my friends want to try another “small plates” restaurant. Well, there’s an exception to every rule I guess, because Agora’s dinner menu is small plates-heavy and I’ve got no problem with it.
The menu is broken down by category (alas, a small plates menu calling card), and I implore you not to pass up the first section – spreads. The spread to beat all the others is without a doubt the taromasalata, a creamy spread made from cured roe. Though I like to say it’s a bit like lox spread on a bagel, the silky smooth dip slathered on the courtesy pita bread puts even my favorite Jewish delis to shame. The labneh (strained yogurt, diced apples and walnuts) is also a personal favorite of mine, as are…all the others. Seriously, don’t pass up the spreads.
Then we get to the hot and cold mezes. And again, it’s tough to choose my favorites. I love good octopus and Agora’s version does not disappoint. I also can’t pass up the Ottoman Rice (which is the perfect fall side dish), or the borek, since phyllo-wrapped goat cheese is a genius idea on par with the printing press and peanut butter M&Ms. And I can go on and on – the manti, the kofte, the kibbeh and the adana kebap– it’s the food I wish I knew how to cook. Also on the menu is the traditional pide, which for lack of a better word is Turkish pizza made with flatbread. On a recent trip to Turkey with a less-than-adventurous eater friend, I’m positive that his discovery of pide was the one thing that kept him from starving to death. Agora offers a few with various toppings, though I recommend any that have Kasar cheese – a Turkish white cheese seemingly on everything in the motherland.
Unlike a lot of restaurants, Agora at lunch is completely different from Agora at dinner. The menu highlights some of the more popular meze from dinner, but the bulk of the dishes are odes to Turkish street food. Expect falafel in pita, doner and a kofte wraps. All the things I wished my cafeteria served instead of grilled cheese and questionable salads.
And it’s not just food at Agora. They have an extensive wine menu featuring Turkish and Greek wines, as well as six kinds of raki, which I find deadly but our very own Jenn (much more civilized than me) found to be pretty great. And while we have the last few days of great weather, take advantage of Agora’s expansive covered patio and dine al fresco. That is how the Turks do it, after all.
Agora is located at 1527 17th St. NW. The closest Metro stop is Dupont Circle (Red Line). For more information, call 202-332-6767.