Pleasanton’s Lokanta is both simple and satisfyingugurbilgili_e81cl9k2
A celebration of Mediterranean flavors, the branzino arrived filleted, crisped and propped on an herbed medley of summer vegetables. But it was the coulis, a light, vibrant puree of ripe tomatoes spiked with ouzo, that set the fish apart. Like Lokanta’s infusion of clove into poached Turkish apricots (the fruit, stuffed with mascarpone and rolled in pistachios for dessert, is $7) the ouzo delivered a haunting, yet almost indiscernible, note.
Lokanta’s thoughtful and understated decor casts a similar spell. I had eaten in the previous incarnations of this space several times, including when it was Agora Bistro, but had never felt completely at ease. The new owners whitewashed the red brick walls, installed black granite tables and Edison lighting, unveiled the kitchen and concealed the restrooms to create a modern restaurant, rustic yet welcoming.
The waiters, too, are charming. Our servers on three visits each had a distinctive approach, but they were all attentive and personable, exuding an irrepressible joie de vivre. In short, Lokanta, a Turkish word for neighborhood bistro, is a concept that holds together well.
Dogan Ozdogan and his partner and chef, Muhammet Culha, who met while working at Pera in Potrero Hill, originally wanted to open a restaurant in San Francisco. Yet when they stumbled upon the soon-to-close Agora Bistro in Pleasanton, the pair started dining in the small town several times a week and realized that their Turkish-accented concept could fit.
Ozdogan also noticed that Pleasanton needed an adult hangout, so he expanded Agora’s bar (he’s applying for a full liquor license) in the skylight-framed back dining room. It’s a beautiful and comfortable space, particularly so if you score the back corner banquette.
One night we did, and dined among pillows on luscious grilled scallops with a tart pomegranate glaze and crunchy almonds ($13); humble zucchini cakes with tzatziki ($8); mild, yet satisfying, moussaka ($18); and a nicely prepared, skewered hanger steak with fingerling potatoes and fusty chard ($19).
Many of the dishes are ones Culha cooked at Pera, including chicken Talas ($18), a phyllo-wrapped pie atop coconut curry with tart julienned apples and sweet currants.
Our first appetizer that night, however, fizzled. The flaming halloumi cheese ($9) was totally overwhelmed by the brandy, so we sent it back.
Some minor faults
We found small faults on other visits as well. Our fried calamari was pricey ($12) yet dull, and an arugula salad with apricots, walnuts and gorgonzola was interesting but dry.
Not so Lokanta’s giant creamy white beans marinated in olive oil and sumac ($9); moist and zesty barley salad ($9); and rich aubergine – baked and stuffed eggplant topped with feta ($9).
Try these with a glass of dry Turkish white wine from Kavaklidere ($9), or another exotic option from the Refreshing Whites section of Lokanta’s mostly Napa but ever-evolving wine list.
My most recent and favorite meal here embodied the bare-table philosophy that Ozdogan embraced once he noticed that tablecloths adorned almost every Pleasanton restaurant he visited.
I started with red lentil soup laced with warm spice, just thick enough to coat a spoon. Then I dug into the lamb shish kebab ($18), the moist leg meat’s herbed juices flowing into a pyramid of nutty rice and colorful grilled peppers. To finish: Culha’s soft and crunchy, finger-licking-good baklava ($7).
Thankfully, despite no tablecloths, Lokanta still offers cloth napkins for sticky fingers.
443 Main St. (near West Neal Street), Pleasanton; (925) 223-8074. eatlokanta.com.
Lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Free parking lot.
|Overall||Rating: TWO STARS||||Atmosphere||Rating: TWO AND A HALF STARS|
|Food||Rating: TWO STARS||||Prices||$$$|
|Service||Rating: TWO STARS||||Noise Rating||Noise Rating: TWO BELLS|
$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25
ONE BELL = Pleasantly quiet (less than 65 decibels); TWO BELLS = Can talk easily (65-70); THREE BELLS = Talking normally gets difficult (70-75); FOUR BELLS = Can talk only in raised voices (75-80); BOMB = Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
Prices are based on main courses. When entrees fall between these categories, the prices of appetizers help determine the dollar ratings. Chronicle critics make every attempt to remain anonymous. All meals are paid for by The Chronicle. Star ratings are based on a minimum of three visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit.
Reviewers: Michael Bauer (M.B.), Nicholas Boer (N.B.), Tara Duggan (T.D.), Mandy Erickson (M.E.), Amanda Gold (A.G.), Allen Matthews (A.M.), Miriam Morgan (M.M.), Carol Ness (C.N.) and Carey Sweet (C.S.)