It was the realization of a dream for Diyar owner Welat Yuksel, a Kurd who bought his first restaurant, San Francisco's Bocce Cafe, when he moved to the U.S. in 1981. But while Bocce was already a thriving business when he acquired it, Yuksel began with a blank canvas for Diyar.
He removed the suspended ceiling to open up a spacious interior, now dressed in golden hues of the Tuscan style. Painted faux columns ascend to a row of windows installed along the roofline, providing ambient interior light. An enormous wine rack dominates an entire wall, and the kitchen opens onto the large dining room, involving the cooks in the presentation.
And while Yuksel hired just enough cooks to avoid spoiling the broth (the food we sampled was uniformly tasty), it's hard to know where exactly this broth hails from: Diyar's menu boasts a dazzling jumble of Mediterranean, Italian and Kurdish dishes.
Undeterred, we ordered the mezze platter ($14) and were glad we did. Our waiter hauled over a large, ornate plate brimming with various delicacies: stacked tomato and mozzarella slices dribbled with olive oil and topped with mint leaf, fried calamari so tender that it melted in our mouths, spicy and sweet roasted bell pepper, a scoop of hummus, baby artichokes, grilled veggies and dolma served with a yogurt dipping sauce. Parties of four to six are advised to order this selection — it's a fantastic bargain.
A bed of whole-leaf aromatic arugula provided the staging for a circle of thick and perfectly ripe avocado slices, a handful of halved cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and crumbled goat cheese in our arugula salad ($8.50). We also tried the Caesar salad ($6), which featured chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with crunchy croutons in a very mild dressing, sans anchovies.
Everyone in our party thoroughly enjoyed penne a la vodka ($10.95): chunks of salmon tossed with basil and toothy penne in this decadent pink cream sauce, which revealed only a tease of vodka's bite.
Our table had a mixed reaction to the stuffed eggplant ($10.50). It arrived split open, stuffed with ground beef and chopped onion, baked in a tomato sauce, and served with bell peppers, sliced tomatoes and sour cream on the side. I enjoyed its Mediterranean accents, although others thought it was a bit bland.
However, the meftune ($10.50) was a unanimous hit. Lamb literally falling off the bone provided the centerpiece for this hearty Kurdish stew, which also featured eggplant, green peppers and tomatoes seasoned with plenty of garlic and sumac slow cooked in a thick sauce. Served with sticky rice on the side, this delightfully sour dish was as filling as it was satisfying.
Another unusual selection caught our eye — prawn pizza ($10.95), which lived up to its description. The handful of large prawns circling the individual-sized pie seemed somewhat incompatible with the rest of the pizza's ingredients, although the sliced tomato and basil tasted very fresh. We had some trouble with the sauce, too, which was thin and runny — dripping off of each slice — perhaps due to moisture released from the tomato while baking in the oven.
We concluded our visit with a couple of tempting desserts. The chocolate tart ($5) was sweet and crunchy, with almond slices baked onto its surface. It came topped with whipped cream, strawberry slices, dribbled chocolate and caramel sauces with cocoa sprinkled over all. We also sampled the tiramisu ($5.50), with its layers of cream and cake drenched in a strong coffee liqueur, and topped with strips of chocolate.
And then there's the wine — a whole wall of it. As befits a wine bar, the selection is elaborate, and requires the sort of time and expertise available at an organized wine tasting. In fact, Yuksel said he plans to begin bi-weekly wine tastings in the near future, which will be a welcome addition to the downtown scene. Until then, Diyar remains not quite bistro and not quite wine bar.
Diyar's food is great and its decor attractive. Despite these assets, it suffers from a slight identity problem as it continues to put down roots on competitive Castro Street. It might help if the menu focused on a single cuisine, but then we'd be robbed of the opportunity to eat pizza, dolmas and meftune in a single meal.
Diyar Bistro & Wine Bar
300 Castro St., Mountain View
Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sat.-Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Party and banquet facilities: no
Outdoor dining: yes
Parking: city lots
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: good