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Agora (Formerly Jack's) on 17th Street in East Dupont - Chef Rasit Gulsen Steps In For a Turkish Facelift


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Strange but true: The inspiration for the restaurant's name is a friend's tree-obsessed German shepherd named Jack. Kerschbaumer once saw the dog shaking a trunk "10 times his size" and admired his enthusiasm and tenacity, qualities he wants to emulate at Jack's.

Anyone eager to eat at a restaurant named for a tree-humping dog? wacko.gif

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Dave, what's the source on that quote (presuming that there are more details therein).

Sietsema's Weekly Dish, as linked by Waitman above. I'd originally posted in the "Le Pigalle CLOSED" thread, which had the link, then Don plucked me out and shook the snow globe and spun the playing field around on me again.

Pardon me while I deal with my seasickness ...

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I'm eager to know what enthusiastic and tenacious food tastes like.

Not sure about enthusiasm, but the beef I bought in Taiwan during my student days two decades ago was certainly "tenacious." Can't really remember what it tasted like, but my teeth hurt for a week ...

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Sun Foods was next door and survived into the Boss Shepherd's era. It's now a coffee shop (?). Boss Shepherd's was the Highs.

There's something wrong there, but I'm not sure what. I moved into that 'hood in August of 1981. Boss Shepherd's certainly wasn't there then, and not for several years. What was in that row was a liquor store, the name of which I forget, and Sun Foods. I really think that Sun Foods was the space that became Boss Shepherd's, and the coffee shop (?) was the liquor store. There was no High's there in 1981; at least, I really don't think there was. However, I could be wrong and it was the liquor store that became Boss Shepherd's. I remember the old guy who owned the liquor store died, and two younger guys bought it, but then they bought Cairo Liquor and closed the other store. Could the liquor store have been turned into a High's and then into Boss Shepherd's all in the last four months of 1981? I don't think so. Alas, as much information as you can find on the Web today, this is the sort of thing that you can't. Luckily, it has virtually no importance whatever.

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Tried out Jack's last night with a couple of friends, one of which had high hopes. Talk about failure to deliver. I don't think I've had food that bad in, well, I don't really remember. Bad as in I left wondering what I was going to eat for dinner when I got home...

For starters, we had the Spinach-Artichoke Dip, the Calamari w/ Tartar Sauce, and the Tomato Soup. The Spinach-Artichoke Dip came out mouth-burning hot, and honestly, I've had better at Fridays (genetically engineered to taste good glop) - this pretty much just tasted hot. The calamari tasted of the bought-frozen-and-breaded variety, though the ringlets were very tender - the breading and tartar were blah. The tomato soup was the one high-point of the entire meal. Actually had some complexity to it with some spice and smokey depth of flavor, and a nice thick-but-not-too-thick consistency. This soup gave us false hope for the rest of the meal.

For mains, we had the Lamb Shank ( :lol: ) and the Chicken Stuffed with Goat Cheese w/ Spinach on the side. This was quite possibly the biggest leg of lamb that any of us had ever seen on a plate - it was caveman style big. You know those turkey legs you can get at ballgames and at Six Flags type places? That's what we're talking about here. And boy, it tasted like a caveman might have procured it for us milleniums ago. Though it was tender, it was completely devoid of moisture, and just tasted to me like it'd been run-over a few times. Ew. This was Baaad lamb ( :unsure: ). It sat atop some possibly saffron inspired risotto, and to me this just tasted like bulbous glop with the not-tasty lamb sauce on top. As for the chicken, no clue how it was cooked but it was dryand difficult to cut. The goat cheese filling tasted like it came out of a tube and was overpowering, and the mushroom-esque sauce that covered it had a taste that pretty much was summed up as way too salty. The spinach on the side tasted burnt and not good. I had one bite of this and promptly put down my fork.

Now, as you can imagine, we did not chance dessert. I generally do not like writing reviews like this because I do take to heart the fact that this place is someone's livelihood - but as my friend pointed out, when we spend money on a restaurant, that's our livelihood too. I won't be going back here unless someone else goes first and reports some major changes or that there is an edible dish or two here that we didn't try.

But I will say one more good thing for Jack's - they stock Kronenbourg 1664, and I like that. Also, they had quite a large selection of flavored liquors which can be good for some people.

So, IMHO, if you find yourself at Jack's, do yourself a favor and get a 1664 and a bowl of tomato soup.

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Tried out Jack's last night with a couple of friends, one of which had high hopes. Talk about failure to deliver. I don't think I've had food that bad in, well, I don't really remember. Bad as in I left wondering what I was going to eat for dinner when I got home...

Thanks for the early report. The change over did happen pretty quickly and I am not surprised by your comments.

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That's funny.

I ate there on Saturday night with a group of friends, and we had a good meal. Service was spotty, but that is understandable being as it was their first night open to the public!

At any rate, two friends had the flank steak - which was very good. Moist, pink on the inside and served with sauteed spinach that was...not burnt (granted, it is kind of hard to f*ck up spinach!). Fries were clearly from a bag, but they were crispy and piping hot.

I had the rockfish with white wine sauce and crabmeat, and I was suprised at how good it was. The sauce was a little too rich for my tastes, but the fish was cooked perfectly and the crabmeat didn't smell fishy at all. I am often wary of ordering crab-anything because I am afraid that it may smell like Lindsay Lo...nevermind. My entree was also served with yawn-worthy spinach - I'm hoping that as the kitchen at Jacks starts to hit their stride, they will offer more diverse and exciting veggie side dishes.

Another friend had the chicken with goat cheese that you mention. It looked a little gloppy. Not the thing that I would order!

I'm definitely going to be back for the flank steak, and to check out their brunch. At first glance, they seem to be a significant step up from previous tenants in that space and I hope that they are able to provide the neighborhood with a worthy tater-tot-less dining option in addition to Hank's.

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I tried the lamb shank too. It was quite good though the sauce was a little too sweet and syrupy for my tastes. Also, the shank could have been trimmed a little better as there was a lot of stringy fat wrapped around much of the outside of the shank. The risotto underneath had perfect texture but not much flavor. I started with the onion soup. The cheese was bubbled and brown just right, but the broth underneath was barely warm. The croutons held up well without becoming too soggy.

I sat at the bar where service was inattentive. The place wasn’t very busy, but the two bartenders were occupied in conversation with a couple of small groups of customers the entire time. Made for a slow meal.

Otherwise, the place ain’t bad. The prices are reasonable—the lamb was one of the pricier entrees at $16. I’ll probably go back in a couple of months and give them another try.

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Jack's is basically Peppers without the coke-dealers-a decent hamburger joint for some cocktails. I found the Jack Daniel's motif a bit overpowering, esp. since the place is supposedly named after the owner's dog Jack. Who I guess was named after Jack Daniel's? Nice bartender, though.

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a few thoughts:

this place is getting good business, and will be around for a while

the burgers are very very good, and half priced on wednesdays (all night)

the wine list is adequate, but nothing special

the "poached pear" dessert is interesting, but not worth $7

have not yet tried serious entrees or the creme brulee

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Am I alone in thinking that it was unnecessary to take the leftovers to a butcher? Seems to me his reasons for not enjoying the ribs were sufficient, and the butcher "evaluation" was just piling on.

I worry that the competition to be noticed as a critic is pushing things in an ugly direction.

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as rich and thin as Paris Hilton (thanks to creme fraiche in the topping) and offered as two crackling half-moons on a wooden board.
The flank steak’s tangy ratatouille turns out to be the Paris Hilton of Jack’s: It’s overexposed.
I want to have sex with Paris Hilton.

Influential, cutting-edge,

Rocks.

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Didn't order too much food, but crab dip resembled French onion soup with a thick layer of cheese and an even thinner layer of crab. As someone from Baltimore that's just not acceptable. Mozzarella with tomatoes, not my choice, had really gross underripe looking tomatoes- as I would expect. Fries tasted like they were from the bottom of the fryer and reminded me of Sysco.

My friends repeatedly asked for martinis slightly dirty. Very unsuccessful, very dirty. My friend actually sent his back and still had the same problem. Stick to beer.

The place is also extremely drafty. I put my coat on despite having a couple of layers on already.

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I believe it was Le Pigalle...then Jack's...now Agora. All same ownership IIRC.

I heard a rumor that the owner of Jack's is actually one of the principals involved with Masa 14, and that Masa was doing so well that he was able to close, and pay for renovation to, Jack's. It's hard to believe that he would be involved with the high-quality Masa operation.

I do have to come to Jack's defense in a few regards. It was cheap, edible, had a fun atmosphere for drinking, and they had great specials (mostly for wine, when you could score $10 bottles). The problem with that strip, of course, is that there are just too many places like that. It is what it is. I still have fun hanging out and drinking at many of the establishments (especially the venerable Fox & Hound and its brother, Trio's).

I think something that bears watching in the medium-term is the pending expansion of Hank's into a much larger next door space, and the liquor license purchased by Amy Bowman of the Black Squirrel. A place comparable to Black Squirrel would be a godsend to 17th, and would do a killing. I don't foresee much turnover beyond that, which I suppose is some of the charm of 17th.

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I heard a rumor that the owner of Jack's is actually one of the principals involved with Masa 14, and that Masa was doing so well that he was able to close, and pay for renovation to, Jack's. It's hard to believe that he would be involved with the high-quality Masa operation.

I do have to come to Jack's defense in a few regards. It was cheap, edible, had a fun atmosphere for drinking, and they had great specials (mostly for wine, when you could score $10 bottles). The problem with that strip, of course, is that there are just too many places like that. It is what it is. I still have fun hanging out and drinking at many of the establishments (especially the venerable Fox & Hound and its brother, Trio's).

I think something that bears watching in the medium-term is the pending expansion of Hank's into a much larger next door space, and the liquor license purchased by Amy Bowman of the Black Squirrel. A place comparable to Black Squirrel would be a godsend to 17th, and would do a killing. I don't foresee much turnover beyond that, which I suppose is some of the charm of 17th.

Which liquor license did she purchase, Chaos'? That space has been vacant for a while. If she were to bring something like the Black Squirel to that space, it would be great. Jack's apparently was trying to appeal to the beer crowd since they installed a bunch of taps last fall and were advertising "the most number of drafts on 17th Street" but when I went in they only had 9 of the 12 advertised and it was a pretty lackluster selection. Plus the burger was almost inedible.

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Which liquor license did she purchase, Chaos'? That space has been vacant for a while. If she were to bring something like the Black Squirel to that space, it would be great. Jack's apparently was trying to appeal to the beer crowd since they installed a bunch of taps last fall and were advertising "the most number of drafts on 17th Street" but when I went in they only had 9 of the 12 advertised and it was a pretty lackluster selection. Plus the burger was almost inedible.

Yes, she purchased Chaos' liquor license. The space does not have to be in the old Chaos space since licenses are easily transferable within that neighborhood moratorium zone. Not many large, open retail spaces though. The only ones I know of are subterranean (old Blockbuster) or too small.

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Against my better judgement we tried Agora last night. I had low expectations given the dreadfulness of the previous two-three restaurants to occupy the space. Nonetheless, I was really hoping it would exceed. Not so much. The service was spotty - though friendly. We ordered from the cheese, meat, seafood and veggie portions of the menu. The scallops were well cooked and pretty good but the saffron sauce they came on top of was cloyingly sweet. The pan seared goat cheese was good, but did not come with the listed fig jam but instead some sort of chemical-ish tasting honey-like goo. The lamb was cooked well but rather blah. The zucchini pancakes were actually quite good (but mushy) and the dill yogurt accompaniment was delicious. The pity bread was also v tasty. I'll give them a month or two to settle in - Perhaps they will adjust and improve but I'm not too optimistic.

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Dinner here on Friday night left me unsure what to think of this place. On the one hand, it's probably the best of the restaurants to occupy this space over the last decade (not a high bar, to be sure), and there's some respectable food on the menu. On the other hand, there's a lot to quibble with here as well. The extended wine menu looks pretty good, but the wines by the glass are less impressive. But I like that they offer not just glasses, but quatrains and half-bottles as well--a customer-friendly option. The pita bread is very thin and airy, but the complimentary tapenade is meager, and the bread doesn't stand up well against it. Piyaz salad (white beans, red and green peppers, herbs, black olives, scallions, red onions) was heavy on the red pepper and light on olives, but tasty. The chef's borek was sort of like a feta-filled spring roll made of phyllo: more creamy than crisp, a cheese overload. The four Kofte were nicely done with a sour cherry sauce--maybe our most successful dish--but I thought the Kibbeh were odd (hard to explain why--the flavors just didn't come together). The Peynirli Pide with feta and tomato was small and thin--again, tasty, but there are better pides to be had. Service friendly but a bit rushed, and the acoustics are pretty bad--it was easier to hear the folks next to me than my dining partner across from me. Even after sharing six dishes, I left a little hungry. I think I like Ezme, the new Turkish restaurant on P Street, better, but I'll give Agora credit for bringing something different to casual dining on 17th Street and much better than what was there before.

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In my life there is a category of "sure, ok" restaurants - the ones as to which, if somebody says "let's go there," I say "sure, ok." Maybe this means I need to turn in my guild card, and admit that I am not a true believer Rockwellian, but ...

After dinner at Agora last night, it is comfortably in the "sure, ok" category. Staff was friendly, food was good, prices were fair. No revelations, not even anything I am reminiscing about the next day, but perfectly good.

Seventeenth street in general seems tired and mildewy these days, with a sense that restaurants aren't trying very hard because they don't have to. Kind of like Woodley Park (with each of those neighborhoods having small number of exceptions). But Agora was ok.

If anyone knows of a restaurant on 17th St that is better than "sure, ok," please advise. (Yes I know about Komi and Little Serow, and would tell you my feelings about them but don't feel like starting something.)

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What about Hank's? Admittedly not exactly ON 17th, but close enough to be considered part of the scene there.

I'm perfectly prepared to believe that Hank's is good (haven't been there for years), but unless I disown my vegetarian child and get a new wife who lacks an irrational dislike of the place, it will stay out of my rotation.

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I'm perfectly prepared to believe that Hank's is good (haven't been there for years), but unless I disown my vegetarian child and get a new wife who lacks an irrational dislike of the place, it will stay out of my rotation.

Sushi Taro is excellent Japanese on 17th & P.

Hank's will (or, at least, I have seen them do it) put together a vegetarian plate, which is a you-pick-em mix of their generally tasty vegetarian side dishes, so maybe you can go with your daughter.

Floriana is a very different place than it was two years ago, but I wouldn't put it on par with Sushi Taro or Hank's. Still, maybe worth a shot.

The Mexican place, the Dupont Italian Kitchen and the pizza joint are not very good.

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I didn't take any notes and I drank a lot of wine, so details are scarce. Butr dinner at Agora last night was pretty damn good. I wouldn't call the place a destination restaurant, but in a world where having a decent hamburger seems to be enough for a lot of people, being able to go off the beaten path on a Thursday night and come away happy and sated is a good thing. Service was freindly, the Greek and Turkish (!) wines we washed through were tasty and unique, and the flavors were vibrant and off the beaten track. And, a delightful atmosphere, enrgetic without becoming annoying.

And, for them that cares, offering enough good vegetarian food that our largely omnivorous group had to be prodded to get a little meat.

A neighborhood gem, I'd say, even if they don't have that pizza woth an egg on top thing.

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Per my other post about few choices on Valentine's Day for non-valentine's partakers, I ate at Agora last night - even though they were fully booked per Open Table, we were able to get a table for three.

One of our party is 1/2 Turkish so she provided her take on all the items - she thought the food was pretty authentic. The zucchini patties were excellent, as was the mini meat raviolis (more like teeny dumplings) with yogurt sauce that I had. I tasted the lambchops (nice grilled flavor) and polished off my rice pudding and balkava (which the Turkish guest found to be dry).

I had a glass of a Portuguese red, a Douro, that was perfect with my food and only $8 a glass.

One item of note: the hostess was a bit of a airhead (my Dutch friend's choice of words - I said dingbat but that didn't translate to Dutch) and forgot about us twice.

Not sure I'll be back anytime soon as I'm rarely in that neighborhood, but I enjoyed the meal and the ambiance.

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Great lunch today - had the $15 special which comes with 3 courses and a soft drink - nice value. Better than the value was most of the food was really good and only 1 small quibble. The starter is a sample of 3 dips - hummus (a bit too heavy with the tehina leading to chalky taste - but this was the only minus the whole meal), htipi (great feta/bell pepper combo), and cacik (yogurt similar to tzatiki but different spicing) - last two were great. Also the fresh, pillowy pita was excellent (and I'm a bit of a pita snob).  Main course has lots of choices - I opted for the Adana kebab - lamb/beef combo with a bit of heat - was really good and lighter since the meat wasn't packed too tough. Dessert is a small pistachio baklava which was served a bit warm and very nutty flavored (less honey syrup than is commonly over used).  The pita also comes with fruity olive oil and bit of olive tapenade that was also very tasty. Going to have to add this to the lunch rotation.

Also I see no one has commented on this place in over a year. This was my second time here, the last one being sometime for an early dinner several months ago where I was also impressed but don't remember the details.

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If anyone knows of a restaurant on 17th St that is better than "sure, ok," please advise. (Yes I know about Komi and Little Serow, and would tell you my feelings about them but don't feel like starting something.)

Admittedly, my favorite thing about 17th Street is the company as a dear friend lives there, but a recent visit to Floriana (my first) was wonderful.  We stuck to the appetizer section of the menu and ordered several to share, the squid ink gnocchi was one of the better dishes I've had this year.  The arancini were also excellent.  The calamari was a bit off, for some reason. Not bad, just an odd taste that wasn't to my liking.  We also ordered the roasted cauliflower, though I'm not sure why as neither of us really like cauliflower.  If you are a fan, you'd probably really like this dish.

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Food is one of the best ways to introduce cultural values, especially if that particular culture features customary dining experiences. I like to believe Turkish culture is very food-centric; from rich and diverse breakfast tables, to small yet concentrated lunches, to dinner tables which on average will rival the tables of heads-of-states in other nations, Turkish people center their lives around eating and drinking. So when I wanted to introduce my fiance, future sister-in-law, and future father-in-law (who is a Sushi Chef for 40+ years) to dishes of my home country, I first wanted to take them to Zaytinya. (After all it is under the Andres umbrella, ensuring certain level of quality and execution and from experience the nicest demonstration of Turkish flavors in DC.) However, upon arrival Zaytinya was book for a private event. So I did what any non-DonRockwell-community-member-with-a-smartphone would do and I used yelp. The object was simple, find a near-by restaurant with some what decent food. So thanks to Yelp, I told the cab driver (the ones without the U on the side window of their hondayota) the address to Agora. We arrived to an almost empty restaurant, as we learned we are there for their happy hour. The very limited menu, since they didn't make the full menu available, didn't make me happy. However, as someone from within the industry, I do not judge establishments based on their rules, because I believe rules are their for a reason and the house doesn't need to explain me the rules. So I rolled with the punches and picked variety of plates from lahmacun to manti to humus to other dishes to provide variety and display the rich food culture of my heritage. That's where the story ends. Best part about the rest of my night was Raki and Efes. The worst part was seeing manti served with what looked like to be a tomato paste. Still, I wish them the best of luck. 

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Trying to decide based on these reviews whether to eat at Floriana or Agora for pre-theater dinner.  (Komi and Little Serow won't work with our constraints, and I don't think the others will want Sushi Taro.)  If I thought we'd have time, I'd eat at Pesce and then walk over, but the theater is a 2 minute walk from Agora and only a little more to Floriana, so why tempt fate and make us rush to curtain if service runs slow.

Agora and Floriana both seem reasonably good ("Sure, okay," as described by someone above.).  So we're probably fine either way.  But any recent positives or negatives would be great to know.

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We had a pretty good meal at Agora.  Would go back if going to the theater nearby (the Keegan).

They had what they called "Turkish Restaurant Week," with $30 for a trio of appetizer dips, two courses where we could choose from a several options (mezze-size), and choice of 3 desserts.

The dips were htipiti (roasted pepper, feta, thyme, olive oil), which was my favorite; cacik (yogurt cucumber dill etc.) and hummos.  All tasty, with nice fresh-baked-tasting pita that was replenished when we ran out.

Next course - my husband had borek, and the bite I had of the cheese one was excellent (he preferred it to the spinach one, which I didn't try). Son had kibbeh and liked but didn't love it (I think we liked it). I had arugula with feta, tomatoes, dates, lemon juice, and olive oil, which was a nice-sized portion and a good salad.

Next course - son had his go-to at Lebanese/Turkish restaurants, shish tavuk (grilled marinated chicken with some veggie sides he didn't eat). Not sure what husband had - it was fish, maybe steamed or grilled bass. I had the one real mis-fire (in my opinion): lamb loin with butternut squash puree, fresh mint, toasted hazelnut and sour cherry sauce.  I love all of those non-lamb elements, so I chose that over a sauteed shrimp dish I'd considered, but while I liked the sides, the sauce did not seem to me to meld well with the lamb.  I ate all the sides (not much) and left most of the lamb for my husband.

Dessert:  Two of us had kadayif - phyllo disks with vanilla milk pudding, orange blossom honey and pistachios. Very nice.  Not sure what the other one had (may have been baklava).

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Dinner at Agora Saturday night was lovely.  We ate at the bar and although we arrived early (around 5:30) the restaurant was pretty slow even when we left a couple of hours later.  I really enjoyed a (couple) of glasses of Whitehaven Sauvingnon Blanc recommended by Aaron the bartender with our meal.  A wine I will search out for my home inventory.

The highlight of the meal was the zucchini flowers which were stuffed with shrimp and fried in a light tempura batter.   Two large flowers served over a tomato/red pepper coulis were included in each order.  This was easily one of the best dishes I've had this year and would have been perfectly at home on the menu at Convival.  We also ordered stuffed baby eggplant, taramosalata, olives and lamb chops.  

In full disclosure, my companion lives across the street from the restaurant and is a regular.  The level of service and care provided, especially on a slow evening, may skew our experience.  That said, the food is consistently good and sometimes even superlative (as in those blossoms) at Agora.  Almost everything on the menu is freshly prepared and very little of the ingredients are purchased frozen.  If you're near 17th street, this is a great option..especially if you don't make Little Serow's cut-off!  

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A companion and I dined at Agora a couple of weeks ago (her choice) for an early dinner before an event. Neither of us had ever been, but she’d heard good things (and saw a line the last time she was there), so we elected to give it a go.

I will admit – considering how she talked it up and a quick perusal of reviews here and elsewhere – I wasn’t overly impressed. I enjoyed it but I wasn’t blown away and wouldn’t go out of my way to go back, and I think she felt the same. Maybe we caught them on an off night or the kitchen wasn’t in rhythm yet (we got there around 5:20). We sampled several different mezze – I thought the grilled octopus was very tasty and not rubbery (it’s generally not my thing) but none of the other selections (the artichoke and celery root, the manti, the kufte, and a couple of others that don’t come to mind) were particularly memorable, even if they were tasty. The bread was good and served piping hot - definitely seemed to be made in-house. We were recommended a Turkish white wine that was also pretty bland – she ended up giving it to me to finish while she switched to a coffee (which she did think was well put together).

I do want to say that it is a beautiful space, particularly the bar area – though we sat at a table, which was perhaps a bit of tight squeeze with other tables. The service was attentive if not particularly warm, but I’d prefer the former over the latter any day. Overall, considering the prices (which are fair for the area), I didn’t find it a great value. Someone described it above as a “sure, ok” restaurant – and we agree with that, which is a bit disappointing considering the perhaps unfair expectations. I don't know enough to say where it falls specifically as a Turkish restaurant, but for Mediterranean and similar cuisines I don't see us going out of our way to return.

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