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Good and Good For You 

Restaurateur Kursat Saatci is a gracious, very particular businessman, but he's also easy to please. All he demands is the freshest and highest quality ingredients available, the most attentive service staff and the best preparations of Mediterranean dishes for diners at his new Portofino's restaurant (1140 Decatur St., 522-0406).

"We've been trying hard," says Saatci, who opened Portofino's in a corner building in the French Quarter in mid-June. "We get fresh meat every day; we don't use any frozen meat; and we cut off all the fat possible. You won't see a gram of fat on any of the meats. We also prepare everything fresh, nothing is fried, we don't use heavy sauces and butter. It's all healthy."

Portofino's is partly the result of an epiphany Saatci underwent after realizing that the rich Italian foods he was eating at restaurants he owned Uptown had raised his "bad" cholesterol to alarming limits. He closed Cafe Italiano, sold Mystic Cafe and changed his diet to bring his cholesterol to safer levels.

"I loved the Italian foods, the pastas and pizza, and was eating it every day," he says. "My [cholesterol] level was 400, and I quit eating pizza every day and it went down to 145. Now I feel healthy. I realized it wasn't good for me and decided that if it's not good for the people, I won't serve it. If I can't eat it, I won't serve it. That's my motto."

In addition to his health consciousness, he wanted to venture into a less saturated cuisine genre and place himself on the crest of culinary trends. "There were too many people who began to make pizza," he says. "There are food trends -- pastas was the '90s -- and I think Mediterranean is the new trend of the millennium. People are more health conscious ... and Mediterranean food is what is good for the American taste."

He spent several months in New York studying the cuisines that originated in Asia Minor, which vary in the use of spices and native-grown vegetables depending on whether the recipe is Turkish, Italian or Greek. Saatci then handpicked the best recipes from a variety of menus, spirited away a couple of chefs from the best eateries and set up shop in the Vieux Carre. In the next month or so, he plans to open another restaurant in Riverwalk Marketplace and a third at Clearview Shopping Center, both under the name Cafe Mediterranean. He also will introduce sidewalk cafe dining at the French Quarter restaurant when the weather cools and wants to add seafood dishes to the menu.

Portofino's customers currently have a range of meat, vegetable and taste options to choose from, including the management's favorite Doner Kebab, which is made from scratch with marinated steak and differs from other Greek versions by not using ready-made frozen ground beef cones.

"We are the only ones to make the 'Doner Kebab' and other kebabs fresh daily from scratch in the entire state of Louisiana," the menu boasts. Desserts, including baklava, kadayif (a cake of shredded phyllo dough with nuts and syrup), tiramisu and a rolled concoction of dough and pistachio nuts are made in-house daily.

Other menu highlights include a host of sandwiches and wraps for under $8, including the Istanbul Kofte Sandwich, which starts with spiced fresh beef ground on the premises and is mixed with diced Kashkaval cheese before being chargrilled and served on foccacia bread. Sicily's Delight is a composition of pepperoni, ham, Canadian bacon, Genoa salami, housemade bread and melted Mozarella cheese dressed any way the customer likes. The Doner Kebab wrap dresses marinated steak or chicken with tomatoes, onions, lettuce and white sauce before wrapping it in Anatolian flat bread.

Entrees, which all are served with greens, rice and a choice of Caesar or Turkish Shepherd Salad, include Portofino's Combo, a plate brimming with marinated steak or chicken, housemade gyro, and Adana kebab and chicken/beef shish kebab. Diners also can choose lamb chops, other meat kebabs, chicken chops (spiced and marinated chicken legs) and penne with sun-dried tomatoes tossed in a light spiced sauce with mushrooms and Romano cheese and garnished with parsley and shaved parmesan cheese. In some dishes, the rich cream and butter sauces prevalent in other cuisines are replaced with light wine- and olive oil-based sauces that are healthier without sacrificing taste.

"It's delicious food, whether you eat the [stuffed] grape leaves or the kebabs," says Saatci, who opens the restaurant for lunch and dinner daily. "And it's healthy. We make everything -- the grape leaves, spreads, eggplant salad, meat dishes -- here daily. I want the message to be that you can eat all you want, and it's healthy."

click to enlarge Owner Kursat Saatci (sitting) and his staff are taking Mediterranean dining to a new level at the month-old Portofino's restaurant in the French Quarter.
  • Owner Kursat Saatci (sitting) and his staff are taking Mediterranean dining to a new level at the month-old Portofino's restaurant in the French Quarter.
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