On the same day by sheer coincidence my wife and I both received recommendations from colleagues at work to try Camelia of Istanbul in East Providence, RI for kabobs. Prior to becoming Camelia of Istanbul, the restaurant was owned by a Lebanese family that called it “La Camelia Restaurant.” With the changing of hands to a Turkish family, the restaurant retained the name “Camelia,” but now indicates that it is a Turkish restaurant. The food is similar to the previous restaurant, but some people suggest that it is even better. My family and I enjoyed our trip to the restaurant and thought the food tasted very good.
Camelia of Istanbul
(formerly La Camelia Restaurant)
92 Waterman Ave.
East Providence, RI 02914
Service and Atmosphere
Camelia of Istanbul is a small restaurant with some Middle Eastern/Turkish decor on the walls in the form of framed paintings, arches, and a mounted TV showing scenic views from around the world. The family that owns the restaurant provides the service to the tables. Our server was a young woman who was very polite, quiet, and nice, even though it was still very obvious that she was getting used to carrying a serving tray.
The majority of the food at Camelia of Istanbul is really good. Their main featured type of food on the menu is kebabs, but they also have a variety of appetizers and salads.
Baba Ghanoush – Based on a recommendation, we ordered this roasted eggplant dip. It is basically very similar to hummus except that instead of chickpeas, it uses eggplant. The baba ganoush here tasted very good with just the right smoky flavor and texture. It also came with a basket of thick pita bread cut into quarters for dipping.
Falafel – This is perhaps the greatest litmus test of any Middle Eastern restaurant and Camelia of Istanbul pulls it off nicely. The falafel was cooked perfectly and the texture was crispy on the outside while remaining tender on the inside, but not under-cooked. It is a little more bland than some falafel, but overall it is better than many of the falafel imposters out there. The tahini sauce over the top was a nice touch.
Lahmajune – This dish is rarely found on the menu of Middle Eastern restaurants, so I was especially excited to try it. Traditionally, it is a piece of flat bread (like pita bread) covered with ground beef (or bits of meat) and spices. It’s a relatively simple dish, but when executed properly, it’s awesome. Unfortunately, this dish at Camelia of Istanbul is the only failure at the restaurant. The reason is because it’s so obviously re-heated from a frozen, pre-made, generic product that can be purchased from any Middle Eastern market with a freezer section. The flavor is fine as far as frozen replicas go, but this is not something to order in a restaurant. I recommend passing on this completely.
Fattoush (or Fatoosh) – Essentially, fattoush is a Middle Eastern bread salad that is made up of vegetables and fried or baked pita bread pieces. The fattoush at Camelia of Istanbul is definitely very good and the flavors are well put together, but it is not particularly traditional in the usual style with the addition of things like mushrooms.
Kofta Kabob – My mother was especially interested in trying the kofta (ground beef with spices), so she ordered this plate. The kofta kabobs were cooked well and shaped in a flatter oval shape than usual, but the really standout feature was the soft, tender texture. Most of the time kofta is firm like a hamburger, but Persian and perhaps Turkish versions are much more tender. The flavors were excellent and the dish seemed like a success.
Lamb Kabob – My wife opted for the lamb kabob, which was also excellent. The meat was cooked to a medium-well temperature which is relatively common for kebabs and the spices were really good. The grilled vegetables were artistically displayed and went really well with the meat. One thing to point out in some of the kebabs is that they are heavily seasoned with oregano. If you like oregano, then you’ll enjoy these kebabs, but if you don’t particularly enjoy oregano, try something else like the kofta kebab.
Filet Mignon Kabob – At first glance, it sounds like sacrilege to cut up a filet mignon into a kebab, but honestly it works. Filet Mignon is the most tender beef cut, but it is not especially flavorful. The tender meat on a kabob gets nicely charred and the spices add flavor. Again, the kabobs are cooked throughout and there is a strong presence of oregano in the spices, but I thought it gave the dish a Greek inspiration that worked well. I enjoyed the large pieces of meat which went exceptionally well with the awesome rice that comes with the dish.
I would definitely recommend trying Camelia of Istanbul for some appetizers and kabobs. They do a very good job of providing Middle Eastern and Turkish food to an area that is sorely lacking in this department.