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Beat and run

I was running about ten minutes late for dinner at Istanbul Grill on Monday, April 17, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I found it full of police cars. Istanbul owner Emre Karaoglu and his sister-in-law, Gul Kapci, were standing huddled together out of the wind, watching cops and detectives going in and out of the empty restaurant.

I asked the first uniform I saw what had happened.

In the movies, when the plucky young reporter asks the gruff crime-scene investigator what went down, the gruff crime-scene investigator always hitches up his Hagar wrinkle-free slacks and lays down some plot exposition about the former-detective-turned-serial killer or the ace of spades that the crook left at the scene. He then tells the plucky young reporter, "Jimmy, you'd better just leave this one alone." The plucky young reporter is always named Jimmy. He always has a spiral notebook and a pencil stub behind his ear. And then Jimmy goes on to solve the crime, have sex with Sharon Stoneor Julia Roberts and win a Pulitzer Prize -- all before the credits roll.

Rarely, if ever, is the plucky young reporter a restaurant critic who showed up late, just looking for some Turkish food. And when I asked the investigator what was going on, he brushed right past me.

"Robbery," he said, and walked away, fussing with his rubber gloves.

This is why movies are better than real life.

Had I been on time -- had I not stuck it out on my couch watching The Simpsons for an extra few minutes -- I would have been waiting on my first order of kebabs and reading the newspaper at Istanbul Grill when the two men came in and demanded money out of the register. I would have been there when Karaoglu and Kapci fought back and put one of the men down while his chickenshit partner ran. I would have been there -- no doubt still hiding under the table -- when the police arrived.

But I wasn't.

In the parking lot, I asked Karaoglu if everyone was okay. No customers had been in the place when the robbers came in; he had some bruises, and his sister-in-law stood cradling her arm -- a nasty egg on her elbow where she'd been hit. But they were alive, and he was pissed that one of the crooks had gotten away.

The next day, I called Karaoglu to get more details.

"They just came in and got some money out of the register," he told me. Two guys, with a gun. They'd gone into the liquor store across the lot, bought some Dutch courage, then hit Istanbul. The one who ran off did so with three or four hundred dollars from Istanbul's till. The other one left in the back of a police car.

"We just fought, and I put him down," Karaoglu said, matter-of-fact as anything.

Although they'd closed the restaurant for the rest of the night, Istanbul was open again for lunch the next day, and he was expecting a good dinner. Just business as usual.

As for me, see what perpetually being late gets you? While I ended up eating take-out Chinese that Monday night, I'll take watching a Simpsons repeat over a robbery any day.

Mail call: Two interesting letters arrived at Bite Me World HQ this week. "I can tell by your name, Jason, that you are a 'JJC' or 'Johnny Just Come,'" was the baffling start to a missive from DSin Pennsylvania, who went on to complain that my review of Yanni's Greek Taverna ("On the Lamb," April 13) failed to note that "Greek food is the same as Turkish food, just different names. I have actually been thrown out of Greek restaurants for using the Turkish names, e.g. doner kebab for gyro, whilst ordering."

Although it's cool that DS was reading a Denver restaurant column in Pennsylvania, I'm with the restaurant owners on this one. Walking into a Greek joint and ordering in Turkish is pretty much the same as walking into a Vietnamese spot and demanding Thai food or stepping to the counter of a Georgia chicken shack and asking for a Kansas City-style pan-fry. Yes, Turkish food and Greek food are similar -- but they're not the same (for proof, see my review of Istanbul Grill). I could go off here on a whole gastronaut jag about the transmigration of cooking styles and the historic placement of certain pantry staples across the globe, but regular readers already know that there are three things in this world that fascinate me: chefs, the movie Buckaroo Banzai and the way geography, politics and history -- all the wars and immigrants and scarcity and excess -- have shaped the way people eat.

Yes, doner kebab and gyros are both made out of spiced lamb (and often some other stuff) pressed and sliced thin over pita. But that's because both Greece and Turkey are prime spots for raising sheep, and taking all the leftover bits of a spring lamb that didn't get turned into roasts and shanks and whatnot and grinding it into the equivalent of a Mediterranean hamburger is a way to get the most out of every animal slaughtered for food. If Greece and Turkey were overrun by cows, they would've come up with the cheeseburger long before Denverite Louis Ballast did.

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