Taboonette – The Homeland of Middleterranean Food

I’m gonna cut to the chase:

Taboonette is the best cheap lunch in the city.

This tiny storefront in the Union Square area specializes in Middleterranean food, that mish mash of all things Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and North African. Harissa, chickpeas, lamb, pita, and herbs all collide in a cuisine is so cohesive that it seems that it must come from a region.

That region is Taboonette.

Order at the front then wait for your number to be called while seated at one of the long communal tables. The feel is incredibly casual – clean and minimalistic, perfect for a fast workday breakfast or lunch.

Taboon roasted cauliflower, grilled eggplant, hummus, tahini, and cilantro

The taboon is the large dome-shaped oven that cooks most of the bread and some of the food here. The cauliflower does well in the oven’s heat, becoming crispy and charred in places while turning soft within. It is a wonderful vehicle for the nutty tahini and the creamy hummus. Eggplant is done well here – silky but not slimy, and the rice is outstanding. It must be boiled in chicken broth, because it has a very rich, buttery taste. This dish is satisfying even for a carnivore.

Chicken Shawarma with hummus, thyme roasted Yukon gold potatoes, homemade pickles, tahini and chopped salad

A fantastic rendition of an often greasy and salty classic. This chicken schwarma is rubbed with smoky cumin then grilled to reinforce that deep, woodsy flavor. The chicken is incredibly tender and also tastes of garlic and onions. Mixed with sour pickles, crispy fried potatoes, fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and a creamy hummus and tomato mixture, this is just what a schwarma should be. It is na explosion of flavors, textures, and temperatures, all in an almost exceedingly delicious laffa wrap. One of the best parts of the sandwich is right at the end, when the juices from the chicken and the vegetables soak into the soft bread.

Kebab with ground lamb and beef, grilled eggplant, chopped salad, tahini, fresh mint and cilantro

Soft patties of grassy lamb and juicy beef cooked until there is still some pink inside. Redolent of mint and fragrant cilantro, it tastes bright and light with the fresh Israeli salad. Don’t forget to top it with some of the spicy cilantro laden hot sauce on the table – you might, as I did, start taking some of the excellent house baked pita chips and just start eating it straight with the hot sauce. These kebabs are only missing some yogurt sauce, as the tahini on them takes away from the complex, subtle flavors of the kebab.

Taboonette is delicious, fast, and nothing on the menu is over $12! Nothing I ordered was even over $11, and I walked away so full it was uncomfortable.

I love that feeling.

Taboonette is a must-go for anyone who loves Middleterranean food. After all, don’t you want to see its homeland? Well now you can, right near Union Square.

Taboonette on Urbanspoon

Peri Ela’s UES Turkish Cuisine

The Upper East Side. Not my usual stomping grounds, but for a chance to see Nigella Lawson speak at the 92nd St. Y, I will pay a ridiculously high cab fare and go to a neighborhood where the average age is 74, the drugstores close at 8 pm, and the food scene is usually bleak.
Usually.
Peri Ela is a tiny Turkish restaurant that you just know hasn’t been redecorated in about 30 years. Part grandma’s house with lace curtains and wooden tables, part 80’s nightclub with a full bar and overblown pictures of models, it feels quaint, odd, and anything but corporate. Add that to the somewhat confused hostess and waitstaff, and I somehow knew….I was in for a terrific meal.

Cacik

Smooth yogurt, crisp cucumber and just a touch of dill. Looser than tzatziki, and less garlicky. Not really tangy, more cooling. Simple and tasty.

Hummus

Creamy but with texture, hearty and nutty with tahini. Once again, the lack of garlic was apparent in a good way. It let the more subtle, gentle flavors of the chickpeas and tart lemon shine through.

Fried Vegetables with Yogurt Sauce

Thin slices of eggplant, zucchini, and carrots, shallow sauteed and served with an incredibly creamy, tangy yogurt sauce that had the pucker of lemon but the richness of cream. The zucchini was tender and sweet, the carrots were vibrant with just a bit of bite, and the eggplant was the star of the night. The eggplant pieces tasted confited because they were so creamy, soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, with crisp, caramelized edges. It was so sweet and meaty next to the tangy yogurt sauce. This dish was outstanding in every way. 

Manti

These Turkish ravioli are one of my favorite dishes of all times, and this was a very good representation. Thin skinned dumpling skin surrounded tiny parcels of spiced beef, all in yet another yogurt sauce – this time, very mild next to the tart, acidic tomato sauce with it. The beef was aromatic with cinnamon and coriander, and the dumplings, no bigger than the pad of my index finger, were simultaneously filling but light. Truly a pleasure. 

This whole meal was a winner. Though the service was a bit scatterbrained, it was prompt and very sweet. The prices here are moderate, the portions are large, and the food is wonderful. It’s almost enough to make me come to the Upper East Side just for dinner. 
Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Peri Ela on Urbanspoon

Eat Like a Lokal

Everyone has their neighborhood spot.  The place that is never too crowded, too expensive, or too trashy-it is perfect for brunch with your mom, dinner with your date, or lunch with your book.  It is reliable, nearby, and of course, delicious.  This is what Lokal is.  Now if only it was in my neighborhood!
I was invited to Lokal by the management, and so my mom and I took the train down to Greenpoint to get there.  About 40 minutes from midtown Manhattan, the restaurant had vibrant stained glass windows and a very nice outdoor seating area with votive candles on each blue tiled table.  In the summer I could definitely see these seats filled to the BRIM.
Inside is a cheery dining room, causal and comfortable in tones of marigold and blue.  Marmie thought it looked just like Greece.  I wouldn’t go THAT far, but it was lovely and calming.

Our very sweet server brought us menus and we perused the novel.  Yeah I said novel-this is a HUGE menu. Now let me say-while some may love this, it worried me.  I generally like a place that does one thing and does it well.  This ranged all the way from bulgogi sandwiches to pizza to burgers…I was kinda nervous!  But, realizing that Lokal bills itself as a Mediterranean restaurant, I took the plunge and ordered a few dishes that sounded the most Mediterranean to me.

Directly after we ordered we were brought some toasted foccacia bread and an oil/vinegar mix. The dense focaccia was unremarkable, but the oil was outstanding!  I love Spanish olive oil for the intensely vegetal, olive-y taste it yields, and thinks that this must have been Spanish.  Not gonna lie…I definitely ate ALL the bread to enjoy that delicious sweet and savory oil mixture.  YUM!
We next tried the hummus.  Let me cut to the chase: If I could, I would slather this lemony, garlicky, sesame laden chickpea puree all over my body and wear it as edible perfume.  The hummus was THAT delicious.  It was smooth but not overly creamy-I hate how some hummus tastes tahini laden-like it is wallpaper paste or something.  Here, the sesame paste was just used to accent the nutty character of the chickpea, enhancing its own natural flavors.  The garlic and lemon added gently spicy and tart notes, and the very subtle peppery sauce on top gave a salty kick.  Served with crisp crostini, Marmie  and I were literally SILENT while we chowed down on this…do you know how hard it is to get two women to shut up!?  We first wondered why there was a tortilla shell holding the hummus.  Then our wondering ceased, when we started breaking into that freshly fried, greaseless shell to scoop the dip into our hovering gullets.  Get this.  Seriously.
We also got the sauteed spinach with onions, raisins, pine nuts, bell peppers, and feta.  Sound like a lot?  We sure thought so, and were worried and intrigued.  But, just like the chef was seemingly able to navigate his way through an intimidatingly long menu, he turned this seemingly discordant list of ingredients into a wonderfully cohesive dish.  The spinach was so wonderfully SPINACH-Y…rich, earthy, almost meaty in taste and texture.  The onions and bell peppers were sweet and tender, the pine nuts hearty and crunchy, and the raisins were plump and juicy.  The little dried fruits also added a hint of sweetness against the pungent saltiness of that grated feta. 

Eaten with a spoonful of creamy and tart paprika yogurt and a freshly fried pita chip, this spinach dish was a sweet, salty, creamy, and crunchy pleasure.  This is an occasion where the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts.
Marmie is a beet fiend, so we also got the roasted beets with frisee and herbed goat cheese.  This was excellently executed, though not as revelatory as the spinach (or the hummus…that HUMMUS!).  The beets were sweet and tender, though not mushy, and the goat cheese was creamy, mildly grassy, and went well with the chives and parsley that adorned it.  My favorite part of this was actually the frisee-it was really well seasoned!  I tend to love the coarse, slightly bitter leaves of this curly lettuce anyway, but the liberal application of salt and pepper made the natural sweetness of the frisee totally apparent and really brought this leaf to life!  I will definitely be seasoning my frisee at home from now on.

Clearly, we hated it.

For our main, since we had ordered like 7,000 appetizers, Marmie and I just split one entree-the lamb burger.  Let me just be frank-I love a burger.  Something about the combination of soft bread, crisp veggies, gooey cheese, and juicy meat just sings to me in a way that few other foods do.  So if there’s a burger on the menu, I will order it. And if there is lamb in a Mediteranean place, I will order it.  So the LAMB BURGER here-no brainer.  I got it.  And it. Was. FAB!  The lamb was so meaty and moist that juices dribbled down my chin.  A charred crust from the grill gave way to a softly packed interior, redolent of the sweet and slightly gamey flavor of lamb.  Topped with a dill infused cucumber salad, the meat was offset by this Mediterranean inspired pickle and the salty, briny feta cheese that melted gently over the burger’s top.  
Gee, too bad we didn’t like this dish, either, huh?
For dessert we split the molten chocolate cake.  Was this the most awe inspiring, inventive, perfectly conceived dessert I had ever tried?  No.  Was it a well executed, beautifully plated version of a classic dessert that was exactly what I felt like and expected? An emphatic YES!  
Creamy, sweet, unctuously flowing chocolate encased in a light, cakey shell.  Nothing too dark or exotic here-just the milk chocolate of my youth, in a warm and soothing form, served with vanilla ice cream.  Chocolate and vanilla, hot and cold, creamy and cakey…this was a classic version of all these perfect combinations.
Lokal is the kind of place I would love to have on my street corner.  It has wonderful service, a lovely ambiance, very reasonable prices and-no question-one of my top 10 burgers in NYC.  The food is fresh, well prepared, and served in generous portions.  The Mediteranean side of the menu was so above par that I would not hesitate to go back and try any of the menu items.  This is not a destination restaurant, but one that anyone would be lucky to have in their neighborhood.  It is unpretentious, it is delicious, and it truly does let you eat like a Lokal 🙂
*Note: My meal was paid for by Lokal.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*
 Lokal Mediterranean Bistro on Urbanspoon