Thursday, December 18, 2003

Taboun Grill
Great but expensive Israeli food - Kosher too!

Israel has always had a bad rap for food. I mean from a tourist perspective. A lot of that, I think has to do with low quality beef. Avoid the McDavid's. Does that mean the food of Israel is really bad. On my lone trip, I found nearly all of the meals outstanding, especially the multitude of stuffed vegetables at a Yemenite place and the multitude of stuffed falafel sandwiches, everywhere. For those falafel sammy's chose at will from a ton of salads, offered from countless street vendors. My opinion of Israeli food is also futzed up by an especially good restaurant in North Miami Beach run by Israeli's. From them, I expect every other Israeli restaurant to have superior fresh cut fries and bowls full of sour pickles for the taking.

I enter Israeli places with that prejudice, but I also soon find myself at ease entering any Israeli place. I believe, but could be wrong, that there is something relaxing for nearly every American born and raised Jew when they enter a room filled with yamulked men. Outside of a pledge party for ZBT, are there any other settings where you feel more comfortable with your Jewishness? (On the other hand, my wife, felt totally il-at-ease, expecting stones to be hurdled her way any minute because she was wearing a sleeveless dress.) On top of this, your kids are no longer, by a long shot the worst behaved, and even if they were being particularly poorly behaved, no one would hear much of their commotion over the rest of the commotion. Finally, it gives a Jewish man special pride to be served by a slew of dark haired, dark skinned stunning waitresses, who also know how to take apart and put back together, an Uzi while blindfolded. Portnoy would not complain.

So how bad could the food be? Not bad at all. I will say up front, I think the prices are pretty high at Taboun, much more than they should be. I wondered if Rabbinic supervision costs that much more, and my sources in the kosher community tell me kosher meat even at the market costs a lot. Still, what they served at Taboun is very, very good.

If you need a first course, and unfortunately you might, the portions are small, I've enjoyed the Moroccan salad, the standard dips like hummus and baba ganoush and the Yemenite soup. The soup is a greenish yellow, like lakewater, with a taste of odd spices (not like lakewater). A dose of very hot, hot sauce (zug I think it is called), not only heated up the soup, but it amplified the other ingredients. Fresh vegetables helped a lot too. Forget the color, order the soup.

The main course are mostly simple but well done. I like their kefta and their shwarma, and again, the worst I can say about them is, the portions are too small. The sandwiches are stuffed just as in Israel with several toppings, although not as many as you would find there. Also, again, the hot sauce enhances. Now, the fries were nothing special, not fresh made. No pickles graced our table, which I miss. Still, when you wake up the next morning with the flavors still parading your palate, well you want to return.

Service, besides being beautiful, has been efficient and fast. Very fast, they really get you your food quick for a place with table service, although with all the din, lingering is not that important.

UPDATE: The newly mysterious Stirs-the-Pot (that is he/she is not becoming more mysterious, but that he/she is new to Chowhound and rather mysterious), reports on Chowhound that ample pickles appear when dining at Taboun. I'll have to confirm.

Taboun Grill - Kosher/Meat
Address: 6339 N. California
Chicago, IL 60659 Phone: (773) 381-2606

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