Friday, February 29, 2008

Cabbies, There's a New Joint in Town


Actually, the cabbies have more than discovered the recently opened, clean, well-lit space, Tabaq. Maybe the word got out because of the ample parking on this stretch of Clybourn just north of Division. Maybe word just got out on the good food being offered. Maybe, maybe, cabbies are going upscale. Cabbie joints, foodie-speak for a kinda places that are a) roughly convenient to the drivers who mostly found themselves around downtown; b) met their gustatory needs for Indian-Pakistani style food; and c) could serve as a bit of a hangout. A corner tap rolled into a diner rolled into an afterwork hangout. The cabbie joint promised the foodie exceedingly authentic food of the sub-continent, but often with a dose of danger. Well, slight danger in the sense that the joints, operating near but not in downtown, were in, well, let's call them non-pedestrian friendly zones. Really, the danger lay in their foreignness, their clubbiness, it was walking into someone else's world. But a funny thing happened on the way to eating pleasure. First, these locations no longer seemed so threatening. Second, it was soon learned that one's clientele was quite enjoyed by the cabbie joint staff. Eat bubbala we were told.

And eat well we did. Kababish, on Orleans a few blocks north of Chicago offered one of the best versions of fish taco around (masala dusted fish, fried to order, served with fresh made chapati and garnished with a mysterious brown sauce). Kababish is now closed. Into the breach steps Tabaq. Whereas Kababish had four booths, Tabaq has seating for about 80. The whole place is decorated in the type of thick, shiny plastic that's maybe a step up from Ikea. Much more decor than before. Still, it has one of the defining features of these kind of places, a steam table with several curries of the day. In addition to the curries, Tabaq offers grilled items like the beloved Khan on the north side of Chicago.

My wife and I got one of each. I'm a grilled meat a-loving' guy to begin with, and I love their way with meats, the interplay with spices and fire. Seekh kebab, the sausage shaped thing is usually a favorite. After asking about how spicy, the man behind the counter suggested instead, tha chapli kebab. This is a patty shaped, but the meat was thoroughly mixed with flakes of red pepper. I wish I had the camera to show the contrast of near black meat against bright red Chile. For our wet dish, we picked a chicken over a goat, a fish and a ground meat. The jalapeno garnish signfied this was one spicy curry. A nice touch, our server came over and offered us more gravy as we were sopping up the last of the curry. Sopping is thing thing to do here, as this place has some very good naan too. I'm guessing they allowed it to rise a bit longer than most naans. It was thick and yeasty, like a good pizza crust.

The prices are a dollar or two more than the old Kababish. I did not mind in the least. In my maiden visit I found all I want in a cabbie joint. Parking, warmth from the staff and heat from the food. Definitely worth a try.

1245 N. Clybourn
Chicago, IL
9AM - 2AM

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