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Dare I? Summerlicious 2010: Part One: Middle Eastern Fun

July 12, 2010

Summerlicious started this weekend in Toronto, and despite being warned by several fellow foodies that it would be in my best interest to avoid any restaurant participating, I decided to try my luck. So I booked  two reservations. Since my bank account has been less than cooperative this past little while, I figured, why not take advantage? I’ve been reading a lot of books by chefs and food critics lately–currently I’m working my way through The Man Who Ate the World: In Search of the Perfect Dinner  by Jay Rayner and my cravings for something exotic have been extra ravenous. I ended up going for Middle Eastern at Tabule on Saturday evening and Greek on Sunday afternoon at Ouzeri (as a result of an already-planned trip to the Danforth)–two cuisines that my dinner plate is graced with rarely.

I must say that I was thrilled with the outcome of both my experiences. The service was not as bad as I was told it would be–although it was opening weekend and I’m sure that the servers had not had sufficient time to hate the world just yet.

My choice to go to Tabule was based on some spectacular reviews I read online. I was comforted immediately upon arrival, when the diners behind me were discussing how great the food was, as they too, waited to be seated. I interrupted to ask for their advice on which dish to pick, and they reassured me even more, not only by telling me that everything was tasty, but also adding in that they were Lebanese, and so probably tougher critics than most. Our server was not exactly the quickest at getting our drinks to the table, or coming back to take our order, but I didn’t mind: for one, I’m a server, so I always tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, I understand that as a human being we are incapable of being a million places at once; and on top of it, I was enjoying the beautiful weather on the patio and was in no rush for the night, or the meal, to be over. She was more than friendly, informative and sympathetic to our lack of knowledge concerning Middle Eastern food–especially since I could not pronounce any of the menu items without looking like an blubbering idiot.

We started with the Combination Plate of humüs, babaganüj, tabülè and falafel which came with some tasty warm pita bread. I realized we missed the point afterwards, as I  watched a young boy at a neighbouring table open the pita and stuff it right up before indulging (I had simply ripped pieces of the bread to dip it). I had tried everything before, except for the tabülè, which we both found extremely tasty and refreshing.

We also shared the Kubbeh-cracked wheat shell stuffed with ground lamb and beef, onions and pine nuts which was my favorite of the appetizers, especially enjoyed with a dab of the garlic yogurt sauce (or a slathering mixture of every dip…)

For mains we had the Kefta Banadura, which was a combo of lamb and pork served in a tasty tomato stew with fresh pink onions, and the lemon garlic Salmon kebab.

I, being the seafood lover I am, preferred the salmon (don’t get me wrong, the Kefta Banadura was great too).
 My BF, GF, being the meat lover he is, preferred the Kefta. So instead of sharing, like we usually do, we stuck to our own dish, which I was completely content with.

I must say that one of my favorite parts of both dishes were their accompanments: the charcoal grilled veggies and rice. The vegetables were grilled to perfection. One of my favorite flavours, ever, is the taste of crispy black skinned red peppers. They immediately bring back memories of Daddio bbqing at our house on Flushing, with the Spalding umbrella of course, as he was cursed with rain every. time. he went out there.The grilled zucchini, yellow peppers and fried onions were amazing too. The perfect forkful came as a result of a combination of all the veggies, a dab of the delicious rice seasoned with a definite Middle Eastern flare, and a slice of salmon: heaven. Thank god GF was full before I was–my serving of veggies just wasn’t enough…
Our dessert picks ended off our meal on an even sweeter note: the burnt honey gelato had such a beautiful consistency (although the flavour was more along the lines of vanilla than honey).
But the real star was the Knaffa Ashta. We asked our server to pick our second dessert for us, so I barely read the menu description. I was expecting something dense like baklava, but was surprised and suddenly in love with what I experienced instead. The written description tells you it is an “angel hair filo layered with custard and topped off with rose water syrup”, but it should really say that it is, in fact, a cloud of heaven, because that is exactly what it was.

We both chuckled like children when it was placed in front of us, as we agreed that it almost resembles a lightly battered white fish, but fishy it was not, and creamy, fluffy perfection it was.
Overall, our meal was perfect. We usually end up preferring our appetizers, as we are both naturally pick-ers, share-ers and combine-ers, but this time we were proved otherwise–favouring our entrees and desserts.
My fear slowly slipped away with the sun and I was more than anxious to indulge in another Summerlicious venture the following afternoon…
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