There's not a lot that's immediately endearing about Taboun Grill: It's crowded, it's noisy and it's teeming with raucous, hyperactive children. Throw in a "slightly better than prison" color scheme, and the word "fiasco" may quickly leap to mind. But here's the strange thing: It all works! The Taboun Grill is one of the brightest, friendliest and most accessible Middle Eastern restaurants in the city, boasting a menu that is both expansive and impeccably designed.
Although technically an Israeli restaurant, Taboun's menu includes plenty of typical Mid-East goodies like hummus and baba ghannouj. But don't mistake it for just another falafel-joint; it's leagues away from the over-spiced mendacity of many less capable Middle Eastern restaurants.
The Israeli influence can be seen in the kosher (it's CRC approved) preparation of the food, standing in stark contrast to the run-of-the-mill chicken-fry endemic to other places. Emphasis is placed on specific doctrinal purities and that pursuit comes out in the cleaner, less gamey taste of its meats. Taboun uses fewer seasonings in most of its food, opting instead to let the meat speak for itself in medleys of mushrooms and olive oil. The Taboun Chicken is a perfect example of purity over spice, available as an entree for $16 and in a pita for $7.
The $5 purple cabbage salad makes for a crisp opener but the hummus is a particular standout: It's light and flavorful and not weighed down by syrupy filler. Delightful kababs (beef, chicken and turkey) come with one's choice of sides like rice, green beans and cool Israeli salads. They're not cheap, though; beef kabobs are $22 while chicken and turkey are both $17. As is the case in most Middle Eastern restaurants, almost everything is available in pita form, a godsend, as Taboun's pita bread is like heavenly manna. Soft and crunchy all at once, it's a great pleasure to stuff it with skirt steak (available for $10).
And if all that wasn't enough, tables are adorned with a relish tray of olives, beets and pickles. Add some dainty baklava and a few date cookies, and you'll swear you're on kibbutz. BYOB, but only kosher wine permitted on the premises.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Adam White