Baba ghanoush, Cleveland, Falafel, Hummus, jibneh, Lebanese food, Middle Eastern restaurants, Taza
Mezze: a selection of small dishes served as an informal meal or a prelude to dinner in the Middle East and the Balkans. One reason I love mezze is that a typical spread includes several luscious vegetarian dishes: olives, stuffed vegetables or grape leaves, spreads made of beans or peppers, yogurt scented with garlic and cucumber, artichokes, fresh cheeses…
I never expected to find great Mediterranean food in Cleveland. We don’t get much sun in this part of the world. Neither lemons nor chickpeas are native to the land (though we grow some respectable garlic and spinach). Yet we have an amazingly good local chain called Aladdin’s, that makes reliably delicious and healthy lentil soup, hummus, falafel, etc. I was happy with their food– until the owner opened a more upscale Lebanese restaurant called Taza. Now I dream about the next time I can go there for another fix.
I don’t know what they do at Taza to make simple favorites like baba ganoush so transcendent. Fresher ingredients? More attention to detail? This is not the ho-hum baba you buy in tubs at the grocery store, or the bland, boring baba that I’ve made at home. According to Anthony Bourdain, restaurants make their food taste better than home-cooked food by adding butter and salt, and by cooking at higher temperatures. Of course it’s not a question of butter, as this is an olive-oil-based cuisine. But I suspect there’s a good deal more salt in the food than I would use at home. They can easily blacken their eggplants over a flame for a smoky flavor that I can’t match in my oven. And they include some nice touches, like a garnish of expensive pistachios on the jibneh.
This is the best Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food I’ve had– anywhere. The only possible exception is falafel that I ate from a storefront in the Marais, in Paris. Feast your eyes.
The jibneh is my favorite dish, the one I can’t do without, but also the most luxurious. The cheese is stunningly creamy, and perfectly complemented by the toppings of basil, pistachios, and what tastes like a balsamic reduction (it’s a pomegranate sauce).
The garlic spinach is quite salty. It’s sautéed and served with a topping of crispy fried onions. The baba is creamy, rich and smoky. More garlic! It’s lemony, but not overloaded with lemon juice, as sometimes happens.
The hummus fatteh is a dish of whole chickpeas combined with fried pita strips and yogurt sauce, garnished with parsley. The pita strips get saturated with the yogurt and take on a distinctive texture, a bit like an al dente noodle. This is not to be missed!
It’s easy to ruin falafel. I’ve had it too dry, overcooked so that the crust is hard and tough, undercooked and gooey, bitter… but the falafel at Taza is always perfect. The texture reminds me of the hush-puppies I remember from my childhood in the South. The only thing I would do to improve this dish is add some nice pickled veggies as a garnish (rather than making the customer buy them separately).
Grape leaves are also easy to screw up. Too many places serve thinly rolled leaves with hard, undercooked rice grains. Or slimy ones (ugh). These are tender, plump and toothsome.
Taza serves its mezze with little puffy pockets of fresh pita straight from the oven, as well as regular flatbread-style pita. And they have Benziger Sauvignon Blanc by the glass. Just the combination food and drink to send Linnet to paradise.
Sylvie G said:
Everything I like
Me too! I am already craving my next fix 🙂
Sylvie G said:
Any thoughts about the latest revelations about The last tango in Paris ?
I had a huge spike in views after that news came out! A record for my blog, in fact.
I already knew that Maria Schneider felt violated by the way that scene was filmed, so it was no surprise to see her account confirmed by Bertolucci. However, when I watched the scene onscreen, I did not think that it was clearly a rape scene, as the headlines suggest. I thought it was ambiguous, because her character seeks out Paul knowing that he is dangerous and because she doesn’t tell him “no,” or to stop (just as she doesn’t say no in their first encounter, nor does she give explicit consent). Later in the movie, she tells him “no” very clearly, so I saw a contrast there. But given what Bertolucci says about wanting to see her “humiliation and rage” onscreen, it may well be that he himself considered it to be a rape.
Sylvie G said:
Yes, I have just watched the film (but only read about Bertolucci’s interview). It is certainly humiliation and rage.
It gives some extra meaning to what happens at the end of the film, I’d say.
Sylvie G said:
Yes, what an end !
Delicious sounding. Usually, I also like to order ( or hope the plate includes) gigantes. The spinach sounds divine – It’s one f my go-tp side dishes, especially with Italian meals. I have to try the crispy onions next time. I’ve used fried shallots to top plain mashed potatoes, and they add something unexpected and good.
I love gigantes. Too bad they don’t have them in this Lebanese place. Usually I only see them in Greek restaurants. Fortunately there is a posh grocery store here that carries them, already prepared, with plenty of tangy red peppers.
Yum I always miss baba g but you can make it at home just as delicious. We did for all near 30 years I lived at home. It’s just messy 😊 but v doable if you have a gas hob. And steel extenders to the burners easy to get on amazon. Oven baking makes a different dish. This just needs charring v close to flame 😊 I still make it sometimes when at home and still tastes better than any restaurant because I don’t have to add thing to maximise quantity 😊. It’s in my top 3 fav dishes yum! But I’m lazy in London and make do with the best a Turkish restaurant makes which is good but not like the fresh stuff at home. We eat shed loads so here super markets carry the cooked and pealed aubergines but no such luck in London 😣. Fresh sliced tomatoes and what we call ‘aubergine salad’ =heaven. And yesss on good falafel! I’m so hungry now 😊
I have made it at home a few times, but I ended up damaging the glass top on my range, because I didn’t put foil over to protect it. I agree though, you have to really char the skin to get the right flavor. Same thing with roasted peppers. Yum!