Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Israeli Culinary Excursion is Holy Worthwhile

Taboun Grill
8808 Gross Point Rd., Skokie

I can easily envision how people—especially gentiles (i.e. non-Jews to a Jew) but not just—could perceive Israeli food and Jewish food as being pretty much the same thing.

But they're not, although there is some overlap, especially as a consequence this common perception.

You'll have to look to someone much more anthropological to explain the cultural culinary origins of each, but whereas a bagel with lox and cream cheese may be the quintessential “Jewish food,” a pita with falafel, hummus and chopped vegetables within it is much more emblematic of “Israeli food.”

Which means that--although the restaurant is kosher and thus largely frequented by observant Jews--the Israeli cuisine featured at Skokie's Taboun Grill has more similarities with other eateries featuring Middle Eastern or Mediterranean food than it does with a typical Jewish delicatessen. (I've already spotlighted one of the latter.)

This isn't all that surprising, given Israel's location and the fact that the country has many Christian,
Muslim and Jewish inhabitants, including within the Jerusalem's Old Town, a place considered an extremely holy place by all three religions.

A bit confusingly, the other day I visited a restaurant called Old Jerusalem in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, which the menu hailed as featuring Lebanese cuisine.

And on the menu of Taboun Grill were a few Moroccan dishes, including Moroccan Fish, Moroccan Eggplant Salad and, as an appetizer, Moroccan Cigars (Spicy ground beef in crispy wrapper served with hummus).

I ate at Taboun on a Sunday night with my mom and sister. It was a first visit for all three of us, and we were impressed by the artwork on the wall (seemingly for sale). We also liked the complimentary plate of pickles and pickled beets that began our meal.

In addition to having a selection of sandwiches that one might expect-—falafel, shish kabob, chicken shwarma, etc., available on pita or a lafa flatbread and priced under $10 each--Taboun Grill, which derives its name from that of a traditional clay oven used for baking pita,  also has a number of entrees above $25. Mostly meat selections, these include Rib-Eye Steak, Skirt Steak, Lamb Chops and Prime Rib.

For an appetizer, we shared a small portion of Baba Ghannouj = classic creamy salad made from tangy
roasted eggplant), accompanied by fresh pita bread. It was tasty, though I still prefer hummus as a pita bread dip. But I was intent on trying things not so familiar, which carried through to my main dish.

I enjoy falafel, and recall having a good sandwich within the Arab section of Jerusalem's Old Town, as well as at various places around Chicagoland. But as the aim of my internationally-local dining initiative is not only to explore different ethnic cuisines, but to try new things, I ordered a Fish Pita.

This pita sandwich featured a sizable, pan-fried piece of tilapia, topped with hummus, tehina (ground up sesame seeds) and Israeli salad (essentially chopped tomatoes, onions & cucumbers). It was good, although I think I've reached the conclusion that I don't like hummus as a sandwich condiment, only as a dip. For the hummus gave the fish pita a bit of a sour taste that wasn't entirely pleasing to my palate.

My mom and sister each ordered a Veggie Pita, which the menu describes as delectable layers of hummus, Israeli salad, and eggplant with a touch of tehina. They both claim to have liked their selection, declaring it "a nice change of pace from falafel," which they order at Pita Inn, whose Skokie location is a common lunching destination.

The lack of novelty--despite a definite fondness--is what kept us from ordering Baklava for dessert.
Made with phyllo dough, nuts and honey, Baklava seems to be a staple accompanying many Mediterranean cuisines. And while Chocolate Mousse Cake and Sesame Cookies also sounded good, we were good and abstained.

There is no shortage of stellar Middle Eastern dining options in the Skokie area--besides Pita Inn, I've also enjoyed Basha (a Lebanese restaurant I wrote about) and the Naf Naf Grill--let alone Chicagoland.

But it's nice to know there's another one, with the Taboun Grill serving up satisfying (and kosher) Israeli cuisine.

No comments: