Israel has always had a bad wrap for food. I mean from a tourist perspective. A lot of that, I think has to do with low quality beef. Avoid the McDavid's. Does that mean the food of Israel is really bad. On my lone trip, I found nearly all of the meals outstanding, especially the multitude of stuffed vegetables at a Yemenite place and the multitude of stuffed falafel sandwiches, everywhere. For those, chose at will from a tons of salads, from countless street vendors. My opinion of Israeli food is also futzed up by an especially good restaurant in North Miami Beach run by Israeli's. From them, I expect every other Israeli restaurant to have superior fresh cut fries and bowls full of sour pickles for the taking.
I enter Israeli places with that prejudice, but I also soon find myself at ease entering any Israeli place. I believe, but could be wrong, that there is something relaxing for nearly every American born and raised Jews when they enter a room filled with yamulked men. Outside of a pledge party for ZBT, are there any other settings where you feel more comfortable with your Jewishness? (On the other hand, my wife, felt totally il-at-ease, expecting stones to be hurdled her way any minute because she was wearing a sleeveless dress.) On top of this, your kids are no longer, by a long shot the worst behaved, and even if they were being particularly poorly behaved, no one would hear much of their commotion over the rest of the commotion. Finally, it gives a Jewish man special pride to be served by a slew of dark haired, dark skinned stunning waitresses, who also know how to take apart and put back together, an Uzi while blindfolded. Portnoy would not complain.
So how bad could the food be? Not bad at all. I will say up front, I think the prices are pretty high at Taboun, much more than they should be. I wondered if Rabbinic supervision costs that much more, and my sources in the kosher community tell me kosher meat even at the market costs a lot. Still, what they served us was very, very good. We split two first courses, a smallish Moroccan salad and a largish bowl of Yemenite soup. The soup was greenish yellow, like lakewater, with a taste of odd spices (not like lakewater). A dose of very hot, hot sauce (zug I think it is called), not only heated up the soup, but it amplified the other ingredients. Fresh vegetables helped a lot too. Forget the color, order the soup. Fresh tomatoes so different from nearly every other restaurant's fresh tomato highlighted the salad, a blend of tomatoes, red bell pepper and spices, mostly cumin. Taboun Grill was not buying their tomatoes from the same consortium that nearly every Mexican, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Indian and Thai restaurant.
The Condiment Queen and I and one of the kids got sandwiches. The other kid opted for the very non-special, chicken nuggets. The sandwiches featured a very light and fluffy pita, and I mean that as a compliment. I got mine with some kefta (minced meat) balls. Ms. VI got a veggie combo with eggplant and Hannah got turkey shwarma. All of our fillings mostly served as foils to the other stuff inside the bread, sauce and salads and whatever. A real mess, but a real treat.
Service, besides being beautiful, was efficient and fast. Very fast, they really get you your food quick for a place with table service, although with all the din, lingering was not that important. They also did a good job of keeping me hydrated, as a long day wandering Devon sucked most of the liquid out of my system.
Now, the fries were nothing special, not fresh made. No pickles graced our table, neither before the food, nor after the sandwiches arrived. Still, when you wake up the next morning with the flavors still parading your palate, well you want to return.
Taboun Grill - Kosher/Meat
Address: 6339 N. California
Chicago, IL 60659 Phone: (773) 381-2606