As new friends and coworkers become privy to my blogging, I get asked more and more often why I don't write more restaurant reviews. My answer is always that I don't want to be that person keeping the table from eating, fork and knife at-the-ready, while I say, "wait, just one more photo!" I also feel uncomfortable bringing my real camera to a restaurant; there are already so many negative feelings about food bloggers entering restaurants with their DSLR and expecting fancy treatment (or, free food) and I definitely never want hardworking cooks and servers to feel that way about me.
But these reasons seem to be less convincing than I think they are in my head. "Can't you just snap some quick photos on your iPhone?" Well, yes. I am usually Instagramming great meals qualm-free, so why not give my photos a bit more attention and try to get a blog post out of it! The snaps I ended up getting this weekend at Taboon are not quite as nice as I'd like, but it's probably a good thing for me to learn to let go of some of my control freak tendencies-- often I only cook recipes for my blog on Saturday mornings; that way I can be home to photograph it around 3PM, when the light is just right, ha!
It's a little unfortunate that I can't do Taboon's food a little more justice, because it's fantastic. Dan and I first went to the Hell's Kitchen spot for Valentine's Day in 2010. A restaurant owner friend with particularly great taste in Middle Eastern food recommended the restaurant, which has actually been around since 2004. I can remember thinking, upon our first trip, that I would love to return to the crisp, rustic setting for a summertime meal, the dining room outlined with french doors waiting to be opened. We had an amazing meal on our first trip. So much so that we actually could remember the food we'd eaten for months, even years later. But nothing stuck in our mind as much as the Sambusak, a loaf of bread cooked in their signature taboon oven (a large, clay, firey oven which greets you as you enter the restaurant) and stuffed with milky feta cheese, diced jalapeno and onion. Since the last bite of that loaf four years ago, my mouth waters just thinking about it, to the point that I began to believe that my memory of the dish was fogged by happy memories and was probably more of a personal fairy tale than actually one of the tastiest things I've ever eaten.
Luckily, it wasn't a dream. Dan and I returned this weekend and were equally as blown away by the meal. The bread, which is rich, yet just the right size and has the perfect balance of tang and spice, was again the highlight. It's crusty on the outside and hot and chewy inside, with a similar texture to a really good pizza dough. The feta cheese is fresh, so it's milkier and a bit less salty than feta that's been aging. Then, there's a perfect amount of fresh jalapeno mixed into the cheese, cutting the milkiness with a bright burst of heat. It's honestly in the top five best bites of food I've ever had in my life, so it's a good thing that Taboon is tucked away on 10th avenue and 52nd street, otherwise I'd be there stuffing my face full of Sambusak way more often.
We also had an incredible chicken entree that we ate too quickly to get a picture. Lemony, crispy chicken skin and succulent (I hate that word, but that's the best way to describe this chicken's perfect juiciness) chicken breast, also cooked in the taboon, was laid atop an Israeli couscous pilaf, finished with a drizzle of reduced chicken stock and a sprinkle of crispy breadcrumbs. There were also the herby cocktails which were perfect for the warm night and a deliciously messy mushroom and greens salad that I can't wait to try and replicate.
We finished with a rum-soaked date sponge cake that was recommended to us by our delightful, amazing waitress. Eaten along with some strong, rich Turkish coffee, the cake was rich, dense and moist. Almost resembling a sticky toffee pudding, which might be one of my favorite desserts ever, the cake combined that sweet, syrupy Anglo-style cake that I love with the nutty, dried fruit flavors of the Middle East.
I'd also recommend the restaurant if you're looking for a nice outdoor dining experience. While I usually hate hot, crowded, noisy sidewalk seating you usually find all over NYC, this restaurant is over on 10th avenue, so the traffic is a little calmer and the sidewalk feels a little less dusty. Plus, even sitting indoors, you get a real breezy feel thanks to the airy decor and those floor-to-ceiling french doors!
Taboon: 773 10th Ave, 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019,(212) 713-0271