And so the waiter working the nine tables at TarBoush's new North Tabor outpost seemed surprised with our order. "Usually, I try to get people to order just one thing besides the regular stuff,â he said.
It took some discipline, to be sure. Like you, I mostly want a Lebanese place to serve up chickpeas, meats and pita. Especially at TarBoush, which our taste-off determined makes the best beef shawarma and mezza plates in town ("Eye of the Shawarm," WW, Sept. 25, 2013).
But the opening of TarBoush's second location seemed like a good reason to dig deeper.
Just below the hummus, baba and grape leaves you'll find other cold starters meant to be eaten with the hot-from-the-oven pitas, baked a little darker than at most other Lebanese joints in town. My favorites were laban bi'khyar ($5.50), a cooling yogurt mixed with chunks of chopped cucumber and garlic and a sprinkle of crushed mint leaves; and mhammara ($9), a bowl of meaty walnuts ground into a gritty dark-red paste and blended with smoky roasted red pepper and olive oil.
Things get more interesting with the hot starters, which include familiar dishes like falafel and zaatar, those herb- and nut-topped pita breads often called "Lebanese pizza," but also feature a plate of odd little sausages called makanik ($10). The sausages are an unfamiliar shape, longer and a little thinner than a Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, made in-house from gamey lamb sirloin, with natural casing and a secret spice blend. They're seared and served with a candy-sweet salsa of chopped tomatoes and lemon, a heavy counterweight to the meat.
Another favorite from the hot-appetizer section is TarBoush's house version of the Middle Eastern fava bean dip foul mouddamas ($10), which adds tahini to the usual lemon-garlic-olive oil sauce, taking on nutty depth. (Anything with the restaurant's name in the title is an original riff.)
Among the entrees, I found two things you'd do well to try—both, coincidentally, vegan dishes in a cuisine best known for meat and bread.
Actually, my Turkish brother-in-law found the first one: His eyes lit up when he spotted bamyeh ($14), the hearty okra-based answer to chili, a thick tomato-based stew of fibrous green seedpods, onion, cilantro and garlic. It's warming, like something dads make on cold Big Beirut nights.
The second is kibbeh laqteen ($15), triangular slices of pumpkin kibbeh that look like a dessert but are made with bulgur and pumpkin puree, a thin layer of stewed spinach, onions and sumac, and served with a sprinkle of toasted almonds and parsley. You're meant to cut off a chunk and slather it with yogurt—like a savory pumpkin pie.
When it comes to the real desserts, you of course have carrot cake and baklava. But if you're open to floral flavors—some people can't get past the smell of grandma's soap—there's a very nice rice pudding called riz bi' haleeb ($5). It's thick, creamy and heavy on rosewater. It'd make some people gag, no doubt, but you won't know if you're one of them unless you go beyond the baklava.
EAT: TarBoush, 5663 NE Glisan St., 235-3274, tarboushbistro.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, noon-9 pm Saturday-Sunday.