It’s been two weeks since I last wrote a blog entry. I skipped over the past two weeks because I had little time to visit any restaurants, and as a result, little to say. Empanada Boy and I have also been very busy in the run-up to our wedding (three weeks from today!). This past weekend was a particularly momentous one: EB’s parents, his siblings and my mom were all in town to witness and celebrate his conversion to Judaism. Yes, as of Friday, EB is officially a Jew! The parents, EB and I drove out to a synagogue in Wilmette where EB met privately with a panel— called a bet din— made up of one rabbi and two cantors. They asked him questions to be sure he was ready to go ahead with the whole thing. Then we all went over to the ritual bath, or mikveh, where he was given instructions to strip, clean himself and immerse himself into the bath, saying some important prayers in between. The male cantor witnessed his immersion, but the rest of us could hear him recite the prayers. When he was done with the last one, we all called out: “mazel tov!” It was an emotional and exciting process that left us feeling hungry for lunch. What could be a more appropriate stop than a restaurant serving kosher Israeli and Morrocan food? Taboun Grill in Rogers Park was a perfect way to welcome the new Jew.
Our elation and emotional expenditure made us ravenous, and the delicious smell when we walked into the restaurant added to our eagerness to get food to our table. A tasty array of pickled vegetables, including beets, cucumbers and a hot pepper kept us occupied until we ordered appetizers. We decided to start with Moroccan Cigars— thin, crispy, sticks, reminiscent of Chinese egg rolls, which came filled with beautifully spiced ground beef. Falafel, served with hummus was our second appetizer. The freshly made balls had a crackly textured, and were well-seasoned. EB and I agreed these were the best we’d tried in Chicago. Feeling a little more sated, we settled down to await the arrival of our entrées.
Tofutti Cutie ordered the eye-catching salad combination plate (pictured above), which came with hummus, Moroccan eggplant salad, purple cabbage and baba ghannouj. All were tasty, but I especially enjoyed the eggplant salad, which was rich a flavorful. A taboun is the oven used to make pita. And, indeed, the pita served on the side was exceptionally thick and fluffy with a nice char. Popover tried the fish pita made with tilapia. EB, Mango Mama and I were looking forward to trying the restaurant’s highly-touted meats. We couldn’t decide what to order, so we opted to share the Grill Combination platter and a schwarma pita. The pitas was packed with flavor and spices. Nothing about it was tame. But the combination plate stole the show. It had spiced meatballs called kefta, pieces of juicy steak and delicious chunks of chicken thigh. The meat was fantastic, juicier than any other kosher meat I’ve tried. Blood is drained from kosher animals when they are killed, usually making for a drier, chewier texture. This was not the case here. The only downside: kosher meat is expensive, which explains why our dish was $26. But this alone would have been enough to feed the three of us. I assume the same is true of the other meat entrées.
We finished our meal feeling completely stuffed, but satisfied. A friend of mine who went to Israel with me had mentioned Taboun Grill as the only place in the U.S. he’s tried that comes close to what we ate there. I will second his words and modify them; the food at Taboun Grill is better than most of what I remember eating in Israel. It was a meal fit for a special occasion, and EB’s entrance to Jewish life was just that kind of an auspicious event.
6339 N. California Ave.
Chicago, IL 60659