Fresh Taste of Lebanon
Tabouli’s Middle Eastern fare bursts with health and flavor.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I can feel the vitamins course through my veins every time I eat the vegetable-rich Lebanese cuisine at Tabouli. Chef and owner Christophe Hamadé offers a tempting array of vegetarian and vegan dishes that matches the fare offered on his traditional menu.
The dish I order every time I go to Tabouli is baba
ghanouge, a roasted eggplant purée made with sesame seed paste
(tahini), crushed garlic, yogurt, and lemon juice. Olive oil
sprinkled with paprika and black olives decorates the final
product, which you spread on warm pieces of pita (Lebanese
pocket bread). I like to think of baba ghanouge as hummus
without the calories. You can order it as a side dish ($6.95
small; $7.95 large) or as part of a combination plate.
309 Lighthouse Ave, Monterey
Open daily 11:30am to 8:30pm
Closed Tuesdays and Sundays
My favorite feel-good plate comes with baba ghanouge, hummus, and tabouli ($7.95). Hummus, a chickpea purée made with lemon juice, sesame seed paste, and crushed garlic, has become an onion dip substitute it seems. At Tabouli, hummus gets spread on pita like baba ghanouge and tastes like an exotic peanut butter. For me, tabouli is like good-tasting, Lebanese penicillin. Finely chopped parsley and mint form the base of tabouli salad along with bulghur wheat that has been impregnated with a lemon-olive oil dressing. Pieces of tomato and spring onion add their flavor to the mix as well. These items that depend on freshness for their taste have always been good in the four years that I have been going to Tabouli with my family.
Adventurous diners might want to try the combination plate that comes with dolmas, tabouli, hummus, and spinach salad ($7.95). Dolmas are stuffed vine leaves that get rolled into cylinders and steamed. Tabouli’s version comes with tomato, onion, and rice. Lemon juice and olive oil season the dolmas. The vine leaves have a tart taste and are more tender than baked cabbage leaves.
A fatouche salad ($6.95) might be a new dish for some people. This is an Arabic garden specialty that makes use of the freshest lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onion, parsley, and mint. The novelty of the dish comes from the sumac used to season it, along with the “croutons” made from toasted pieces of pita bread. The mint and parsley form an especially refreshing combination.
Refreshing also describes the tzaziki spread with pita bread ($4.95). Paper-thin cucumber slices hold this savory mix of yogurt, mint, crushed garlic, and sour cream together. Tzaziki, a deceptively light spread, is a famous mezze (Arabic for “hors d’ouevres”) all over the eastern Mediterranean.
Hamadé’s garlic chicken ($9.95) merits one, if not more tries. My finicky teenage daughter Florence always orders this dish and asks why I can’t make the same thing at home. Unfortunately, the sauce is a Hamadé family secret! This combination plate comes with a generous helping of hummus, tabouli, and rice, like all the other combination plates with meat.
On a recent visit, I tried the shawerma combination plate ($9.95). Shawerma is like a Lebanese gyro, but Hamadé is quick to point out that he selects and slices his own meats for the shawerma. Tabouli’s version uses beef seasoned with onion and lemon. I thought the shawerma tasted particularly good with the seasoned rice. This dish may be an acquired taste for some people. The same may be true of the kafta kebab ($9.95), which is ground round steak patties that are threaded and grilled on skewers. My husband Laurent has tried the lamb kebab combination plate ($11.25) on several occasions. He said the lamb is tender and juicy. One skewer holds about eight chunks of meat making this a generous portion too.
All of the delicious meats from the combination plates can be added to the pita wraps ranging in price from $5.45 to $9.45, and to salads ranging in price from $8.95 to $9.95.
Without doubt Tabouli’s food is excellent, but half the charm of the place is eating in the cozy interior decorated with oriental carpets and seat covers that look like arches with lanterns in them. A large supper tray hangs on the main wall with photographs of Greek temples and Lebanese cedars under snow above the windows. Large jars of preserved foodstuffs line the tops of the cupboards in the kitchen. Arabic music plays while you eat and many times Arabic students from the nearby Defense Language Institute come with their instructors to converse with Beirut-born Hamadé.
DLI students could also practice French with Hamadé, who worked in Paris for nine years before coming to the United States. While working in Paris, he met a couple from Carmel, who invited him to visit the Monterey Peninsula. He agreed to come and immediately fell in love with the area because it was quiet, unlike Paris.
Hamadé opened Tabouli in May 1994. He used to be open seven days a week, but has cut down to six days, with Tuesdays being devoted to his booth at the Farmers’ Market, where he has a stand in Bakers’ Alley.
Wherever you choose to sample Tabouli’s fare, you will be in for a healthful and flavorful taste of Lebanese cuisine.