Tabule - loved it
I don't see this little gem discussed much on the board, so I thought I'd post about my dinner there last week. Tabule is a Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant in the old Stork on the Roof space (Yonge, 3 blocks south of Davisville). Four of us met for an early dinner (6:30 is the latest reservation they will take on a weekend) and we were so drawn by all the appetizers that we ended making a dinner of 8 appetizers and one main course, shared among us. For apps we ordered: hummous, babaganoush, fried cauliflower, fried eggplant, garlic tomatoes, kubbe (aka kibbe or kibbeh), fatoush salad (chunks of cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers and pita chips tossed in oil, vinegar and herbs), and another basic salad. The main was a whole, fried european sea bass, served with deliciously char-grilled onions and peppers and the tastiest rice pilaf I've had in a loooong time.
Here is a cuisine where I could happily eat vegetarian all the time. The highlights for me were 1) the addictive cauliflower, which was very lightly fried (no batter) and drizzled with tahini, 2) the eggplant, which was tender and savoury with no hint of bitterness and the 3) garlic tomatoes, which seemed to be stewed in a tomato sauce. The fish was delicious as well -- a whole fish that had been deep fried so that it was crisp on the outside and wonderfully moist and tender on the inside -- and would have been a huge serving for one person. Everything was full of flavour and very fresh. The four of us stuffed ourselves for $135 (before tip), which also included two pomegranate martinis, two desserts and 3 coffees.
Atmosphere is simple and casual, service is warm and friendly. The place was packed all evening (a Saturday), so it's clear that others feel the same as we did. This is not a "destination" restaurant for a first date, but is a solid choice for a casual dinner any night of the week.
We tried Tabule for the first time, a spur of the moment choice after getting a parking space at their front door. It was very busy for a Tuesday night, but service was fine.
The lentil soup was lovely, a smooth puree with a nice cumin-dominated spicing and a generous squeeze of lemon. Definitely a hit.
We shared four appetizers after that and left with mixed feelings. Everything was very fresh and of high quality, but all four lacked any "wow".
The falafels were hot, crispy, fluffy, and greaseless, but had a very muted spice level that disappointed. The accompanying tahini was extremely bland.
The hummus was a generous portion and, again, very fresh. But it was also bland and somewhat stodgy. Lemon helped, but it could have used a hit of garlic, some sesame oil, and such.
The eggplant came in thick slices that were beautifully browned. It was tasty, but also very greasy. Keeping the grease out is the key to this simple dish.
The chicken livers were well done, but still soft, and were also tasty. But the sauce, though tasty smeared on a pita, could not stand up to the assertive chicken liver flavour and was almost lost.
Pitas were fresh and hot, but I found them very doughy. However, my wife really liked this style.
We'd return if in the immediate area, but would not make a special journey. We wonder whether they always spiced the food like this, or if they've dumbed it down due to customer preference.
Nice review, embee. Glad you got to try the place. I've never thought of the flavours as bland there, and have always enjoyed the freshness of everything. Maybe I'd have to try the hummous side by side with Jerusalem's version. I wonder if it's a difference due to being Lebanese-style vs. Israeli-style? I do agree with you about the pitas -- I don't like the fluffy, doughy version they serve. The whole wheat pitas there are a bit chewier, so I always ask for those.
I think of Tabule as a great weeknight, neighbourhood restaurant, so I agree about not making a special journey for it.
People I know who have been there before, plus most of the comments on this board, have not described bland food. That's why we wondered whether the North Toronto clientele might have requested this. It's much less the case now than in the past, but people in this part of town have been known to shy away from strong, complex, or unfamiliar flavours.
I don't know if you were familiar with David Wood in North Toronto back in the eighties (in my opinion, Toronto's best takeout place), but their food labels all stated prominently "contains garlic" or "does not contain garlic", so nobody would be unpleasantly surprised and upset.
I've been to Tabule a couple times, and I have found most of the dishes I have ordered have been flavourful, but I might have been lucky in terms of which dishes I chose to order.
I like their babaghanouj, fried garlic tomatoes, fattoush and their tabbouleh. I agree their eggplant is quite greasy. The lamb kebab was cooked nicely, but the marinade was a little bland.
I probably wouldn't order their grape leaves, labne and mujaddara again.
We ordered in last night from these guys. I loved it. I had the kefta which made me very happy. I rather liked the hummus myself and found the tahini nice and lemony. The falafel was tasty too, nicely seasoned. I really liked the fact that I could get all this delivered but I was a little taken aback by the $4 delivery charge. I'm thinking to try the whole fish next time.
I've posted about Tabule a few times on this board - I've eaten there 20 or so times and it's consistently good and the service is warm and friendly. The restaurant was opened by a former waitress from Jerusalem and her husband so not surpisingly, there are some similarities in the dishs. Overall, I way prefer the food and atmosphere at Tabule though I agree with orangewasabi that the hummus and fried garlic tomatoes are better at Jerusalem. TorontoJo, I'm with you - appetizers are the way to go, though you need at least one main dish to get the killer rice/noodle combo (sooo good). Also, try the halmoui salad next time - it has a nice tang to it. Lentil soup is good as well. I've never tried the whole fish or the armenian sausage so I'll add those to my list for next time.
FYI, they take reservations during the week but not on week-ends. They also deliver.
okay, just returned from Tabule, it's a lovely little gem of a neighborhood place, with warm staff. Here's my eval of the food, vs Jerusalem:
Babaganosh -- really good, nice roasted flavour and a tich of bite, almost as good as J's
Hummus -- much more chickpea, lighter on the tahini than J, a bit bland
Labeneh -- rich, sour, lovely -- a bit better than J
Fried Eggplant -- 5 thick slices, very saturated with bland oil as a result, prefer the thinner, lemonyer, garlicier, flavour of J, good potential though, they gotta fix the oversaturated oil thing
Fried Tomatoes -- pure tomato flavour, plum tomatos in a thick sauce, significantly less garlic than J -- fresh but not as good as J
Fried Cauliflower -- floret tips only, fried and drizzled with tahini, a nice roasted nutty flavour, the tahini worked really well with on this dish. Jerusalem's cauliflower is done in large florets.
Falafels -- light, fluffy, very fresh, better than Jerusalem's. Served with tahini -- bland, I really missed the bite of the tahini at J
Lebanese Sausage -- five finger sized sausages highly paprika'd with a bit of chili bite at the end, very nice flavour
Anash Safta -- custard with angel hair filo and rose water syrup was served warm. My husband liked it, I didn't care for the flavour at all.
Overall, Jerusalem is my preferred flavour palette by a long shot -- all the flavours there are more intense (more garlic, more lemon, more bite). Tabule has a list of fruit/vodka Martinis and more style so it's definately more hit, and entertainment friendly. For the food though, it's just not as good for me.
okay agree with you on the hummus and fried tomatoes. Also the more garlic on everything ..however this is what I prefer...you don't reek of garlic when you leave like J.
However may I add the following:
Rice --way way better than J
Fried Eggplant - better than J ...maybe you came on an off night it is rarely saturated in oil and use fresher oil
Lamb chops - no comparison way better ,first cut, aged tender ,better quality meat
Beef- better quality I think it is Filet Mignon
Tabule- way better than J fresher, fresh mint , lemon etc
Fatush, Hallum salad - both great don't have at J
Mujaddarra -great don't have at J
Kubbeh- better than J
Cauliflower, falafel - better than J
Shrimps - bigger and deveined -better than J
Desserts- better than J try lemon orange sorbet or Pom sorbet, rice pudding and Knafa
Wine list, drink list --way better than J
Overall , Tabule is my preferred flavour palette by a long shot---the service and ambience is A LOT better as well!!
I definitely prefer Tabule. But while both are Middle Eastern, I think that Jerusalem is more Israeli in style (?). Note that the fried eggplant isn't battered and fried like you might expect -- its large slices of tender eggplant that tastes like it may have been sauteed. Simple, but delicious. Gotta have the cauliflower, though!