Review: Lebanese Taverna, Baltimore
Having had a hankering for shawarma and finding out that LT had finally opened in Bawlmer, we decided to head there Friday night.
They have $8 valet service, it's tough to find parking nearby unless you're willing to walk 4 or more blocks.
It was about 7:20 on a Friday night, no reservations, the two of us were greeted and seated immediately. Theme for the night was great yet unobtrusive service.
We asked about Lebanese wine and the server recommended the cab over the one we were eyeing; brought us a taste before we ordered the bottle. Nice touch.
We each got the Mezza dinners: a bunch of mezze followed by a shawarma meal for me, and mixed grill for him.
Their homemade breads are out of this world. Warm, sour-y, dusted with cornmeal that crunches while baking. The came out with the olive oil with that sesame/spice mixture whose name escapes me right now.
Our mezza included falafel, hummus, eggplant/chickpea salad, tabouleh, and two spiced meat-filled pockets. The falafel was the best I've had: so crispy on the outside (panko, maybe? it definitely had a coating) and moist and so wonderfully spiced on the inside. A perfect 10. The tabouleh was nearly all parsley, and just so flavourful and chock-full of healthy goodness. Loved it. The eggplant/chickpea/tomato salad was yum, but a little heavy on the olive oil for my taste. I prefer a little lighter. The hummous was adequate, nothing terribly exciting.
The meat pockets (one was like a falafel outside, the other like a little dough pocket, like a mini chebureki) were good: they were both spiced with cinnamon and other spices which was a nice change of pace. Both were deep-fried, and I could smell the oil that they were fried in when they set the plate down. They may need to change the oil a bit more often in the back.
The apps were great.
My entree included chicken shwarma, then a mixed beef and lamb shwarma and a huge ball of basmati rice, slivered raw onion sprinkled with sumac, tahini sauce, and garlic sauce (that was more like a mayo. More on that deliciousness below). The larger hunks of meat were a bit dry, and since this presentation was sauceless (you know how some shwarma's are a little wetter, with a tomato-y onion-y sauce coating it all?) there wasn't much the moisten. That's where the garlic stuff comes in. Oh. Mah. God. Imagine raw garlic, salt, and oil whipped into an emulsion. Packing into a little solo cup, wrapped in a paper bag, and tucked into a plastic bag, I could smell this garlic walking outside carrying the bag. It is not for the faint of heart. It is divine. It would coat the meat a little better if it were less emulsified, but it was so damn good I didn't care.
Dining partner's entree was mixed grill: chicken and beef kabobs, with some little meatball thingies. The beef kabob was amazingly moist and tender. It reminded me of shashleek: it had to have been marinated with onion and sparking water. It was just divinity.
Of course the chicken could hardly compare. :) The ground meat ballies were very nicely spiced, even little green bits of what I think were chilis in there.
The entrees were pretty damn good. The shwarma portions were huge---I'm estimating 1.5 cups of chicken and 1.5 of the beef/lamb, at least 1 c rice.
Dessert was a miss on all counts. My turkish coffee was too weak, and my dining companion's Lebanese tea was also too weak. Can't remember the name of the item we ordered, but it didn't quite match the description and the cheese on the outside was rubbery.
We totally reeked of garlic when we got out of there. No wonder there's huge Costo-sized jugs of listerine in the bathrooms. :) Not for those that don't like very strongly flavored food. We, on the other hand, love garlic, onion, and the like so enjoyed it thoroughly.
Our server said that they're waiting for the crowds to come. They were overstaffed for the amount of tables that were full (though pretty good for only being open 2 weeks). There were no kinks whatsoever in the front of the house, though LT has been at it for years in the surrounding area.
The room was lovely, with a high ceiling and great decor. There was Lebanese techno on, which was awesome. And the bathrooms---ach, the bathrooms! You have to pass through a beaded curtain, where there are several sleek, sexy faucets coming out of the wall onto basins mounted on stone pillars. All of the cubbies are individual unisex toilets, with a sink and full-length mirror inside. And the aforementioned listerine. Take a cup--you'll need it. ;>
Of course, at the end of the night we played the customary "this place or restaurant xx?" game. We both preferred Kali's Mezze to Lebanese Taverna. Maybe we're just more used to Mezze and know what we like. I think we need to go back to LT and order various apps of our choosing off of the menu, and then be able to make a more valid comparison.
Still, we will definitely go back. Lots of good stuff still to try, and service wasn't an issue in the least. Gotta love restaurants that have it together in all regards. I'd recommend going there to anyone in a heartbeat.
I went this sat. The meal was very good. Went early sat afternoon, the place only had 2 other table being served, so we got to pick any seat in the house. Great service. Hot pita bread to begin with. We went several of the Mezze items like the Hummus, fried shrimp, falafel, chicken swarma Mezze. We enjoyed everything, however the shwarma was our least favorite. The Hummus was amazing! The falafel was decent, (we were comparing it to the falafel we had in Paris, however the one in paris is the best in the universe, so its hard to live up too). The dipping sauces were what really made our meal. After a while we just combined everything into a pita, and added the sauces. Outstanding! We will definately be back, just for the Hummus alone.
Reasonable--average, I'd say. We did a bottle of wine, 2 sparkling waters, 2 mezze/entrees, 2 coffees and a desserts for $107 before tip. The meat entrees were all between $15 and $20, the veg ones a little less. The mezze are a bit higher than at Kali's Mezze but then you definitely get more at Lebanese Taverna.
The address is 719 S. President Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. It's in Inner Harbor East, sort of across the circle from the James Joyce Pub, if you're familiar with the area.
I haven't been to the Baltimore location yet, but I love the Arlington ones and can't wait to try it closer to home.