Fun, tasty chance to play with your food, or a presentation that detracted from the quality of the product? Our table was divided. While I didn't mind the slightly chunky hummus ($6) that resulted from my three minutes of inexpert mortar and pestle grinding, given the perfect balance of chickpea, acid, and tahini, others would have preferred a super-smooth hummus closer to that served at Taïm.
A menu special, and a fine place to start ($7): tiny wedges of potato, fried dry with crisped edges, paired with a simple and disarmingly tasty saffron aioli that we ended up slathering on extra pita, so as not to waste a bit.
Just that: salty, meaty olives ($5) in soft golden brown shells, served in a bed of lovely, creamy labne cheese complicated by a sharp harissa oil.
Another special, of delicate and deliciously tart white anchovies ($9) served over a mouth-tender roasted pepper, hefty croutons, and black chickpeas. While the fish perfumed the entire dish in a way any white anchovy fan will appreciate, the chickpeas were a bit tougher than we would have liked; they ended up dry and uneaten at the bottom of the plate.
Taïm falafel-wrapped albondigas
As branded on the menu ($9). If you manage to stuff both falafel and meatball into one bite, the result is a crispy-edged shell that gives way to a satisfyingly meaty core, all improved by a tahini- and parsley-heavy dipping sauce; if you tentatively nibble, though, you'll end up with two different tastes: the shed falafel skin and a naked meatball. Recommendation: open wide.
Red Quinoa Salad
What might be a throwaway dish at other restaurants is delicious here ($8): dressed amply in fine olive oil, with sweet bits of dried cranberry and the fresh bite of parsley and preserved lemon.
Wrapped in a shredded dough that's pleasingly crispy on the outside ($13); a substantial, hearty shrimp on the inside, made memorable by a tangy, gently spicy fish roe sauce that tasted intensely of the sea.
"Dave's Grilled Pizza"
A perfectly good grilled pizza ($11), with a crust that's both pliant and crisp, if not quite well-salted enough, in our estimation. Topped with a sweet, deeply flavored carrot puree and generous clumps of goat cheese.
Chicken under a brick
Moist throughout, crispy-skinned, paired with cooked-down onions and a bright salsa verde ($22): what's not to love? Even the barley salad alongside delighted us, softer than we knew barley could be, and dressed in more of that excellent olive oil. Not surprising given their culinary provenance, but this kitchen has a way of using good olive oil to its advantage.
Lamb two ways
The lone disappointment of the night, and a bit pricey for two little chops ($28). While the fattier bits of the lamb were perfect—salty and juicy and imbued with lamb flavor—the heart of these lamb chops had comparatively less flavor. A salty and compelling Persian lime sauce couldn't save it.
Made up for the lamb's shortcomings, and then some: a perfect medium-rare ($25), chewy in the way the cut will be, but in a good way—a way that makes you feel lucky to get to chew it so long. Dressed in a haunting, appealing spice blend that recalled smoked paprika, but with more of a bite. (What spices were in that crust, we inquired? The answer: "Thirty.") Served with crisp sweet potato wedges and a cumin slaw.
Wild berry crumble
The crumble itself, though not in a bad way, more homey than refined; the creme fraiche ice cream, vice versa. Taken together, an undeniably tasty end to the meal.
Orange blossom malabi with kumquat sauce
The light custard manages to taste strongly of orange blossom, while tasting neither too sweet nor too like perfume.
Turkish coffee cardamom molten chocolate cake
Reminded us all why cardamom and chocolate are such an inspired combination; the mocha ice cream, with an aggressive hit of espresso, even better than the creme fraiche.