Tawla

It was approaching Christmas, and I had a fellow foodie friend coming back to the bay area for the holidays. Last time she came over the 4th of July, we didn’t manage to meet up, so we really wanted to get together and have a great meal. My first thought was Mister Jiu’s, but unfortunately for me, they’re still quite popular and even though I looked a month or so in advance, there was no availability for dinner. My thoughts then moved toward Tawla. I had heard good things, and it’s not a type of cuisine I do a lot of cooking for at home, so it seemed like an ideal choice for a dinner out.

The restaurant itself isn’t that big, but it did smell wonderful when we walked in. They specialize in Eastern Mediterranean food, and I really do enjoy smelling those spices while they are cooking. The restaurant also has a fairly extensive wine list, and they have quite a few wines from one of my favorite wineries: Chateau Musar. It’s a Lebanese wine that I first tried at a wine bar in Santa Cruz, and ever since then, I’m always thrilled when I see it on a menu. They had some older vintages, and they were a bit spendy, but when you’re out with old foodie friends, you sometimes splurge on a nicer wine. (I do miss living in the UK for some things, and wine prices from wineries on that side of the world do cost far less money, but there’s not much a person can do about that is there?)

The server was incredibly friendly and helpful, and he suggested Teta’s Table to us to share ($49 pp), as it’s a selection of dips and the other offerings they have on the seasonal menu. We were definitely interested, but they also offer a “feast” menu ($69 pp) which is like Teta’s Table with more. As the three of us are huge fans of “more”, we opted for the feast menu. There are also several wine pairings you can go with (although they seem more like wine flights to me), but we decided to just order bottles to share. They had our favorite year Musar (2000), so we started with a bottle of that, and it was even better than I remembered it.

The food started coming out. We were given a few orange segments with some red chiles as an amuse bouche, and the spice and the sweetness did really cleanse the palate. We were then given some bread and some dips. The beet muhammara was probably our favorite, but the hazelnut dukkah was probably my favorite. My least favorite was the za’atar and olive oil. But the bread was heavenly (and we definitely got them to bring us some more). Next up were several salads. The citrus and chicories was my favorite, but I do really like the blend of the bitter endive with the citrus flavors. There was one with some hard buffalo cheese and beans, which was nice, but didn’t really wow me. We were also given three borek (two cheese and one lamb). These are a bit like puff pastry parcels. They were really tasty, but the lamb was definitely the best.

And the food just kept coming. We were brought some spiced carrots (delicious) and some feta dumplings. The dumplings were good, but again, nothing super exciting. The charred cauliflower was something spectacular (but I’m a huge fan of cauliflower prepared that way). The lamb tongue was really tasty, although the olives with it did put off one of the diners at the table who really just isn’t a fan. Honestly, there was so much food coming out, that it was really hard to remember everything about all the dishes, but I did remember that overall, I was really happy with a lot of the food coming to the table. (Note to self: Take more notes when eating even though it may really annoy the other half.) Perhaps it was just the great company though, as we were really having a fantastic time catching up while sharing food and drink.

The last of the dishes from our feast to hit the table was spectacular looking whole grilled fish with a very pungent stuffing. Sadly, the fish itself was a bit bland on its own, and the stuffing was really over seasoned, so you didn’t want to eat it on its own. On a more positive note, we were all ridiculously stuffed after eating all the food before the fish came out that we didn’t really care that we didn’t finish it. Because there was a HUGE amount of food with the feast. However, I did decide I needed to try the desserts, because the food here reminded me of two Middle Eastern restaurants in London that had some of the most amazing desserts, so I was really hoping they were going to pull it out with the sweets. I was recommended the doughnuts, so I went with that, but sadly, they were just a bit boring and not nearly as special as Ottolenghi’s desserts or the those from Honey and Co.

I really enjoyed things at Tawla overall. The atmosphere was great and there really is a fantastic selection of wine that they have available, and they are really good about making sure that the wine you order is something you really want to drink. The selection of food we were brought was overall very good and there was plenty of it for the price. The dessert was probably the most disappointing part of the meal, but it doesn’t come with the set menu, so it’s not something you have to worry about if that’s the route you’re going. I’d definitely come back, but I do think it’s a place that does better with more people, so it may be a place to come back to when friends are visiting again.

Score: 4/5
Recommendation: Lebanese wine and Teta’s Table (unless you’re ridiculously hungry)

Tawla
206 Valencia St
San Francisco, CA 94103

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