Tabrizi's: where multicultural cuisines make a curious connection



Where: 1026 S. Charles St.

Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (brunch) and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (dinner) Sundays.

Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.

Features: Mediterranean cuisine

Non-smoking section: No, but staff will try to seat non-smokers away from smokers.

Call: 752-3810

*** Not long ago, "mainstream" (Continental cuisine, tie required) and "ethnic" (cheap, spicy, minimally decorated) restaurants were separate but not-quite-equal species. In recent decades, though, such barriers have broken down, and multiculturalism rules the restaurant scene. The result is a place like Tabrizi's, where diners can eat deliciously unfamiliar cuisine from places like Egypt and Turkey in a lovely room with hydrangeas on the wallpaper and Baroque chamber music playing softly in the background.

Of course, the people at the next table might be eating coq au vin. Chef and co-owner Michael Tabrizi, who grew up in Israel, provides a taste tour of the whole Mediterranean area, from southern France and Italy to the Middle East, combined with his own light, contemporary contributions.

A dining duo might want to start with the signature plate for two ($10.95), a generous sampling of house specialties: hummus and baba ghanoush (garbanzo and eggplant dips with garlic and pine nuts), tabouleh and fattoush (refreshing tomato-cucumber salads), dolma (vine leaves stuffed with rice and lamb) and falafel (fried balls of ground fava beans and spices). Except for the heavy falafel, all are tangy and appetizing, and except for the dolma, all would tempt vegetarians.

According to legend, an Ottoman sultan married a bazaar girl for the sake of a mint-spiked soup called shushbarak ($1.95). I don't know how good a deal that was, but you've got to like a sultan who gets what he wants through Amnesty International-approved methods. And it's a darned good soup. It's much richer than you'd expect a soup based on low-fat yogurt to be, and contains plenty of tender tortellini.

The home-steeped salmon ($9.50) isn't recognizably Mediterranean, but it's a fantastic dish. The sashimi-raw salmon had been marinated in orange juice for a hint of citrus sweetness, rubbed with dill and juniper berries, sliced, and garnished with creamy horseradish. When these vivacious flavors mingled, they veritably tap-danced on the tongue.

Kibbeh ($12.50) comprised three sauteed "eggs" of minced beef and bulgur, stuffed with more beef, onions and pine nuts and served with garlicky yogurt dip. Think meat loaf with a Middle Eastern spin; if the notion appeals, this dish will, too.

We preferred the European classicism of creme caramel ($2.95) to the insipid sweetness of a rose water-flavored pudding called muhullabbia ($2.50). But the Middle Eastern pastries looked awfully good. I have an idea you can strike it rich no matter what side of the Mediterranean you decide to explore at Tabrizi's.

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