Fenwick Street is the epicenter of an area largely defined by the student population. Fenwick Towers, the huge behemoth of a building that looms over everything around it, is stuffed with university goers who need good food, cheap.
Tarboosh has set up shop in former pizza digs, next to another bastion of student cuisine, Darrell's. Despite being a relative newcomer, Tarboosh has made enough of an impact to be the first runner up in the Coast's Best of Food in both the Falafel and Middle Eastern cuisine categories. I've decided to make the trip across town to see what I'm missing.
A small, bright orange and white room with a few tables and a counter make up the interior; outside are a few sidewalk tables, which are very inviting on this warm summer day.
The menu is small, just one page long, and has all the standards from baba ghanouj to baklawa.
We're going to sample the hummus ($3.95), foul mdammas ($3.95), falafel ($1/piece as an appetizer), batata ($2.95) and two Tarboosh platters ($8.95 each), one with kafta djaj, the other with lahem mashwi.
The hummus comes with pita bread on the side, as is the norm. The chickpeas have been pureed to a super smooth paste, but it's a little too salty for my liking when eaten with just the pita triangles. It works OK when used as a spread with other ingredients, though.
Boiled fava beans make up the foul mdammas, along with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings. This version has an earthy taste, and is lighter on the garlic than other foul mdammas that I've had. The batata are described as "Homemade Lebanese fries." I ask the server what makes them Lebanese, and she says that it's just because they're cut here. My curiosity gets the best of me, and in spite of my misgivings, I order a side. Turns out they're just fries with a seasoned salt thrown on and I highly doubt they were cut anywhere but a factory. They seem out of place on this menu, but I let it go and move on to taste the rest of the food we've ordered.
Next is the famous falafel, a small round of ground and friend chickpeas and spices. With all due respect to the winner of The Coast's Best of Food falafel category, the Tarboosh falafel ball is the best falafel ball I've had in this town. The texture is dense, but not fibrous; the exterior is crunchy with a soft interior; and it's heavily seasoned, with a generous dash of cumin leaving a nice aftertaste. Next time, I'll have it in the wrap.
Our platters come with a Lebanese house salad of romaine, tomato, onion and cucumber, plus "crouton" made of pita and a vinegary dressing. There's also hummus, plain white rice and plenty of pita with which to make little sandwiches This is my favourite way of eating these platters.
The kafta djaj, a ground chicken skewer, is spicy, lemony and delicious. I tend to avoid beef in Lebanese eateries because I've found it's generally tough, but not so here. The beef cubes (lahem mashwi) are tender and moist. Both skewers have been cooked over the grill and are equally great.
A strong red Lebanese tea and thick black Lebanese coffee ($1.75 each), and a piece of nutty, sweet baklawa ($1.50) finish up dinner nicely.
Tarboosh5566 Fenwick Street405-4000Daily 11am - 9:30pm
More nutty and sweet reviews from Liz Feltham at www.foodcritic.ca