Critics’ choice: Fresh perspectives on Mediterranean cuisines
Tawla San Francisco
“There’s something revelatory about a restaurant like Tawla,” said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. The realization of a dream for former Google engineer Azhar Hashem, it celebrates the food of her native Jordan, and the passion she brings to the project “helps bridge cultures and build understanding.” You won’t find falafel, hummus, or other familiar staples of Levantine cuisine here. Hashem and her chef, Joseph Magidow, have instead focused on homey regional dishes executed with a precision appropriate to a handsome restaurant where a cauliflower appetizer costs $16, gratuity included. Two shared plates appear on the menu, a rockfish stuffed with spiced walnuts and a $140 whole leg of lamb, and “the latter alone is worth a visit.” Covered in a thick spice rub, “roasted to rosy perfection,” and accompanied by pickled mango and other sauces, it’ll feed four and provide leftovers for days. Molokhia, Egypt’s national dish, is made with halibut here, the fillet surrounded by a fermented chile broth thick with mallow leaves. Closest to Hashem’s heart, though, might be the rice and lentil dish mujadara, a favorite memory from childhood. 206 Valencia St. (415) 814-2704
There’s “lots to love” about this Market District newcomer, said Phil Vettel in the Chicago Tribune. In a warm modern dining room with comfortable curvy booths, you can settle in with craft cocktails and raw clams or oysters by the piece before turning to the pull-apart pain d’epi and chef Charles Welch’s menu. Welch’s cooking “combines Midwest bounty with Mediterranean flavor in ways that are bold and balanced,” and he’s “particularly fluent in fish.” Appetizers include a “rich and gamy” lamb tartare, and a small plate of squid-ink cavatelli with calamari, shrimp, and pickled Fresno peppers could complete a light meal. A terrific roast chicken and “even better” pork chop compete with a marinated sturgeon that’s a true “star performer,” fragrant, flavorful, and framed flatteringly by purple radishes, heirloom tomatoes, and pickled beets. The menu’s pleasures simply run too deep to enjoy all at once. “There’s no reason, however, why you shouldn’t become a regular.” 1111 W. Lake St., (312) 877-5929
Butcher & Bee Charleston, S.C.
Far more than any other restaurant in town, Butcher & Bee “feels like a culinary laboratory,” said Hanna Raskin in the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier. Formerly a sandwich shop that’s gone full-service since moving to a bigger space, Michael Shemtov’s popular NoMo destination seems to hold dual citizenship in the Lowcountry and the Levant. Among its Israeli soul food offerings, “wonderfulness isn’t hard to find,” and even the blunders “don’t register as particularly problematic,” because they’re driven by the same devotion to optimum flavor. The whipped feta, topped with “astoundingly good” local honey and fermented chile oil is a simple dish, but it’s also “a terrific example of what happens when you cross local products with a global mindset.” Stick to the small plates (and the “fantastic” wine and beer lists) if you want a great meal. The grilled squash in pesto could be “a local foods master class,” and the cold shrimp-and-calamari salad goes nicely with the blistered, puffy pita. “At its best,” Butcher & Bee is “both accessible and brave.” 1085 Morrison Drive, (843) 619-0202