Eastern Mediterranean Cuisine Celebrated at Tawla

A dinner table is a place where people come together to share a meal, engage in conversation and enjoy life. That is the idea behind Tawla in San Francisco. Tawla is an arabic word with two meanings, both backgammon (the game) and table. It is a word that is found in Turkey (tavla), Greece (tavli) and in Byzantine Greek (tabula). The game is shared across these cultures as is food. Greece, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Syrah, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel have had centuries of cultural cross-pollination. While each of the cuisines are unique to their cultures, with different spices and herbs, there is a connection between many of the dishes. At Tawla in San Francisco, the cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean are woven together for a delicious culinary experience.

Located on the restaurant-dense Valencia Street, I went with a friend on a recent trip to San Francisco. We selected the Summertime Feast for $69 per person, thinking it would give us a broad sampling of the menu. And it did!

We were welcomed with an amuse of plum slices with a smokey salt. The sweetness and tartness of the fruit with the smoky salt awoke our palates.

Our tasting menu began with Three Labnehs, made by draining full-fat yogurt. One was za’atar and olive oil, one was hazelnut dukkah and the third was maris pepper and dried mint, which had a nice kick to it.

Turkish Boreks, stuffed baked phyllo pastries, were next. The Cheese Borek is filled with pomegranate glazed eggplant, feta and kashkaval (a yellow cheese) and the Lamb Borek is filled with hawaij (Yemeni ground spice mixtures), pine nuts and currants.

We were also served a plate of pickled vegetables.

From the Cold Meze section, we enjoyed:

Mujadara – Lentils, rice, yogurt and cherry tomatoes topped with crispy onions

Shaved Kousa – bastrima (Egyptian-style cured beef), thinly shaved melon and pistachio dukkah (spice blend)

From the Warm Meze section, we enjoyed:

Musaka – Unlike the traditional moussaka with bechamel, this mousaka was a modern play on the traditional dish with roasted baby eggplant and cherry tomatoes.

Saganaki – Typically the fried cheese is served with lemon but at Tawla it is served with strawberries, opal basil and verjus. The cheese was crispy on the outside and melted on the inside and the sweetness of the strawberries was an interesting yet tasty combination.

Antique Beef Hangar Steak with black tahini, chili and watercress

White Sea Bass Molokhia with mallow leaves, fermented chili and coriander fumet

And if that was not enough food, we had one last dish to come from the ILNA, or Main Dishes section.

Samakeh Harrah – whole rockfish, spicy walnut stuffing and fig leaves

It was a quite a feast but we made it through the entire meal, finishing close to every bite and wowing a few parties around us who ordered the same menu and went home with to-go boxes. And, we even found room for dessert.

Awamat – cardamom donut, wild honey and stone fruit jam

The service was friendly and knowledgeable, which is helpful when there are so many exotic spices and ingredients. Wine director Shaundon Castonguay has curated a wine list with wines from California, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Lebanon. Order wine by the glass, a bottle or enjoy one of Shaundon’s wine pairings with your meal.

Tawla
206 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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