Friday, April 28, 2017

Food Friday: Breaking Bread at Tawla, San Francisco's newest Eastern Mediterranean Gem

Tawla 206 Valencia Street 

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Mediterranean is quite possibly one of my favorite cuisines. In fact, there was a point a little while back where I'd visit the same Mediterranean restaurant every Friday night. (La Med, in case anyone is wondering and my standard order is the chicken kebab plate with lentil soup, lol.) That being said, I was excited to be introduced to a new Eastern-Mediterranean spot in the city. Somewhere new to spice things up! Cue the mission's latest gem, Tawla. When people think of Mediterranean, oftentimes they're used to "street food" items like shwarmas, pitas and kebabs, which isn't a bad thing - because all of those things are delicious, in my opinion. That being said, there's a whole other layer of deliciousness that has yet to be tapped: food made at home that you just can't get anywhere else. That's where Tawla comes in. Tawla's founder, Azhar Hashem, wanted to fill a void in the San Francisco food scene by showcasing the comfort food of the Levant and Mediterranean regions. When I thought about this, I realized, I didn't know what home-style, Levant-region food actually was. Thankfully, that would change that evening, as I got a crash course in Levant-style cuisine thanks to Azhar and the Tawla team, who graciously welcomed us into their "home." So, what did I learn? Read more after the jump.

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The concept behind Tawla comes from it's English translation "table." Appropriately enough, Tawla is all about breaking bread and enjoying the comfort of the community and conversation that comes from the togetherness of the table. When a restaurant stems from this idea of togetherness, you know the food is likely filled with the same passion (aka it's probably really damn good). And you know what? It is.

So, let's start from the top. Upon arrival, I was welcomed to the back patio for pre-dinner drinks and appetizers. Yes, you read that right - the back patio. (If you live in SF, then you know that the patio and rooftop space is a hot commodity in the restaurant world.) It was a pleasant surprise, and I've already spread the news to anyone who will listen about it being a perfect place for drinks on a warm day after work (so don't be surprised if you go and it's already filled with bodies - oops!). It took every fiber of my being to not overdo it during cocktail hour. With all of the appetizers that were being passed my way, I really had to ask myself if having thirds would spoil my appetite. Truth is, it took Azhar's excitement over how much food we had in store for dinner to snap me back into the reality that going for fourths was probably overdoing it. Favorites from the appetizer menu included the house pita rusks with beet muhammara and labneh bi za'atar, as well as the fried baby lavas with almond skordalia. Lava beans are only in season for about three to four weeks, so it was a real treat to indulge in something so delicious.

When it came time for dinner, I learned right away that the tawla breads were the real stars of the show. I'm already a big fan of bread, so having warm, house-made, melt in your mouth bread that goes with every main dish made dinner even more enjoyable. Quite possibly the most surprising dish of the night was the Gavros Marinatos, also known as anchovies. I am not typically a fan of anchovies, and, to be honest, once I heard that the dish being passed around was anchovies, I decided to only grab a tiny little scoop. But, as soon as I took a bite, I quickly regret my decision to skimp on the serving, because by the time I realized how delicious the dish was, it was already being scooped up by everyone else. Lesson learned (or rather reiterated): don't judge a book by its cover. Other standouts from the mains included the antique beef hanger steak, which was tender and full of flavor, as well as the salt spring mussels.

Dining at Tawla was a truly wonderful experience. I enjoyed the warm and inviting staff and space and can't wait until my next visit. 
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