One of the first restaurants I patronized in Dallas after taking my job at the Observer was Medina, the Mediterranean restaurant in Victory Park. I had no clue where to eat and another staff writer recommended it. So there I was, eating lamb and vegetables and hummus with my new friend when I looked around the restaurant and was forced to ask, "Where are all the people?"
To my left a four-top sipped wine, and across the floor another couple ate, but otherwise the place was completely empty. Staff outnumbered diners significantly. Don't get me wrong -- I'm all about good food, and the food there was delicious. But like most diners, I like my meals with a bit more energy.
Fast forward to my recent visit to Baboush, a Moroccan restaurant in the West Village run by the same owners. The place was on fire. The flavors I coveted back in Victory Park seemed more alive if only because of my surroundings: a packed dining room filled with young, loud diners.
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I talk more about the space and the menu in this week's review, but for now we'll focus on one specific dish. A condiment, actually.
After a sampler plate, I ordered all of the meat skewers on the menu. There was shrimp and lamb and beef and chicken, and each of the skewers came with its own condiment. I took one small taste of a white thick cream resembling mayonnaise and my evening shifted.
It wasn't cream but thickened yogurt, labneh, spiked to the hilt with raw garlic. A Lebanese restaurant, a big soulless operation back in Washington DC, served the same dip with their grilled chicken, and I absolutely coveted the stuff, asking for extra every time I had the dish. Baboush's version was more mild than Lebanese Taverna's (they use half-roasted garlic), but the flavor profile was the same. And for a second I was whisked away to a patio table in Pentagon City, eating with old friends. I almost dropped my fork.
In the end I was happy to be back at Baboush, supping on some of the best small plates I've had since coming to Dallas, but I'll likely never forget how one simple whiff of garlic, just for a moment, transported me completely somewhere else.