There's a new kid on Federal Hill and he's making friends fast.
Tabrizi's, open since December in what used to be the Soup Kitchen, is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite, at least based on our recent weeknight experience and the report from our waiter.
It's easy to understand why.
* Tabrizi's is an attractive and interesting restaurant. You walk past the small, open kitchen to the two dining rooms, one behind the kitchen and the other, the "balcony," on the second floor.
* The staff is friendly, relaxed and seems to genuinely enjoy being here. So, too, with the customers, many of whom, on the night my husband and I were there, knew each other and made a point as they left of thanking the chef and the hostess.
* Distinctive touches abound. Water comes in a capped bottle left on the table; a small bottle of cologne is offered to users of the men's room; the menu invites diners to chat with the chef, Michael Tabrizi, as he cooks and proposes that diners ask him to create dishes to their specifications.
* The menu poses that most delightful of dilemmas: what to pick from a multitude of appealing dishes in this "Mediterranean restaurant." Selections range from Spanish to French past Italian and Greek into Turkish, Lebanese and Israeli.
* The extensive menu offers seven appetizers, three soups, 11 salads, 14 "light fare" selections, 14 entrees and eight desserts. That's 57 items, just about the number of diners Tabrizi's can hold.
Most important, however, in the success of any restaurant are the taste and quality of its food. It's difficult to imagine many complaints.
We began with an appetizer sampler called "Signature Plate for Two," which allowed us to try, for $10.95, Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Tabouleh, Dolma and Falafel.
From the chick peas of the Hummus to the eggplant of the Baba Ghanoush, to the parsley-dominated Tabouleh, the warm stuffed grape leaves of the Dolma and the crisp complexity of the Falafel, waiting to be dipped in tahini, they were all delicious. And deliciously different.
While I sampled the homemade pitta with the house butter, which included chives and garlic, my husband had a bowl of Lentil Soup ($1.95). Laden with lentils, green and white onions and potatoes, it was touched enticingly with cumin. He likes lentil soup and loved this one; I don't, but found it very good.
After more Tabouleh, included with each entree, we dug into our entrees, Chicken Laura and Turkish Meat Loaf. Not turkey meat loaf; Turkish meat loaf.
So what, you ask, is Turkish meat loaf?
"Baked minced beef, mixed with onions, parsley and pine nuts, topped with tahini sauce and slice baked potatoes," the menu said. "Wonderful," my husband said. "Strange," I said. But he had ordered it, not I, and he was disappointed only that we left the leftovers behind.
I chose Chicken Laura, a rather sophisticated name for a grilled boneless chicken breast served with rice and spinach. Though not sophisticated, all three were nicely done. The small breast was tender, moist and tasted nicely of the grill. The large-grained, fluffy rice was flavored with juices from the chicken, parsley and pine nuts -- a great mix. The spinach, flavored with the juices and a little butter, was also a treat.
The meatloaf was $9.50; the chicken, $10.50. Very fair prices, especially considering the work and quality behind what we were eating.
For dessert, my husband had a beautiful tart of apples, caramelized with sugar, served hot with whipped cream and called Tartin-Tatin ($3.75). It was, like so much of our dinner, an inviting, unusual mix of flavors.
I had Kunafa ($3), shredded phillo dough filled with ricotta cheese. Baked and served with a sweet syrup, it was a delicate, captivating mix of textures and flavors that begged to be eaten in small bites to make the experience last.
Through the entire meal, we had only the smallest of criticisms. Our table was tiny, several dishes were not available and the service, at first, was slow.
The bill for all this, plus two drinks and two glasses of wine, a Turkish coffee ($1.50) and a regular coffee ($1.25) was just under $60.
We left wondering why we had not heard more of this place, but feeling sure we would.
*** 1/2 Tabrizi's Mediterranean Restaurant
1026 S. Charles St.
Hours: 11 a.m.- 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. brunch and 5-8 p.m. dinner Sunday.
Credit cards: Major credit cards accepted.
Handicapped access: Accessible.
Smoking: No designated areas.