A chef's dream: a restaurant serving the earthy foods of all the countries on the Mediterranean Sea. The reality: Tabrizi's, a new restaurant and gourmet carryout on South Charles Street.
Since he left Israel at age 20 to work in restaurants and hotels in Europe, Michael Tabrizi has wanted a place with an open kitchen where customers could sit at the counter and schmooze while they watch him cook. After three years in the United States, he chose to open such a place in Baltimore because it is a harbor city like Haifa, Israel, where he was born.
At his new establishment, Mr. Tabrizi marries European culinary techniques with the Middle Eastern flavors he loved as a child. "Mediterranean cooking has more in common with Middle Eastern food than Northern European cuisines," he says.
Inspiration comes from the cuisines of Spain and Portugal, France and Italy, Greece and Turkey, North Africa and, of course, the Middle East. And so do Mr. Tabrizi's typical ingredients: tomatoes, garlic, onions, eggplant, peppers, olives, nuts, lemons, beans, grains.
Traditional Middle Eastern specialties dot the menu -- hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, lentil and yogurt soups, tabbouleh, fattoush, stuffed vegetables -- but so do European-influenced items such as shrimp El Hambra, minestrone soup, paella, coq au vin and pork medallions with green peppercorns.
And Mr. Tabrizi's specialty is a unique combination of cream sauces with Middle Eastern spices, perfectly illustrated in a dish called gagi mish mish, he says. He enriches a typical Middle Eastern fruit, nut and chicken combo with a light creamy sauce.
Mr. Tabrizi credits his mother with instilling his love of good food. "When she cooked, the whole neighborhood smelled good," he says. And when he opens his 35-seat garden cafe (sometime this month, he hopes), he will be similarly scenting the neighborhood.
With recipes for one of Tabrizi's favorite dinners, you'll be wafting fragrances through your own neighborhood.
GAGI MISH MISH
(CHICKEN WITH DRIED FRUITS)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 dried apricots
4 dried prunes
1 small McIntosh apple, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon raisins
1 cup heavy cream
Sprinkle chicken on both sides with lemon juice and let stand 3 hours. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat butter and oil in a skillet. Add chicken and saute over moderate heat until golden brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. Add apricots, prunes, apple, walnuts and raisins to the pan and stir to coat with pan juices. Stir in cream and reduce sauce by half. Return chicken to skillet. Heat through. Serve with rice and spinach. Serves two.
TABRIZI'S MOTHER'S SPINACH
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 pounds spinach
4 tablespoons dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Heat water in a 10-inch saucepan. Add spinach and wine. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cover and cook over high heat 30 #F seconds. Let stand 20 seconds. Drain. Serves two.
1 pound fresh or frozen shredded phyllo dough (thawed)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 pound butter, sliced
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3-4 drops rose water or orange flower water (or substitute vanilla)
Separate dough to loosen and fluff. Spread half the dough in the bottom of an 8-inch round baking pan. Spread ricotta on top. Cover with remaining dough. Top with butter slices. Bake in a 350-degree oven 15-20 minutes or until dough is golden brown. Let cool. Combine sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half. Add rose water. Pour over kunafa and serve hot. Serves six to eight.-