Location: 1698 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
When we told the waiter (and, I suspect, owner) at Taj that this was our first visit to the restaurant, he pretty much ordered for us. He gave us a handful of suggestions, then when we neglected to order immediately, he said okay, how about you order this, this, that, and this, and before we knew what was happening the menus were gone and he was in the kitchen (to be fair, we could have said no, but it all sounded good, so we went with it).
It was really bizarre; in pretty much any other setting I probably would have been peeved, but he did it in such an earnest and friendly way that it was hard to be too miffed about it.
Of course, it also helps that all of the food was delicious.
And thankfully it’s an inexpensive place, so despite the fact that we wound up spending (and eating) more than we wanted to, it still only amounted to about 25 bucks each for more food than we were able to eat.
We started with a salad and an enormous round loaf of freshly-baked bread. The salad, which consisted mostly of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and red onions, was simply dressed and featured really fresh ingredients. It was quite good.
The bread was warm and homey and satisfying. It was slightly sweet, and while we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to eat it with, it was certainly high-quality bread.
Next was the samsa, which was kind of like a Chinese-style bun, but encased in delightfully flaky pastry. It was crammed with juicy, fennel-infused ground lamb (it was also about the size of my fist and surprisingly heavy, so between that, the salad and the bread we would have been all set for lunch, but I digress).
The final dish was plov (and we got a plate each of this rather than the shared plate we were assuming). This actually reminded me a lot of qabuli palau, which is Afghanistan’s national dish, and which I sampled at Naan and Kabob. They both had a pretty similar base — rice, carrots, raisins, and chunks of meat — but the spicing here was much more satisfying. The raisins and the carrots added subtle pops of sweetness rather than the in-your-face sugar assault from the Naan and Kabob version.
The addition of chick peas gave the dish some added substance, and the chunks of lamb were fork-tender and intensely flavourful. I love lamb, so maybe I’m biased, but it takes a dish that was already delicious and cranks it right up to eleven.