Tawlet Paris, the hot new restaurant of the moment, is the long-dreamed-of love child of Kamal Mouzawak, the founder of Beirut’s first farmers’ market, whose mission is to promote sustainable agriculture and the traditional foods of Lebanon. In his restaurant Tawlet in Beirut, a different producer or cook prepares a different regional specialty every day. In the new Tawlet restaurant/grocery in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, Mouzawak has adapted that formula by offering food from different regions of Lebanon on different days.
We went on a Friday night, which meant that we sampled the cuisine of northern Lebanon. (FYI, Tuesday is mountain dishes, Wednesday southern cooking, Thursday food from Beqaa Valley, and Saturday and Sunday Beirut brunch).
The restaurant’s name comes from the word “tawla,” which means “table.” A long communal table fills the ground-floor space, which is also the grocery store, with shelves filled with (pricy) Lebanese products – everything from stuffed eggplant and tomato jam to chili sea salt with za’atar, that wonderful mix of toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac and other spices.
We were seated at the long table, but I recommend that when you reserve you request a table upstairs, which is cozier and less busy with people coming and going, unless you prefer to sit on the sidewalk terrace outside.
Everything is served buffet-style except the bowl of soup at the beginning of the meal and the dessert at the end. On that Friday night, we were given a simple lentil soup with Swiss chard, brightened with plenty of lemon juice. Then it was time to hit the buffet for the starters: wonderful hummus, sparkling-fresh tabouleh, a raw-spinach salad, fish in tahini sauce, spinach fatayers (turnovers), delicious white-bean salad and the best roasted potatoes (batata harra) I have ever tasted.
Were we hungry after this? Of course not, but we bravely went back to the buffet for the main courses: a fabulous baked crunchy/soft kebbe with caramelized onions, roast chicken, rice and beans, chickpea stew and malfouf, or cabbage rolls stuffed with beef (the only dish I didn’t really enjoy).
I recommend that you taste everything at the buffet, but ask for small helpings of each. This is a lot of food.
We waited a while before ordering the two desserts on offer, both simple and very tasty: a simple but delicious orange cake with plenty of zest for added flavor, and meghleh, a lovely spicy rice pudding with anise, caraway powder and cinnamon.
We loved the lively ambiance and the friendly, patient servers, who were more than willing to explain unfamiliar dishes and spoke good English (a number of Americans had already found their way there). I would like to go back and try some of the other regional cuisines, but I must say that I found the prices a bit high considering that there is no choice for the buffet, which costs €39 for dinner and €29 for lunch. At lunchtime, another fixed-price menu at €14 includes just a main course and a salad.
There are many good Lebanese restaurants in Paris (I’m thinking particularly of Le Loubnane in the fifth arrondissement), but Tawlet is the first to take us on a tour of the regional cuisines of Lebanon, a trip worth taking.Favorite