Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tallulas, Chapel Hill


Tallula's (which really has nothing to do with Tallulah Gorge) is a Turkish restaurant in Chapel Hill's restaurant heartland and is quite bountiful in it's vegetarian yield. Like most mediterranean restaurants, the starters are almost all vegetarian friendly but it thins down a bit when you hit the main course.

There were four of us so it was a perfect excuse to start off with the cold mezze plate served with fresh turkish bread - this is not pita bread. Everyone liked the majority of the selections. The standout dishes for us were the eggplant dip (Patlican Ezmesi), spicy red pepper spread (Acili Ezme) and the stuffed grape leaves (Yaprak Dolmasi). The rest weren't remarkable but disappeared pretty quickly anyway.

Tallula's serves some unique drinks worth trying. Ayran - a yoghurt drink with fresh mint - tasted very similar to a lassi. I thought it came with too much ice but its a great summer drink. My fellow diners enjoyed the pomegranate juice and turkish coffee. Be warned, the pomegranate juice is not diluted - and the tartness may put you off.

For the main course we decided on a two-pronged approach. On one hand, the main course was a bit thin on vegetarian dishes that appealed to us. On the other hand, they were quite expensive too. So we decided to order a couple of the hot mezze (appetizers) options and went with one of the recommended main dishes - Sebzeli Musakka, an oven baked dish heavy in vegetables and topped with a special seasoned sauce (bechamel) and cheese. To be honest, we were a bit skeptic about the latter because it sounded very similar to a vegetable lasagna. The "same-old, same-old" factor was influencing us but we decided to order it anyway. It turned out to be a good call. The dish was quite unlike any lasagna we tasted. First off, there was no heavy cheese to chew thru. The vegetables were quite rich and flavorful and the sauce added to the experience. Be mindful. It's good to feed two - don't get ambitious unless you are really ravenous.

The other two hot mezze appetizers we chose included the usual suspect - falafel - and a really tempting dish - sabzeli manti - featuring stuffed dumplings in a yoghurt sauce. Unfortunately, both were disappointments. The falafel wasn't any better than a store bought one. The sabzeli manti had a rubbery texture, felt undercooked, the yoghurt sauce was overwhelming and stuffing was barely recognizable. We do feel that if executed well, this would be a great dish - but for our visit, we didn't feel it measured up.

One great thing about mediterranean food is that one doesn't feel quite weighed down by the appetizers and main courses. There is a healthy, light, not so greasy aspect which is a big sell for mediterranean food. That also means, someone like me isn't going to miss out on dessert. Tallulas scored full marks on the desserts. The baklava was perfect - freshly baked, juicy, nutty and flavorful. The Creme Chocolate is a dark-chocolate lover's dream come true. The accompanying home-made whipped cream - it seemed to too sweet to me but can serve to counter the bitterness of the chocolate for some others - is best ignored. Aparna ordered a milk pudding (Kazan Dibi) but didn't seem very impressed. I was a bit too caught up sampling the Creme Chocolate which my friend ordered and absolutely devouring the baklava .. I don't have photos to show for them.

All in all, Tallulas is an easy shoo-in for top veggie-friendly restaurants in the triangle. It's a highly recommended joint in our book and has a winner in each category - drinks, appetizers, main course and desserts.

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