While my friend and I waited for our meals, we spoke about home cooking. There are often food dishes common to a region or group at home but do not find their way to restaurants. The region of northern Maine where I grew up has a number of food dishes which we absolutely loved, yet I have never seen on a menu anywhere. And there are twists on traditional dishes unique to a particular kitchen. There are places, however, where the restaurant style is true home cooking, and that's the secret to Tanoreen.
However, we were prepared for a letdown. How could any place live up to all the buzz and an entry vestibule covered in awards? Plus, this was my third visit. The first two, I was turned away - there were no tables available at all. I was told that reservations were best for any night. But for a Middle Eastern restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn? Clearly it made sense to lower one's expectations and abandon all hope for those who enter here.
Talking to diners next to us and glancing around the room confirmed that this place is a destination - we were not the only patrons who had traveled to come here.
The food selection was truly exotic - I have been eating Middle Eastern food for decades, but most of the menu was completely foreign to me. I decided to go for the fisherman's special made with red snapper.
In a rare preemptive strike, our waiter assured my friend that if he did not like his dish (new to him), it would be replaced with something else. That shows some extraordinary confidence, and we were beginning to raise our expectations.
We had heard much about the owner/chef, Rawia Bishar, who hails from Bethlehem and whose Palestinian home cooking was inspired by her mother. I hoped to get a glimpse of her, but I had already ruled out the possibility of meeting her - the place was packed. But, in an unexpected coup de grâce, Rawia not only entered the dining room but also made table rounds. I had an opportunity to compliment her on the superb cuisine and chat. I gave names of other owners of Middle Eastern restaurants where I had eaten over the years, past and present. She knew them all.
Most Middle Eastern restaurants serve up the standard fare - hummus, falafel, baba ghannuj etc. Some, like First Oasis Restaurant or Moustache, go much further. Tanoreen was a real dining experience and exceeded my expectations and met my hopes :)
Note about Tanoreen: The restaurant is located at 7523 3rd Avenue in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. The name is from a song, Tanoreen, by Lebanese singer Fayrouz. See the Tanoreen website here.