I’d been in this space before, five years ago when it was known as Wa Restaurant. Then, I spent a goodly amount of the first part of the review of Wa discussing the hidden location in a corporate sort of building on the west side of the Universal Orlando campus. I mentioned the beautiful decor of the restaurant and the very good, upscale Asian food, but also noted that most of the rest of the spaces in the building appeared to be unoccupied. I concluded that it was a hidden gem that was worth looking for. Not enough did, or succeeded in finding it, and Wa went away.
Little seems to have changed with the physical aspects of this address. If any of the other spaces in the building are occupied it was not evident in the early evening when my guest and I arrived to visit Taboon Bistro, the current culinary tenant. As with Wa, the decor of the restaurant is lovely, an upscale, modern Mediterranean design with moody lighting (and inappropriate and inappropriately loud music). As with Wa before it, Taboon is hidden, but a gem? No.
My guest and I chose to order a number of items from the mezze list. We selected makanek, a Lebanese type of link sausage; fried cauliflower; arayess, a kind of Middle Eastern version of an Indian naan, here with beef between pita bread layers; and moussaka, the well-known eggplant dish.
Except this preparation was unlike the moussaka commonly known in these parts. Instead of the layered, lasagnalike preparation seen in most Mediterranean restaurants, Taboon’s was made the Lebanese way, which includes chickpeas, of all things, and is more of a stew, like a ratatouille. No potatoes, no bechamel. In some parts of Southwest Asia, this style of moussaka is served cold; in others it is served hot. At Taboon, we were asked our preference. I requested hot. It was served cold. (And please understand that I’m not faulting Taboon for its just-as-equally authentic version of moussaka. But what a nice teaching moment it would be to explain the preparation on the menu or when a guest is ordering it instead of plopping down something that will seem odd to them.)
The florets of the cauliflower were beautifully browned, giving hopes of a caramelized flavor, and they were prettily drizzled with what the menu said would be tahini, the sesame paste. They were, however, largely flavorless. And also not hot.
The makanek had good spicing in the little links, and they were served with grilled tomatoes and onions. The arayess would have been a dud if not for the delicious hummus that accompanied the flat bread with a thin — very thin — layer of beef spread between the pitas.
After all the mezze, we chose to share the shawarma lamb as an entree. The chunks of lamb were served with lightly cooked onions and some tomato with a little rice on the side and a sprinkle of sumac. A large pita was provided for us to tear a hunk and eat with the meat.
The problem was that the lamb was horribly dry. Really inedible. And when the chef stopped by our table near the end of our meal (which wasn’t long after our first bite of the lamb) and asked how everything was, I told him that the lamb was too dry. You know why? he asked. It’s because I buy lamb with absolutely no fat, it’s very lean meat.
So let me get this straight: The quality of your finished dish is so low because the quality of your ingredients is so high. Sorry, but that’s an argument not worth winning.
Only one other table was occupied when we arrived, and they remained the only table when we left. But even without the strain of many guests service was slow. And it also doesn’t explain why so much of the food arrived tepid at best.
A restaurant can succeed in a secluded spot such as this one. But it has to have food and service so exceptional that the dining public will make the effort to find it.
Taboon Bistro is at 5911 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-270-4848.