In late February, the restaurant previously known as the Mirage Mediterranean Grill, a popular Bixby Knolls spot in operation for more than a decade, quietly morphed into something just a little different: Taboon Mediterranean.
Everything has been elevated. The menu boasts the same traditional dishes, but it’s been tidied up and rounded out to a more cohesive offering. The dining room’s exposed beams stayed, but the rest of the large space has been brightened up; what was once eclectic and maybe even a little cluttered is now bright, airy and minimalist.
Taboon makes sure its patrons are fed. Most appetizers cost less than $10, but are large enough to pass off as entrées, and the majority of actual entrées are definitely large enough to share and cost $15 and less.
For the zahrah hot appetizer, a serving platter is loaded with large florets of just-fried cauliflower, amply seasoned with garlic and rust-colored sumac, then tossed in a bright, citrusy dressing and finished with a drizzle of creamy tahini. The dish is about half a head or so—never before has anyone needed a warning not to spoil their dinner by eating too much cauliflower.
Often overshadowed by that other spread, hummus, a good baba ghanoush is hard to come by. Taboon’s baba ghanoush mutabbal hits the mark, though; its smooth texture is dotted with pieces of chargrilled eggplant, and the garlicky taste is anchored by an underlying nutty tahini.
All the standard Mediterranean entrées are here: kebabs of roasted chicken, beef, lamb or kefta; lamb chops; falafel; even a whole grilled red snapper. Taboon also does a whole or half bone-in grilled chicken, if you want to pick apart your protein yourself.
Arguably one of the most steadfast indicators of a good Mediterranean or Middle Eastern restaurant (according to me!) is the shawarma, and Taboon’s chicken shawarma is superb. Perfectly cooked, tender chicken comes thinly sliced and colored a deep yellow from marinating in half a dozen different spices. The flavor is concentrated, just a notch below overpowering; balance it out with a forkful of rice and a smear of the accompanying crisp, white toum, an addictive Lebanese raw-garlic sauce.
Each entrée comes with an assortment of sides, including warm pita triangles, a small mountain of savory seasoned rice, plus a choice of any cold appetizer. I went with the stuffed grape leaves, in which tiny capsules of rice are doused in a green-tinted olive oil.
The service is on point, with dishes coming out fast—almost too fast, as you can barely finish one course before the next is presented, steaming hot, to your table. If you still have room after dinner, Taboon offers baklava; rice pudding; and Ashta ice cream in flavors such as rose water, pistachio or almond.
If there’s just one caveat here, it’s that Taboon does not serve any alcohol. It’s not necessarily a hindrance, but in place of an ice-cold beer, I suggest you try the mango juice or Jallab, a sweet fruit drink made from rose water, grape molasses and dates.
Taboon Mediterranean, 539 E. Bixby Rd., Long Beach, (562) 424-4774.