As the halal industry increasingly expands around the world, it has also grown dramatically within the U.S., especially in more recent years.
This is an exciting and important development for many Muslims, as well as for those who prefer higher-quality meat, because halal-friendly cuisine has become much more readily available in ways it wasn’t in the past. In addition to being carried at major grocery-store chains, a large variety of restaurants now serve halal meat besides the typical Middle Eastern fare. Taxim, located in the heart of Wicker Park on Milwaukee Avenue near six corners, is a contemporary Greek restaurant that offers a partial halal menu, and does so with adventurous options, delicious tasting food and an authentic Mediterranean ambiance.
Some of the Halal Festival team recently dined at Taxim–feasted might be a more accurate description, actually. We indulged in a large sampling of the menu, learned more about the restaurant’s history, and experienced what felt like an exotic, mini Greek vacation in Chicago.
Before sitting down at one of the restaurant’s copper-top tables, the decor immediately grabs your attention. With stunning Byzantine-style light fixtures, wooden benches filled with ornate velvety-red pillows, exposed brick walls, copper accents hung throughout, low lighting and traditional Greek music playing; the warm atmosphere invites you to sit down and stay awhile.
The menu, while initially intimidating, is offset by the friendly staff who are more than happy to offer suggestions and clarify any questions you might have. We started with a variety of tapas-style dishes, of which there are many to choose from. The Marathópita Krítis, our first plate, which is described as a Cretan pastry with fennel, spring onions, sesame and goat yogurt was unique and flavorful. Our second small plate, the Kebáp yiaourtloú, was made up of wood-grilled lamb shoulder with a house-made yogurt and pomegranate reduction paired with grilled tomatoes. This was a group favorite, the lamb was extremely juicy, with a ton of semi-spicy flavor that hits you right away. The yogurt and pomegranate reduction were a perfect complement to the meat and the sweet, grilled, baby tomatoes that melted in your mouth.
My personal favorite, the Prassópita, was the third plate that we shared and is an absolute must-try, in my opinion. This has a house-made phyllo pastry crust and is stuffed with feta cheese, leeks, fresh dill and lemon. I could have eaten several more of these. The perfectly crispy phyllo and the warm feta cheese was nothing short of amazing. We “split” the Prassópita, but really, I ate almost the entire thing by myself because it was that delicious.
Another outstanding item on the menu is the fried squash, similar in presentation to that of a falafel, except with pureed squash instead of chick peas. This was another table favorite, and left us craving more after we devoured them with the help of a flavorful yogurt sauce. We also tried the sauteed baby okra dish with sun dried tomatoes, which was light and fresh.
One of the more adventurous items on the menu we tried was a lamb dish crafted from organ meat. I’d like to preface this by saying I wouldn’t trust just any restaurant to serve me organ meat (the phrase alone makes me nervous), but considering how phenomenal the other parts of our meal were, I was willing to give it a go. Taxim’s owner, David Schneider, explained to us that he reserves the organ meat from very young lambs, to ensure that it won’t taste gamey. Surprisingly, I really liked this dish. It tasted almost exactly like how a kabob does, with a very similar texture, and it was extremely juicy and crispy on the edges.
As if that wasn’t enough food, we moved on to the entrees next and sampled from one another’s plates. I had the pleasure of trying the Kotópoulo sto foúrno (oven-roasted half chicken paired with fingerling potatoes), the Tsipoúra me radíkia (sea bass), and the Arní yuvetsáki me kritharáki (braised lamb shank). To say that all of them were excellent would be a large understatement. The chicken entree was beautifully plated, and was amazingly crispy on the outside with an eye-popping amount of flavor, bursting with juiciness underneath. The fingerling potatoes were seasoned to perfection, with hints of lemon and garlic. The sea bass, simply prepared with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, melted in your mouth. This was definitely the favorite entree on the evening, although the lamb shank was equally delicious as well.
David filleted the sea bass for our table, and shared with us his personal story of how his recipes come from his family in Greece. The passion for his culture is obvious; he wants to share the Greek culture, and does so by offering diverse, regional cuisine from multiple different areas of Greece. The modern take on traditional recipes that are expertly prepared make this restaurant a truly unique neighborhood treasure. The bonus is that Taxim offers more halal options than ever before, and is also vegan and vegetarian friendly.
To end the meal, we somehow found room for dessert. The Loukoumades, fried balls of dough (reminiscent of a doughnut) drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, were unbelievably delicious without being overly sweet. Even though we ate more in one sitting than I typically do in a given week, I wasn’t overly stuffed. Each dish was very light–plus, I took it easy on the pita bead, which also deserves mentioning for being warm and fluffy.
I give Taxim five stars, and personally can’t wait to go back. It may be hard for me to stay away, considering I live in the neighborhood. Do yourself a favor and visit Taxim and experience a Greek adventure without ever leaving the city.
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