Michele and I were simultaneously drawn to linguini nere, black pasta colored with calamari ink, served with shrimp and octopus in an arrabiata (spicy tomato) sauce. The sauce wasn’t very spicy, but the dish was delish. The pasta was firm-tender, and so were the seafoods in it. The sauce was lively but not overwhelming — everything in balance. I loved the way the pasta texture and the octopus texture mirrored each other.
The entrée that drew me to the restaurant, more than any other enticement, was a duck breast with reduced pome granate sauce with walnuts. The Persian name for this combination is fesenjan, and it usually involves diced duck meat swathed in the thick, tart sauce. Here in San Diego, our Persian restaurants (like Bandar and Sadaf) adapt the dish by substituting chicken for duck, which always disappoints me. (You need a darker fowl than chicken — a full-flavored duck or a squab — to stand up to pomegranate.) Well, Tabule doesn’t do classic fesenjan either — instead of chopped duck meat swathed in tangy sauce, you get a whole duck breast glazed in it. To our tastes, the duck breast was rather overcooked at medium-well, but it wasn’t dry, more like heavy-velvet — just as it would be cooked in fesenjan. The tart sauce was scintillating. The Middle Eastern–style veggies — grilled bell pepper and onion, zucchini lengths, and chopped creamer potatoes — were thoroughly pleasing.
The sauce with the French lamb chops (actually a cut piece of rack from the ribs) was also exciting, but there was far too much of it. Hot-sweet-tangy, it combined mint jelly heated by serrano chilies and enriched with mango — but there was so much of it, it swamped the plate. It was good with the lamb. It was god-awful with the potatoes and veggies. In the future, it may be applied more discreetly.
It was wonderful to face a wine list where we could choose good, tasty bottles at a fair price. Given the lighthearted style of cooking, I was happy to find a Montes sauvignon blanc from Chile to start (and it suited the appetizers perfectly), and for the entrées, a food-friendly Coppola Merlot, both under $30. There are plenty of higher-end bottles if you’re accompanying a high-end steak dinner; the choices run the gamut of taste and price.
This is one of those “two and three-quarter star” places — the cooking has some flaws, but it still is full of delights. The dishes I liked, I really liked. They weren’t just good, they were “wake up and smell the cooking” good — with extra credit for originality. Add in the comfortable surroundings and very considerate service, and you get a winner. Foodie girls like to ramble, too.
ABOUT THE CHEF-OWNER
Moe Sadighian’s parents came to San Diego from Iran in ’78, at the time of the revolution against the Shah. His mother died young, and he was raised by his dad, a businessman who started an auto-repair business here. Even as a kid, young Moe was a demon businessman.
“I started working when I was 10 years old, with a paper route,” he says. “At 11, I started my own business, cleaning apartments. At 13, I started selling NSA water-filtration products — it was a pyramid sales thing. And by 15, I was clearing six digits. I bought my first piece of property in La Jolla when I was 16 years old. [He’s now 36.] Later, I had a chain of mechanic shops; I own a communication business in which I own the satellite.
“I graduated from San Diego State with an international business degree and a communications degree. I’ve always loved cooking and taking care of people on the side, so I also went to San Diego Culinary Institute, just for me, not for business. Then I went to San Francisco for six months to study at Cordon Bleu. At that time it wasn’t money that got you in, it was your thesis, a dish, a video — the real deal, not just people with money.”
I asked him why he went into the risky business of restaurants. “I like a good challenge. I don’t want to take no for an answer. I’m the kind of person who puts my mind to it, and I get it done, and I get it done right. I don’t take short cuts. I take criticism with pride; feedback is very important to me. My wife, who’s my best friend — I’ve been married almost eight years now, we have two beautiful kids — she’s always supported me in all the decisions we make together. We’re about to open another restaurant. I bought the Sun Cafe, the oldest restaurant on Market, between Fourth and Fifth, and we’re gonna put a really fun casual place, Mexican traditional. And I have offers to open Tabule in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.”
In Tijuana, his enterprises include the original Tabule, a steakhouse called Kobe, Mint nightclub, and Los Mariachis, the biggest restaurant in TJ at 40,000 square feet. He learned Mexican cooking while living in Tijuana for five years, picking up a lot of skills through his friendships with top chefs there. I asked him why he decided to open Tabule in the Gaslamp, rather than a more adventure-prone culinary district like North Park. “That’s exactly why,” he said. “Because the food here downtown is so square — steak, Italian, sushi, some Thai. I don’t think everything should be square peg. I believe in opening people’s eyes — showing them, teaching them, being patient with them. I like to say we have everything that everyone else has and nothing that everyone else has.
“I’m not here for the conventioneers, I’m here for the locals. I sized the place right. I priced it right for the locals. We have incredible martinis — I’m a mixologist by trade. My wine list is exceptional. It’s not there to sit on a shelf collecting dust; it’s priced so people can enjoy it. I don’t have a shark mentality, take a bite and move on — that’s for conventioneers. So we get a lot of local companies that come here and buy out the place for an evening.