I have been in the food industry for over 20 years, and have a deep passion for new and exciting food. In my opinion, making a food fancy does not necessarily make it better; rather, it usually only makes it cost more. I have always said that the sign of a true chef is in what they are able to create from the ingredients they have on hand. When given the best of ingredients, one is expected to create a masterpiece, but a real chef has the ability to take the simplest of ingredients and create a work of art.
I enjoy the social aspect of food; people can always find conversation over a great meal. Food is also one of the best ways to sample other cultures. I have found that having been exposed to so many different cultures through their food has only increased my passion for it. I hope through my reviews to give people ideas of great local places to dine, and maybe even a hint or two on how to make a dining experience even better.
The first place I chose to review was Toga Grill, which specializes in Lebanese and Greek cuisine. I have eaten here before, and have enjoyed myself each time. This time, I was doing family night, with the hopes of introducing my son to hummus.
The restaurant is very comfortable. It’s not an overly large area, but you never feel crowded.
I was greeted by the chef, Sammi Choun, who took my order while making great suggestions for my meal. For a starter, I ordered hummus (the chef kindly gave us a plain order, free of oil and pepper, for my seven-month-old son) and their newest item to the menu — the falafel pizza. Falafel is traditionally created from deep-fried chickpeas, but on this pizza, the fried chickpeas were prepared on pita bread and served as a pizza with an amazing tahini sauce for dipping.
I knew my main dish was going to be the chicken shawarma platter, but I was torn as to which salad to choose. Sammi suggested the ilham salad, which contains a sampling of each salad (tabouleh, cabbage salad, feta salad, avocado, cilantro eggplant, and basil pasta spinach).
The hummus and the falafel pizza arrived at the same time, and we quickly found out that our son loves hummus. The hummus is certainly one of my personal favorites, and I can undoubtedly say that it is the best in this area. Its smooth spiciness paired well with the delicious pita bread, and made for a phenomenal start to my meal.
The falafel pizza is a bit more difficult to explain, and the idea to make falafel into a pizza to begin with was brilliant. The chickpea has a crisp outer shell, as if it is fried, but sitting on the pita bread, it had the appearance of being baked; either way, pairing it with the house-made tahini sauce, you would be hard-pressed to find a more delicious appetizer.
While we were waiting for the rest of our meal, Sammi brought out a lentil soup he had prepared, asking us to give it a try. The soup had a bisque-like appearance, with a smooth texture and smoky flavor. The lentils were cooked to perfection. Instead of using potatoes to bind the soup together, Sammi used yams, which gave it a sweeter taste that perfectly complemented the smokiness of the dish.
The salad platter was the next to arrive. I immediately tried the cabbage salad. The lemon juice gave a little bite to it, while the mint and garlic made for a smooth transition of flavors. Next was the cilantro eggplant salad. I was a little skeptical, to say the least, as I do not particularly enjoy eggplant in any fashion. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it very much. The sautéed eggplant with cilantro, lemon juice, and garlic was cooked to perfection.
Finally, my chicken shawarma platter arrived. The chicken was seasoned to perfection, grilled, then chopped and mixed with fried potatoes and paired with the house garlic sauce. I got another order of the cabbage salad with this meal. The cabbage combined with the chicken and potatoes were a nice marriage of flavors.
Toga Grill is a place where the food is made from the heart, and prepared with a true love of food creation. Do yourself a favor and go try it out.
Toga Grill • 4439 Nelson Road • Lake Charles • 337-477-4142
Mario Pacetti has worked in the food industry for 20 years. He has served as corporate chef for Holiday Inn, commissary chef for Pasta Pomodoro, commissary chef for Palio D’Asti in San Francisco, executive chef for the Encinal Yacht Club, and executive chef and founder of the Fat Cat Cafe.