Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Experience a bit of North Africa with Tangierino...

Before having gone to Morocco for five days during my junior year abroad, I never really had experienced the great things Moroccan cuisine has to offer. Since then I have tried a number of Moroccan restaurants, the latest being Charlestown's 'Tangierino' for dinner last night.

Our experience had a rough start since apparently I had made my reservation for Sunday night, and not Monday night. The maître d' was nonetheless kind enough to accommodate us and made sure to tell us she could get in trouble for doing so.

Soon we were whisked away into a truly awesome recreation of a restaurant in North Africa. Arabic music filled the small, almost cavernous dining space where we were seated somewhat low to the ground on thick cushioned chairs, bathed in candlelight. The walls were lined with tapestries, paintings, and even a recreated spout from a communal fountain, something I became familiar with in Morocco. Dark, somewhat see-through curtains separated groups of tables from one another, golden lamps hung from the ceiling, and some of the female staff were even adorned with what looked like belly-dancing attire.

Once seated we were offered the opportunity to wash our hands over a metal basin, with warm, rose-scented water being poured our from a large kettle. Even though I knew what I was getting, I still browsed the restaurant week menu and noticed that there were a couple of changes from online, namely the addition of a shrimp appetizer. The cocktail list looked very fun, so both of us ended up feeling obligated to order something. I started with a North African Devil - unfortunately, I don't recall the exact constituents, but it had Patrón, a spicy olive garnish, and flakes of what looked like mild red pepper floating in it. It was ok, though the olives were absolutely delicious. Chris had a Gimlet, which was nice, but pretty standard.

I started my meal with the Harira, a soup of plum tomato base, chickpeas, lentils, celery, cilantro. I don't know why I expected this to be served cold, but it wasn't. Flavor-wise it was reminiscent of something Mexican, to be honest - perhaps it was the cilantro. Either way I enjoyed the hearty soup. Christopher had a garlic shrimp cooked in a tagine - very good and nicely flavored with garlic, but it struck me as more Mediterranean than North African.

For my main course I chose the Sultan's Kadra - "Za'atar" (زعتر) spiced tender filet of lamb, cheese filled eggplant, shitake mushroom, poached figs, and caramelized apricot in a rosemary reduction. It came nicely presented with the pieces of lamb served over a cross-section of eggplant filled with the cheese and topped with the shitakes. On either side was a poached fig. This was really delicious, especially the stuffed-eggplant, which I included as part of every bite.

Christopher opted for the Couscous royale - tender lamb shank, grilled spiced merguez wrapped in phyllo over seven vegetables couscous. I want to say that on the menu the lamb was described as being a "filet", whereas online it said shank. Well, it was certainly a nice-sized shank served over a ton of couscous laden with vegetables, all served in an earthenware dish. He was also given a vegetable broth on the side to pour over the couscous. The lamb was quite good - I very much enjoyed the subtle phyllo-taste in every bite, giving it a slight crunch on the outside, but keeping the meat on the inside moist and flavorful. His couscous was very good, but it had nothing on the couscous we both had at Red Fez.

After waiting some time between this course and dessert, our selections finally arrived. I decided on something on the lighter side, the "exotic" sorbet of lemon, watermelon, and tangerine served with a dollop of whipped cream. Each scoop had tremendous flavor and was a great finish to the meal. Christopher ate his triple chocolate mousse torte too quickly enough for me to even try it, but I know he very much enjoyed it.

Overall, I was very happy with my experience at Tangierino. The atmosphere cannot be beat, and I would very much recommend the restaurant for a romantic dinner or even for a larger celebratory occasion, as they have a room that can be sectioned off for larger groups. There is so much more to the menu than the restaurant week selections, so I will definitely plan on making a return trip!

photo courtesy of southsmoke.com

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