I have never tried, or do I have much experience with Northern African or Middle Eastern cuisine. So today I was excited to have the opportunity to explore both a little more through a media event, host by local food blogger, “Foodgressing”.
This was a well run event where local food lovers who not only eat, but photograph and write about their meal came together to catalogue a shared meal, in support of a newer restaurant.
As a disclaimer, when it comes to a media tasting: plating and portion size may be gussied up and/or paired down, and the service will usually be top notch. Though I can at least paint you the most accurate image when it comes to the food and the setting, as how I interpret it. But as always, these are my opinions and you need not take them as fact. Unless you have my exact background, have lived my exact experiences, and we possess the same tongue. No one can truly taste and appreciate as you do.
Sadly the restaurant was dim and set with yellow bulbs, so excuse the quality and tone of my photos. They not only washed the food out, but didn’t do the plate justice. But as always, I try to bring my readers the most authentic look in to each of my experiences. This is so that you know what you will be getting from a restaurant in food, setting, and service. I do not edit any of the photos on this blog, and like it is with me, what you see is what you get. Media tasting or not. However there were a few bloggers who do put in the extra work to give you, their readers and followers, a more beautiful photo. Even going so far as to bring each plate served outside, for a natural lighting photo shoot, I suggest visiting them for some more delicious looking plates.
Located on the Granville entertainment strip, the restaurant doesn’t immediately stand out. A white awning with its red bull logo framing the name. A couple of chairs and a sandwich board out front. Nothing that would stop me in my tracks, and usher me in.
Inside, a miniature bar in red fronts the place. The narrow room has tables and chairs on either ends. On the right is a unique high top-counter installation. It is a table with piping for legs, supported by another pipe attached to the wall. You sit on shelves with and back cushions glued to the wall. I appreciated its creative assembly. But as a larger group we were seated at a long table made out of all the smaller two tops pushed together.
Despite where you sit, everyone earns a view of the kitchen’s operations towards the back. A stainless steel counter fronting a ceiling to floor brick wall. This handsome wall is branded with their name. With a ding of a bell and a window pass, dishes move from kitchen to service within seconds.
The room was decorated in pickling preserves. Mason jars and reused pickle jugs on the counter and on the shelves along the wall. Carrot shards, whole nugget potatoes, and cauliflower florets, out of the ones I could identify within the murky waters. The vibe as a whole was more casual and mellow, despite the dance music with poppy beats.
The menu was an easy to read and a well explained listing of appetizers, salads, dips, pickles, and entrees. They even made their own healthy shakes from vegetables and fruit. Knowing that many may not be familiar with their cuisine, they took the time to describe each dish with detailed sentences, which I appreciated. I like knowing what I put in my mouth and fully enjoying all the ingredients they make mention to. Not having a list, denies me of that oral pleasure.
We started off with their popular dips with and bread. The serving allows you to choose three dips from their traditional dip menu, which comes with a side of toasted focaccia bread. As it is typically with such dishes, there was not enough bread for all the dip provided. The bread gave each bite most of its flavour, with the dip being more of an accent point.
The red coloured “Harrisa” is a spicy traditional Moroccan paste made with dried red pepper, garlic, chilli, and paprika. Given its ingredient make up and bold hue, there is no surprise that this was prick your tongue spicy.
The green coloured “Sahuog” was another spicy and traditional dip, but this time its origin is yemenite. It is a sauce made of green pepper, cilantro, and garlic.
The off white “Garlic mayo herb” dip was helpful in pulling the other two together, and decreasing the tinge of burning they left me. It is made with Italian parsley, cilantro, spinach, and garlic aioli.
We ordered more of their focaccia bread and had it with the four salads below. Especially when I consider two of them as more dips than salad.
“Baba ghanoush” is roasted mashed eggplant in a tahini lemon garlic seasoning. It was the perfect paste-like texture to scoop up with bread. It was served cold and creamy with mild chunks.
The “Hummus” is made in house. It is a roasted chickpea dip topped with garbanzo beans and extra virgin olive oil. It tasted exactly as you expected it would. It too is paste-like and chalky thick.
The “Tabbouleh” salad was made with bulgar (a kind of dried cracked wheat), finely chopped tomatoes, cilantro, Italian parsley, and mint. Then seasoned in olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. It was a sharp salad full of refreshing mint and herby bites. A great side when needing a break from something to spicy or rich with meat.
The shredded carrot and lettuce coleslaw was not mentioned on menu. It too made a great side, something to give you a break in between more flavourful bites, shame it was served as a starter instead. And alone I found it too creamy with overwhelming mayo and too tangy with excessive vinegar.
The “Chicken skewers” were marinated and grilled chicken breast, served with their in house made garlic chipotle mayo. The chicken was a little over charred and had an acrid taste. However the creamy mayo highlight was more than enough to have you forgetting all about that. The dip had a nice light flavour that also complimented the vegetable served as garnished. Together with the chicken, it made for a more comprehensive bite with creamy, fresh, salty and meaty; all rolled into one.
The “Antipasti” is oven roasted vegetables topped with extra virgin olive oil. The assortment included eggplant, bell pepper, yam, carrot, and zucchini. They made eating vegetables fun with this one. Nicely grilled with a smokey flavour, but it could have been served warmer. The sweetness and the starch of the yam made them my favourite.
The “Sweet liver pate” was not the most appealing dish. Not only because it looked like mud, or worst smeared on to a plate; but because you don’t typically use the descriptor “sweet” for ground up organ meat. This was stir fried liver and onions made into a pâté, flavoured with cinnamon and a bay leaf. And served with toasted focaccia bread and a homemade cherry tomato jam. I couldn’t wrap my head around this one. You tried it and went back for more to decide whether you liked it or not. The liver was pronounced, the sugar used was only so effective in hiding its distinct flavour. The one isn’t for me.
The “Beef kebabs” were wrapped around a cinnamon stick and grilled. They were served over their baked potato cream purée, with a side of roasted tomatoes and shallot onions. Then all of it was topped with a sweet reduced balsamic sauce. This extra sauce was unnecessary, as it was an already pretty tasty version of meat and potatoes. Similarly the cinnamon added nothing but aesthetics to the meat. The beef was cooked to a nice pink, but was left on the drier side. I would have liked a nice gravy or jus to moisten things up with.
The “Cherry salad” was a nice refresher. Made with three colours of tomatoes, lettuce, red onion, mint and feta cheese shavings. It reminded me of a sweet Greek salad, but with the refreshing twist of mint. And more importantly it was well dressed, every element was glistening from the vinaigrette, with plenty more to dip into at the bottom.
“Couscous maraguez”. “Couscous” is small steamed balls of semolina, usually served with a stew on top. Today that stew included traditional Moroccan spicy sausage made with fresh Alberta lamb, and a reduced harrisa sauce. “Harrisa”, is the dip from above made with dried red pepper, garlic, chilli, and paprika. It being reduced meant it was less spicy, and the couscous also helped to mellow out the heat. The stew was compared to a ragu, especially with the soften vegetables. The sausage had a great flavour, but I wished it wasn’t so tough. It was dry and gritty to bite through. When I think sausage, I crave the kind that leave juices dripping down my chin (there is no way I can describe the feeling, without sounding dirty, this is my third edit). And sadly the same sausage, with the same dryness made an appearance in the dish below.
“Shakshouka maraguez” was the same spicy maraguez sausages surrounded by slow cooked spicy tomato sauce and poached eggs, on a sizzling plate. It was served with more focaccia bread and a tahini sauce, that wasn’t necessary and that we didn’t use. Once the sizzling subsided we stirred the eggs in, the yolk offering some moisture to aid in the dryness of the sausage, but both it and the stewed tomato could only go so far.
The “Spring chicken” was my favourite. Moroccan seasoning, marinaded chicken strips grilled with fresh rosemary leaves, served with carrot rice and drizzled with date molasses. The chicken was so tender and juicy that compared to it, the rice was too dry and hard. But not enough for me to stop eating it. The zesty chicken went really well with the flavour of the rice. The sticky syrup helped to add some moisture to it and give things a hint of sweetness.
Our meal ended with the only dessert they offer, “Malabi”. “Malabi” is a traditional Arabic dessert of corn flour and milk, soaking in rose water and maple syrup, topped coconut shavings and crushed peanuts and almonds. It looks like custard, with a slightly firmer texture, but is like nothing I have had. The rose water was strong and distinct, it definitely was the front facing flavour. I would have preferred a light cream instead, and less sweet maple syrup. One guest was allergic to almonds, and they were kind enough to prepare a whole new serving for her without it.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A great place to grab a quick bite at, and expand your cultural horizons within. Many of the flavours and plates I have never had and have never tasted, definitely worth taking a second look at. Don’t deny your cravings.
1065 Granville Street, Vancouver BC, V6Z 1L4