While the region begins to settle into our most current form of snowchosis, I've decided to stray outside the region of SoCo and post a story on a brand new west African restaurant that has opened its doors about 2 miles south of the 'hood at 6115 Georgia Ave.
Typically, a place like this would escape my notice, but having become good friends with an Ivorian (someone from Côte d'Ivoire) I became well aware of its opening. The restaurant is called Le Cafe d'Abidjan. While it is new, Dominique, the lovely proprietress of the restaurant has actually been serving Ivorian food for quite some time. Prior to the Cafe's opening Dominique ran what is known in Côte d'Ivoire as a maquis, located in Adelphi, MD. If you're not familiar with the term - which I was not until a few months ago - a maquis is the name given to private houses that have been transformed into little restaurants. Their prices are typically very low, but they're always not easy to find since their addresses are passed around by word of mouth. (I hear we have our own maquis in the 'hood near Montgomery College - if I find it, I'll let you know).
But now Dominique has left her maquis and her new place is up and running on the Avenue. I've now had 2 of Dominique's meals - one at her home and one in the restaurant - and I must say both were quite tasty. On our most recent outing, we started with an order of what are essentially fried donuts made from ground chick peas. If you are a fan of garbanzo beans, you need to try this dish. It is great! You can eat them plain, but they're served with a mildly spicy sauce made with tomato paste, onions, garlic and other secret ingredients.
We followed up our starter with what felt like a sampling of the entire menu - including chicken, lamb and fish. The chicken we had was baked and marinated with parsley and oil. Not an elaborate production, but moist and very good. Accompanying the chicken was a platter of baked lamb, seasoned with onions and topped with a mixture of cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, mustard with oil and vinegar. We also sank our teeth into a couple of whole baked tilapia.
While tilapia often times gets low marks for its bland taste, if it's prepared the right way and is topped with something big and bold, I think it really works. And these tilapia really worked. They were topped with a similar mixture to the baked lamb, were nicely cooked and while it does take some work to extract the meat from the bones, it is definitely worth it.
And while our dinner may already seem to have been gluttonous, we can't eat an Ivorian meal without also having rice, fried plantains, and a specialty of the country, cassava cous cous. For vegetarians, this would be a great dish to have, and when combined with the chick pea donuts and fried plantains it would be a good meal. And I'm guessing if you still had room Dominique would whip you up another vegetarian dish of your liking.
Le Cafe d'Abidjan has now been open a little more than a month, taking over an African restaurant called Chez Aunty Libe, but has still yet to have its grand opening. Dominique is planning something for either March 13 or March 20. The restaurant opens every day (except Sunday) at 11:45 AM. From Mon-Thurs it closes at 11:45 PM, but on Friday and Saturday she gets a big late night crowd and remains open till about 6:00 AM if you can believe it.
There is no website for the restaurant yet, and if you drive by you'll only see 'African Restaurant' displayed on the front window. But do yourself a favor and try it out. If you do, tell her you read about it on the blog. The entree prices run from about $12-$17 and on Valentine's, she doing an all-you-can-eat buffet for just $10.
It's also worth noting she does not serve alcohol. But I believe it's fine to bring in beer or wine for your meal - I know we did. OK, I hope you get out there and try some very traditional Ivorian (and Senegalese) fare. I'm confident you'll be glad you did.