Monday, October 17, 2005

Dakar Nights New York City Entry #27

Hanging with an Africanist of my acquaintance, a woman who has spent much quality time in Accra, where she consults with museums and historical sites, we decided to dine under a full West African moon. Anglophone Africa is located in University Heights in the Bronx (Little Accra) and Fort Greene in Brooklyn. Harlem is the residence of choice for many immigrant Francophone Africans. Paris by Morningside Heights. The Senegalese community is particularly vibrant along 116th Street and Frederick Douglass Avenue.

We selected a beautifully decorated establishment, Africa Kine, a few steps from the 8th Avenue subway on a street that, if not yet gentrified, felt warm and safe. (An increasing share of Harlem real estate is now well beyond my means). The restaurant opened about a year ago, all art work and exposed brick, an upscale version of the now shuttered Africa Restaurant by the same owners across the street.

Senegalese cuisine has some of the elegance of French cooking with the heat of the tropics, and the food was a treasure in a restaurant that surely reaches the heights of ethnic cuisine in the city. Africa Kine is highly to be recommended.

One of the surprises of African cuisine is the way that Chinese cuisine has infiltrated. Africans - Ghanaians and Senegalese - frequently prepare egg rolls and fried rice. And hewing to local custom, we began with egg rolls, appetizers that appeared to be thin Thai rolls, but were a meaty mix of beef, chicken, and shrimp, more highly spiced that Asian versions. If one likes heat (and we do), they were inspired starters. Sparkling and complex with an equatorial burn.

We selected two entrees, although in truth one would have sufficed: Thiebu Djeun (Djol of Rice): Fish Stewed in Tomato Sauce with Eggplant, Carrots, Cassava, and White Cabbage, served on mound of short brown rice. This dish is considered the Senegalese national dish. Oh happy Dakar! This was as complex as any Thai dish of my recent memory. Beautiful fish, cooked to fall-apart, in an almost-too-hot sauce, placed by the hill of rice. Surrounding this were the vegetables, prepared in various styles. Even the lagniappe of okra lacked the slime that so often seems genetically mandated.

My friend selected Grilled Fish with Sweet Fried Plantain in Mustard Sauce. This fish (a bony white fish) was as sweet and delicate as could be desired, and it too had a hot sauce to add complexity. The plantain was fried and spiced to perfection, adding sugar to spice.

We also selected a homemade, and very sharp, Ginger Juice, a drink for which one needed a glass of water - a cool drink so hot as to demand relief.

Dessert, which at that point we were unable to order -or more precisely unable to consume - was Sweet Couscous with Soursopp. Given that the meal had not properly reached its close, we surely need to return again - and again. Dinner for two was an almost impossible $30.00, particularly given the care that went into the preparation of the food and the elegance of the decor.

According to the menu, lunch has a greater preponderance of African dishes than dinner, although both lunches and dinner are a mix of African stews (lamb stewed in peanut sauce, chicken marinated in lemon and onions) and more Americanized-sounding dishes.

Chowists have not explored the many African cuisines to the extent these cuisines deserve. Africa Kine, an open, inviting, and friendly establishment (although with somewhat slow service) is a felicitous first step for those who believe - sincerely if mistakenly - that Africa is an culinary dark continent. It is alive as the full moon that shone on our walk home.

Africa Kine
256 West 116th Street
Manhattan (Harlem)

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