Gentrified Couscous

10 May

As you will see below, Nomad was the initial pick for Mike from Yonkers and an unfortunate one. The good news is that he learned from his mistake as you will read in future installments.

78 2nd Avenue
East Village

There’s an old cliché in sports that by the end of a player’s first season the rookie is no longer a rookie. Mike from Yonkers has been our “rookie” in terms of experience with the group, but by now, at least a year since his first outing, he also can’t really be considered a rookie. So with that in mind, he was, for the first time, given the opportunity to choose our next destination. We had complete confidence that after observing the previous year’s picks he would understand our loose criteria. That he would find a place close to our $20 limit and one that was below the radar of the major food critics. It wouldn’t hurt if the place he found might also cause a stir by our group’s appearance;  where we would be the minority whether in ethnic origin, skin tone, or the language we speak.

 Mike from Yonkers ’ first choice was a restaurant in Astoria , presumably Greek, called Philoxenia. Our only Greek experience was the unfortunate Uncle George’s that Zio is still living down. Upon further research, however, Mike from Yonkers discovered that Philoxenia was no more. To his credit, he quickly came up with a Plan B: that being Sriprahai, the acclaimed Thai restaurant in Woodside, Queens.  Sriprahai might have been an excellent choice five years ago, but by now it has been crowned by critics everywhere, including the New York Times, as possibly the best Thai restaurant in the region. As a result, Sriprahai no longer fit into our criteria.

 Mike from Yonkers now had to scramble and this time, came up with a restaurant in Brooklyn called  Sweetwater. The first problem with Sweetwater was that it was in Williamsburg and that alone should have set off alarm signals to Mike from Yonkers. With tattoo-clad culinary grads on every corner, the new (nouveau) restaurants of Williamsburg are pretty much the antithesis of what we seek out. That Sweetwater had its own website didn’t help and a quick look at the reviews and menu that included items such as “saffron-tinged rice balls,” and “cornmeal-crusted brook trout,”  immediately eliminated it.

 By now, we realized that Mike from Yonkers was on the wrong track. Hoping to steer him back, Gerry offered guidance reminding him that very few places we’ve been to, if any, have a wine list and that we tend to “favor more ‘gritty’ type places—a place with a little greace (sic).”  

 After those words, Mike from Yonkers was on his own; we could do no more for him. So despite that it had its own glossy website; that it was in the now pricey real estate of the East Village and that it had a wine list; we were resigned to convene at the appropriately-named Nomad.

 Around the corner from East Sixth St and the cluster of restaurants known as Little India, Nomad, which claimed to serve the food of North Africa , was barren when we arrived. Once we were all seated, minus Rick who was in Arkansas and dining on pulled pork, the waitress came and, to our dismay, recited the restaurant’s nightly specials, one of which was something with “seared tuna.” Another one of our unwritten by laws is that any recitation of daily specials is strictly forbidden. The mention by the waitstaff of anything “seared,” an absolute no no.  We understood that she was just doing her job—she was blameless in this fiasco.

Chicken pastilla: Sweet +savory=confused.

 We did our best and tried to stick with what was genuinely “North African,” avoiding pedestrian menu items like endive salad, steak au poivre, Moroccan crab cakes, and duck confit Our first choice was zaalouk, a wedge of roasted eggplant with tomato, a very good octopus salad, with fennel, orange and mint, and merguez, gamy lamb sausage. For entrees, there was tajines including lamb with prunes which excited Zio at the hopeful prospect of regularity, and a chicken tajine, a bland stew with pieces of chicken and vegetables. We tried something called chicken pastilla; kind of chicken pot pie stuffed into a phyllo-dough turnover and topped with powdered sugar. The savory and the sweet not a good combination here. Couscous is, of course, a North African staple, and it came with the tajines, but you can never have too much couscous, so we ordered a “couscous royal;” topped with vegetables and sausage, and accompanied with stewed chicken and lamb in the same, undistinguishable tajine broth.

 The waitress announced the dessert special as a “rose water” scented crème brulee. Knowing that there was no way we would come under our allotted $20 per person food budget and given the extraordinary opportunity to dine on crème brulee, scented with rose water no less, at one of our gatherings, we succumbed and even threw in an order of North African cookies that Zio commented, were suspiciously similar to what one might find in an Entemann’s box. As for the crème brulee, I sniffed, but the scent of rose water was non-existent. As it turned out, Rick, with his pulled pork in Arkansas , fared best of all of us on this night.

North African cookes…minus the Enteman’s box.

In reality, the food at Nomad was not bad at all. But our group sometimes travels in an alternate reality and in that world our Nomad experience was, as I said above, a “fiasco.” For those who are interested, Nomad now has added that Moroccan specialty, tapas, to their repertoire. For those interested, here is their very slick website:

We were not fortunate to experience the “attractive back garden.”

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