I was so looking forward to dinner with friends tonight. They live within walking distance of so many interesting restaurants and they have never failed to choose a great one. So when they said, hey, let’s go eat at the Cafeteria, I thought it was a joke or they had lost their minds. Both were equally possible.
But no, there is a small, quaint place on Main called The Cafeteria. Easy to walk right by if you didn’t know it was there. It’s almost like they want to hide it. Put up a few potted plants in front and a sign that says, look over there and you’d walk right by it.
But I had the address so I couldn’t miss it. I walked in, parted the heavy wool-like drape and there it was, a neat little diner with all the tables filled with people. It had a wonderful smell of onions and tomatoes and roast chicken and spices I will probably never really understand. And there in the corner, were my friends.
I sat down and the waiter came over to explain how things worked. Being a bit doped up on cold meds, I got completely confused about how the 3 course meal worked but I saw a few things that I just had to try, things I’ve never had before. So I went with the soup, a pureed French onion soup. Lamb tagine with olives, almonds, apricot rice, and harissa. Being me, I had to ask what ‘tagine’ was (it’s cooked on a conical earthen pot) and ‘harissa’ (the rest I had a handle on even if I had no idea how they were going to make it all work in on dish.) Harissa, I was told, was a Tunisian chili sauce, very spicy, very hot, with chilis, and spices and hotness.
Sign me up, something hot, something adventurous. So cool.
The soup was, well, you know my word OMGYHTTT. Actually, it started out with oh my God, you have to smell this. It was like the best smelling French onion soup of all time. It tasted great, too, don’t get me wrong but the smell… pure heaven.
At some point, as I was slurping the soup like a starving nomad, the waiter plopped down a small dish of Harissa. It looked spicy. After I finished my soup, I looked at the small dish then did what I usually do when I’m not sure how hot, HOT really is. I stuck a fork in it. Just the tips (tines?). Then I licked the tips/tines.
Hmm. Not bad. A little hot.
Wait, getting hotter.
Good God all mighty!
At that was just a wee taste. Had I sucked it back like I did with wasabi one time, my head would probably have literally caught fire and exploded. Splat. Brains everywhere. Hot spicy flaming brains.
However, I can now say I tried Harissa so next time I’m in Tunis and there’s a wee small dish of spicy-looking paste, I will say, no thank you, sir, I do not wish to catch fire and explode.
The main dish, the lamb was fantastic. OMGYHTTT fantastic. The meat was so tender and somehow all the ingredients came together to make the most amazing meal. Now, on the surface, it looks like something I would have made when I had run out of food. A can of olives from 1998. A package of almonds. Some rice. A bag of dried apricots that I had bought back in 2001 thinking I would eat healthy and a bit of lamb I found frozen to the bottom of the freezer. But no, this was all fresh, all tastes worked well together and `it made for an honest to goodness new culinary experience.
Add to that, a waiter that seemed to love explaining everything. I mean, either I was drunk, (which is possible) or he genuinely liked to talk about the food, the combinations, the spices, the methods of cooking and the whole creation process. Oh sure, he didn’t call me hon, but he made that experience just THAT much better by his attentive enthusiasm.
The meal was finished off with a nice dessert, a lemon pound cake with sour cherries, but, to be honest, I was pretty darned full at that point
Such a nice meal, made even more special by being able to share it with wonderful friends.
So, if you’re up for some cafeteria food like you’ve never tasted, give this one a shot. It’s not inexpensive, $54 with tip and a glass of wine, but the food is simply outstanding and the staff remarkably patient with people who like to try new things.
(My apologies for lack of proper pictures but in my medicated state, I forgot to bring my good camera and the iphone shots just didn’t do the food justice.)