I love trying ethic food, particularly so when it involves dishes that are totally new to me. I recently had the opportunity to try Harissa, a Tunisian restaurant that also happens to be Kosher. Call me stupid, but to be perfectly honest, I had to look up where Tunisia was on the map. Hey, I bet I'm not the only one out there that didn't know that. Did you?
Well, turns out Tunisia is the smallest country in Africa, located in between Algeria and Libya, and across from Italy and France. Tunisia was the crossroads of history because of it's central location and with the help of the Arab spring. Because of that, it has the influence of the many cultures surrounding Tunisia and was once known as the "breadbasket" of Rome.
Chef-Owner Alain Cohen, famous for inventing the Pretzel Challah, born in Tunisia and raised in Paris. He worked at his father's Tunisian restaurant, starting at the age of nine. With his innovative flair, he turned that restaurant into a Paris landmark. He now brings that heritage and years of experience to Harissa.
Harissa is actually a hot sauce commonly found in the northern part of Africa and is predominantly made with red chili peppers, garlic, salt, and other seasoning. Each family having their own version, their own recipe, their own level of spiciness. I tried their Harissa and thought it was so good I could buy a bottle of it.
To start, we ordered the Street Easts sampler which comes with fricassé, mini tunisian sandwhiches in a fried bread roll with fish. Because Tunisia is a peninsula, fish played a very important role in its cuisine. Next to that is the Breik a L'Oeuf au Thon with has egg, tuna, parsley, and capers in what was like a very crispy crépe or a very large wonton. I LOVED THIS. It was different, and so very delicious. A must order.
As for the Charcuterie, they make most of what you see in-house, and its constantly changing. Great option for sharing, if you really love cured fish, etc.
The Kemia sampler is another one of their specials. It comes with babaghanoush, mechouia, spicy eggplant, tapenade, harissa, and challah. Everything was quite unique if you ask me. Another great option to try something different that a table of 2-4 could share.
Tajine is a middle eastern stew, and there are a variety of ways to make tajine, and it also varies from country to country. Although Tunisian tajine varies from the Morrocan tajine in that Tunisian tajine is more of a frittata than a stew, it seems that Harissa stuck to the stew version (and thank the heavens above that they did!). We went with the Lamb tajine, made with slow cooked prunes and almonds, next to a fluffy pillow of couscous.
The lamb was incredibly tender and melt in your mouth good. Not gamey at all. The prunes added a touch of sweetness to the dish. The almonds gave it a nice crunch and texture. And the couscous was a nice change from the usual rice.
For dessert, we went with Mom's Sweet Arissa Almond Cake. It's so very sweet but also quite Tunisian so I had to try it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Harissa. I'll definitely be going back because there's so much more to try. If you're looking for a place that is different from your usual burgers and french fries, and kabobs, you will pleasantly surprised I'm sure. As always, I'd love to hear what you think! Leave a message in the comments below and tell me if you've had or want to go out of your way to try Tunisian food. Until next time foodecallers!