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Restaurant Review:

Imagine you’re sitting on a low lying sofa lounge, listening to Arabic music, and smelling the aromas of a slow-cooking tagine (a type of curry). The burgundy walls exude warmth and richness, while the hookahs, brass lamps, and beautiful paintings of Berber tribesmen evoke the experience of being in Morocco. Welcome to Tangierino’s, the first Moroccan restaurant to enter the Boston cuisine scene.

About a year and half ago, Moroccan native Samad Naamad and his wife Heike opened Tangierino (named after the major Moroccan port town).

They have successfully created a place for Bostonians to experience the unusual. The restaurant has three separate rooms: the front, middle and lounge. I personally prefer the lounge (where you can request to have dinner), which is filled with low red couches. Samad refers to the middle room as his “mom’s living room” since he literally brought in all her furniture. The front room is more contemporary. All the trinkets, furniture, and paintings come directly from Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakech.

I initially visited the restaurant in the spring with Gaurav Grover (OK) and ordered one of the best lamb dishes I had ever eaten. My experience at Tangierino’s sparked my interest about Morocco, so this summer I trekked from Marrakech across the Western Sahara Desert to Fez. I can now vouch for the authentic-ness of the d‚cor and food. I was excited to revisit Tangierino’s a few weeks ago when I had some guests in town.

Aside from the trendy yet authentic d‚cor, the first thing that my friends noticed was the friendliness of the staff. As a Texan, I was refreshed to find happy, friendly hostesses and waitresses. While it did take us a while to place our orders and receive our food, the staff’s positive attitude made up for the wait.

Since most of the dishes are exotic, the menu seems a bit intimidating at first. Don’t worry – I’ll provide you with a few of my recommendations as well as top picks from the owner. I’ll also share with you, my newfound knowledge about Moroccan spices and culture. Basically Moroccan cuisine reflects the country’s location (geographically part of Northern Africa and located south of Spain) and history (influenced and inhabited by the French, Arabs, the indigenous Berber tribes). Due to this variety, Tangierino’s menu is divided into two types of cuisine: Contemporary French Moroccan and classic Moroccan dishes.

To start the evening, we ordered a pitcher of Sangria ($21). Is there a difference between Spanish and Moroccan Sangria? Moroccan Sangria is typically a little stronger and sweeter, containing more mixed fruit. In addition to Sangria, you can order from the wine list ($26-$160), which sports many Californian and Spanish wines. Since food has a lot of flavor, the wine is geared to balance the meal.

For appetizers my friend and I ordered the classical Moroccan Tapas ($12), which included four yummy spreads we could dip our pita bread into. They included Zalook–Moroccan roasted and braised eggplant, bell pepper tagine, Mediterranean olive-salsa, harissa hummus, and za’atar. We also tried the delicious Calamari Ras El hanout ($11.50), seasoned calamari with ras el hanout spice, toasted brioche and tomato confit. Sameer Dholakia (NI), tried and recommended the Briouats aux Djaj ($9), spiced chicken and mascarpone cheese, mixed green salad and beurre au poivre.

As we moved onto our main course, I decided to take advantage of the special of the night: Swordfish au Poivre ($26), which included a nice piece of swordfish, layered with lentils and a crab cake settled in a red wine reduction sauce and topped with summer vegetables. Two of my other friends ordered a traditional tagine, a stew-curry, which is slowly cooked in a cone-shaped pot. They both had the Tagine de Legumes ($18.50), which was the vegetarian tagine of the day.

Before I continue with the owner’s top picks, I’ll share a little Moroccan Spice 101 with you. The base spice in many Moroccan dishes is harrissa, a paste made out of bell pepper, paprika, preserved lemon, chili, cumin, and olive oil. This North African spice is used mainly in Morocco and Tunisia; however in Morocco the paste has more preserved lemon than garlic.

If you’re a little more adventurous, you might enjoy Samad’s top picks. From the contemporary French Moroccan menu, he recommended, for starters, the Three Layer Harrisa Tuna Tartar ($12.50), a spicy yellow fin tuna tartar, avocado and cucumber salad, Moroccan style mango, and goat cheese mousse. For main entrees, his top pick was the Canard au Tassirgal ($25.00), a pan crisped duck breast confit with almond couscous, baby turnips, pineapple and Grand Marnier glaze. From the traditional menu, he chose the Tagine Mrouzia ($23.00), a braised tender lamb shank in honey nutmeg sauce, prunes, toasted sesame seeds, almonds, and tefaya couscous.

Though I can’t vouch for the desserts since we were already stuffed, the restaurant serves Moroccan pastry samplers ($8.00), which include 8-9 different pastries. Two of the most popular are corne de gazelle and honey & almonds briouats. These might go well with a cup of Moroccan mint tea. Or if you want to experience the real Morocco, you can try a hookah (aka shisha) in apple, strawberry, grape, or peach for $25.

While the restaurant can be a bit of a trek (it’s located in Charlestown – 15 minute drive from HBS), accessible only by car or taxi, it’s definitely worth the journey over. The restaurant seems to be a hit because Samad is contemplating opening a second location in the near future. In the meantime, keep an eye out for their first upcoming music CD: Tangierino’s Restaurant & Lounge (Arabic soundtrack and mix). Perhaps one day this place will be as popular as the well-known Parisian Buddah Bar and put Boston’s cuisine scene in the global spotlight.

November 12, 2002
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