West Village has been inundated with trendy but expensive Italian restaurants, cocktail bars and other places for young people who can actually afford Manhattan-level food and entertainment budgets, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a gem where you feel more at home. When we stepped into Berber Street Food, my wife Jun and I had a strikingly different impression of the modest yet colorful venue led by a chef who used to work at fine-dining restaurants such as Per Se (which will be on my next review) and Daniel. While Jun and I had been to Morocco together, the African cuisine is still somewhat new to us, and Berber Street Food offered a suitable opportunity to get a taste of the pan-African cuisine coming from the kitchen. Overall, the meal was quite satisfactory.
The menu at Berber Street Food consists of appetizers, “fusion” bowls (seemingly more ideal for take-outs during lunch hours at work), sandwiches and other house specialties. Jun and I shared a number of appetizers together, such as the calypso jerk chicken wings with mango cilantro salsa, Moorish kebab with coconut tamarind dip and Senegalese empanadas, one with vegetable curry and another with chicken. All of these were more or less serviceable but didn’t leave a strong impression. Consider these dishes just like teasers for something much better to come, as the two house specialty dishes that we ordered turned out to be much more delicious.
We both very much enjoyed the so-called “Berber Feast” dish consisting of chopped leg of lamb roasted with four hours, accompanied by couscous, grilled vegetables and onion gravy. The tender texture of the lamb worked beautifully together with the fine couscous, giving a wonderfully earthy feel that you don’t often encounter in other cuisines. The other dish, djolof fried rice, was also wonderful. This Senegalese rice with chicken cooked in a spicy tomato blend sauce was rich without overwhelmingly heavy, and the subtly spicy flavor made it quite an addictive dish that grew on me the more I dug in. Overall, I came out of the restaurant quite satisfied, although Jun thought it felt more or less like a home cooked meal that was good but not great.
Berber Street Food doesn’t take reservations but you wouldn’t have much wait time so long as you avoid the prime time. One thing I wish the restaurant had was some alcohol offerings that could help wash down the food, although a cup of hot mint tea certainly helped on a rainy evening that Jun and I visited. With all its rich heritage and diversity, African cuisine is still grossly underrepresented in New York City outside of the Harlem area. I like what the chef, Diana Tandia, is doing at her small but ambitious kitchen and hope the restaurant can serve as an ambassador that champions Africa’s culinary identity.
KenScale: 8.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 7.75/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 35 Carmine Street, New York, NY 10014
Telephone: (646) 870-0495