"A Taste of Africa"
1212 Royal St
New Orleans, Louisiana
No web site Arrrgh!!!
It seems almost every other restaurant in New Orleans has some sort of appeasement dish, a veggie burger or Pasta Primavera so as not to lose the veto vote. Many will happily make a dish for you without meat. Whoo Hooo, I do feel so honored.
Several restaurants come up on the iPhone app (Happy Cow) as vegetarian friendly but I always have the feeling I have to ask some qualifying questions such as, "Is the sauce make with chicken stock?", because they are, in fact, mainstream restaurants.
So with several choices I opted for Bennachin Restaurant, serving African food.
It's a storefront restaurant way down on Royal Street which is still in the Quarter but away from the craziness. It was nice and quiet and with subdued tones of brown and deep sunset orange with an exposed brick wall and what to my untrained eye looked like African art it was a warm and inviting environment. My only comment is that I probably would have enjoyed some ethnic music rather than, (and I know how important this is), the football game. I miss out on things when I have to work and if you have to work then I guess it's your turn. I don't think the other middle age couple requested it. Anyway, I think football belongs in a sports bar and pretty much TV is out of place in a restaurant.
I do like the fact that even if it IS only a BEEF dish sans beef it gets some real estate on a menu page. Bennachin's menu has a secton with 6 dishes titled "Vegetables". Unfortunately the descriptions of dishes I've never had or even heard of is merely a list of which vegetables are in the dish and which starch they come with. I think this might be more descriptive as I would imagine that most diners, like me, have limited experience with native cuisine. When I asked the waiter which dishes he recommended he said, "40,41,42, and 44 are the most popular." Hmmmm. OK.
2 are listed as ginger sauces, one a tomato stew and another a curry sauce.
I opted to start with the Black Eyed Pea Fritters as the vegetarian waitress at the Sugar Shack spoke very highly of them.
I thought they were a lighter version of say, falafel with a more neutral taste but they were served with a spiced onion and tomato paste sauce which I couldn't get enough of.
My entree, the Black Eyed Peas in Onion and Tomato Stew served with Coconut Rice and Fried Ripe Plantains was what I went for. I thought it would more or less come in a pot as a "stew" but it was more a rice and beans variant with stewed black eyed peas. I liked the flavor, mild and tasty but as I'm a hot sauce kind of guy, it was better, (as I think most things are), with a few shakes. I was in New Orleans...how could I not think, "BAM!"?
The coconut rice was flavorful, subtle, with a smattering of veggies. The plantains were fried but not overly sweet. Almost like a taste of young plantains that had just moved into the ripe phase...but as tender as they were in the beginning of the meal they were more of a sweet tostones.
And then there was this roll. I couldn't figure it out. It's like a kind of white flour, sweetish, supermarket thing. Give me a hunk of dark peasant bread and it would have been the perfect compliment.
I would eat here again and ask many more questions. I think this is the kind of place you can feel really comfortable with the food after ordering it a few times and know what things are.
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