One of the things I love about New York are the umpteen billion restaurants that offer every cuisine in the world. When I first moved here in 1988 my goal was to never go to the same restaurant twice. I would cut out reviews and paste them into old calendar diaries and consult them anytime there was to be an eating out experience. I still have those books with their faded yellow newsprint.
Many of the restaurants I tried are still living and breathing in Manhattan, but so many others closed before I ever got there. There is an incredible turnover rate in New York. I still compile lists of restaurants; it’s a habit I cannot break (and which many of my friends appreciate when they need ideas of where to eat).
These days the barrenness of the computer holds my lists and I too have changed. I have become much less rigid that every restaurant I eat in MUST BE SOMEPLACE NEW. In fact these days I tend to prefer the comfort, consistency and usually the convenience of the tried and true. And because so many new restaurants seem to be ridiculously expensive and/or way too rarefied for my plebian tastebuds, less and less often do I discover a restaurant that screams “Revisit Me!”
Zerza on 6th street between 1st and 2nd Avenues did. A friend and I were en route to the usual go-to Indian restaurant in the neighborhood but looked inside and stood inside and thought “Why not?”
It is Moroccan. The interior is inviting subtle light, minimal decor and yet the motif was reverential of the cuisine’s root.
So far it seems to be an undiscovered gem, but I am not down there on a Saturday night when the East Village is a jammed madhouse of gridlock and it is near impossible to enter any restaurant without the expected 50 minute wait. The two times I have been there, it’s so nice because it means you can converse without shouting.
And the food is delicious. The menu includes traditional appetizers like hummus and baba ghanoush, but also others that I had never tried like bakoula, a spinach based spread studded with chickpeas and spices, garlic, cilantro, and cumin. It’s addictive. They also serve an arugula salad topped with beets, oranges, and pistachio-crusted goat cheese dressed in a perfectly balanced balsamic vinaigrette and they definitely have the best tagines around town.
Whether you are ordering lamb tagine jelbana, “slow cooked lamb shank in Moroccan spices, with artichoke hearts and green peas” or chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives, the meat falls off the bones. The short rib mrouzia described as “braised beef short rib with prunes and roasted almonds” is unctuously compelling. For dessert there is homemade ice cream, maybe made with hazelnuts or figs.
It’s just so nice to go to a place that has not been franchised, does not cost $50 for an entree, and you can converse without screaming.