Washington, D.C., may be the capital of West African food in the U.S., but New York has a bit of the Thiebu Djeun and Ngamakou, too. I'd heard of a sub-neighborhood in Harlem called Little Senegal and on Friday convinced my friend Yishane Lee to check it out with me. Yishane works for Time Interactive and lives in Inwood, so it was on her way home anyway. We met on the Upper West Side and hailed a taxi. I wasn't exactly sure where Little Senegal was — somewhere on 116th, around the same longitude as Central Park, more or less. But our taxi driver was from Ghana and knew exactly what I was talking about. He took us to Africa Kine restaurant and Yishane and I gorged ourselves on Nem, which looks exactly like a Vietnamese spring roll, but it's stuffed with beef. We had a samosalike appetizer, too, also stuffed with meat. We had a lamb stew called Thiebu Yap, and fried fish with fried plantains. We drank the ginger beverage that I'm really coming to love, and bissap. Both Africa Kine and Chez Auntry Libe in D.C. say that bissap is made from sorrel, but it tastes like a Mexican drink made from hibiscus flowers called jamaica. I was reading a Jessica Harris cookbook on the subway today, and she says that bissap is, indeed, made from hibiscus flowers. What's sorrel got to do with it?
The next day I managed to drag my friend Clark Mitchell, from Travel + Leisure, to Africa Kine for more Nem and ginger juice, along with mechoui — a mustardy grilled leg of lamb — and touffe, which is chicken stewed with onions.
I'd had my and Clark's names put on a "VIP" list at a club in the Flatiron district where some airline was throwing a party. A publicist had invited me, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do on a Saturday after dining on West African food.
I was impressed by how sour my mood could become just by waiting outside in the cold for 10 minutes, my entrance barred by thugs on the other side of a velvet rope. I remembered that places with velvet ropes were stupid, unless you were actually treated like a VIP, in which case they could be kind of decadent and hilarious. We were VIP in name only, though.
I'll give lame events a chance. Sometimes it takes a little while to discover the inner spark of a party, and if you wait around for a little while, sometimes something interesting or fun or at least unexpected happens. Clark is less generous with his time. So we left the party shortly after we were let in and required to check our coats for $3.
We did find other ways to amuse ourselves with New York nightlife, however. Clark is a good young hedonist; I got home at around 4:30 a.m.
In Nation’s Restaurant News this week:
Check out what I wrote about Deckle
See what's on the menu at Night and Day in Brooklyn
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