*THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED*
I enjoy seeing how people gravitate to restaurants run by nice people (like Nopa!). But a winning smile doesn't quell a rumbling belly: like Nopa, they have to be serving some tasty vittles too. And when those tasty vittles fall square into the cheap eats category, well, you've just might have yourself a nice little business.
Personable chef/owner Mohamed Ghaleb has left his Jones Street hole-in-the-wall (literally) and with his new Polk Street digs he now has room for about quadruple the number of guests to stretch out. Based on the crowds I have witnessed since ~TAJINE~ reopened, I'd say that's a good thing. And he takes credit cards now. And you don't have to witness crack deals before walking into the restaurant. Movin' on up!
The look is still rather bare bones, but there are some pretty Moroccan lamps overhead (but MAN, they have to do something with those evil high wattage bulbs--the place was lit up like a high school gym), there are some banquettes with pillows, and there is a bar in the back where you can hang out and watch Mohamed pop in and out of the kitchen.
There are a ton of options, and vegetarians do just fine here. It's also perfect food for a group. In a review of the previous location I tried the delicious harira soup, the delightfully flaky chicken bastilla (pastry is one of the only times flaky is a good thing), and the lamb couscous. People also tend to loooove the kufta kebab plate ($8.95).
During this visit at the new place, my dinner pal and I started with the mosaic of salads ($7.95), which included zaalook (garlicky eggplant and tomatoes), taktouka (sautéed bell peppers), shalada (what I like to call Moroccan salsa: tomatoes, green onion, and parsley), and beet salad topped with slices of a hard-boiled egg. It's amazing to me how the out-of-season and totally grey tomatoes in the shalada still had flavor. I'm an eggplant girl (yeah, call me a dago, go for it) so it's what I would probably commit to on its own next time.
My pal was in love with the Merguez sausage couscous ($9.50), a hearty serving with a pile of steaming stewed vegetables in the middle. And if an Argentine compliments the grilling on the sausage, you know it's good. I enjoyed warming up with the tajine baquerri ($9.50), beef with artichoke hearts and peas. Some pieces of the meat were tender, others tough--I'll probably go with a different tajine next time. And yo, the sandwiches look deeeeelish. I saw a chick scarfing on a kufta kebab sandwich and I was ready to make her an offer for the other half, right then.
The joint is BYOB and how magical, no corkage. You get paper cups if you bring wine, so I prefer beer out of the bottle: Pilsner Urquell goes swimmingly with the food here. I was cracking up over the chicks at the adjoining table with their cans of Sofias. You wouldn't have seen that at the Jones Street location--those ladies wouldn't even be within a five-block radius of the restaurant. But a note on the no corkage: it's good form to at least order the sweet mint tea at the end (delicious with some Moroccan pastries) or some other beverage.
Okay, now, the service. Oh lordy, it needs some help. Like, get out the defib paddles. I know the restaurant has only been open since April, but the staff is terrifyingly clueless on service (e.g. no menus for ten minutes, brusque attitude, missing silverware, the wrong check). Oh, and no rosewater at the end? Meow. So, the servers need to shape up soon. But when you get your ridiculously cheap bill (double check and make sure it's really yours) the little missteps aren't quite so glaring. Well, except those lights. Now, those are glaring.
1338 Polk St.
Cross: Pine St.
San Francisco, CA 94109
(i.e. no lunch Friday)