Barbes ~ Orderinny

Saturday, August 26, 2006


In an attempt to break out of our chinatown rut and try something different, my friday evening dining companions and I made our way 10 blocks south of the office to Barbes, a french moroccan restaurant at Murray Hill. While the restaurant was crowded on a weekday during lunchtime when I last walked past it, the dune colored dining room was only half full when we walked in at 630 on a friday evening. However, the crowd grew larger as the night went on, and so did the chatter and clatter of the plates. Still, the tables were nicely spaced and the huge palm tree that sat squarely in the middle of the room (and next to our table) gave us a semblance of some privacy and probably acted as a noise buffer, or buffer others from the noise we four loud females were making.
While a few dishes showed signs of french inflection, the menu is largely focused on traditional moroccan items, namely tagines (hearty stews in a moroccan clay pot) and couscous (semolina grains. semolina is also the main ingredient for pasta, and therefore some people identify couscous as a type of pasta) . And since neither ying nor rosie had not had moroccan food before, and it is harder to find compared to french cusine for sure, all 4 of us ordered either one or the other dish. We also ordered a very french, and very good duck confit salad to share. The composition was an amalgation of well balanced flavors, with the salty and earthy duck blending extremely well with the mild lentils and the sharp and peppery mesclun and the sweet roasted beets.
Unfortunately, the moroccan entrees did not fare as well. The couscous were well cooked and non soggy, although a little lacking in sale. However, the meats that came with the couscous, grilled or stewed, were all overcooked. Grilled chicken breast on top of a plate of couscous dressed up with plump golden raisins were stringy. And the lamb in the tagine was too tough and underseasoned, despite the best efforts of the prunes in the same dish to provide some seasoning and taste. The tagine unveiling ceremony was however, very impressive. So points for that. The fish tagine in a spicy tomato stew happened to be the best entree that evening, but the favorable impressions was marred when Ying ate a spoonfull of clay. When questioned about it, the servers explained that the pot might have chipped because she had dug into the pot too vigorously. But points still go towards the service, as the servers were pretty apologetic about the mishap and the overall service was attentive and prompt.
We surveyed the dessert menu afterwards and found the offerings of about half a dozen french based desserts perfunctory at best. Still, we ordered a molten chocolate cake (mistakenly advertised as chocolate souffle to us) which was pretty standard.
In the end, we had a really enjoyable dinner. However, it was more a function of the boisterous conversation and the enjoyment of each other's company, and food unfortunately, played second fiddle.

19 E36th St (At Madison Ave)

NB: My pictures of the tagines did not come out properly so i filched a picture online. Ignore the gnome =p

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