New York's Own Taste of Senegal

By Barbara Kafka
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Patisserie des Ambassades


I have long thought that there is no end to what can be learned about and through food. Last night that was pleasantly confirmed at a restaurant serving a cuisine that is new to me, that of Senegal. The restaurant, Patisserie des Ambassades, is on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan between 118th and 119th Streets. Telephone is 1-212-666-0078. It is in a neighborhood that is richly Senegalese, and one sees, along with normal clothing, some amazing things on both men and women.

The restaurant is tiny, with a small outdoor terrace and lots of baked goods for takeout. They make their own bread and a wide variety of pastries. Caution: It is Muslim, so no alcohol. But there is a drink made from hibiscus flowers—a rich red color—and delicious. I have had it before in Mexico, but here where it is made on premises it is a darker red and richer in flavor.

The mussels were liberally doused with the semi-ubiquitous sauce and were hot in temperature, plump, and perfectly cooked.

The languages are a mix of French and African.

The menu is limited, but the food is good and mildly spicy. Much is vegetarian, and there is seafood as well. One more warning: In addition to the food being spicy, there is one sauce made with oil and hottish red peppers cut in small dice that repeats on several dishes. Ask the waiter for advice. Several times when I did, the chef's head popped out the back kitchen door.

Service is very friendly and the patrons a racial mix.

I began with a dish of mussels that we opened and laid flat on the half-shell. There were just enough to cover the platter, which was plenty.

They were liberally doused with the semi-ubiquitous sauce and were hot in temperature, plump, and perfectly cooked. My daughter started with a version of spring rolls that I avoided, thinking they would be a taboo to me with floury dough. Instead, they were in some version of rice paper and looked divine. Ah well, next time.

It went on with a vegetable curry—not orange—served next to enough rice with oil to feed a small Chinese village for a week. The vegetables were various going from broccoli to spinach and beyond. My husband had a similar dish with different seasonings and a different name. Our daughter had fish with sauce and spinach on the side.

We wanted to try the fish cakes, but they had been too popular and were out.

None of us had dessert, as we were sitting outside since we had the dog with us and it was getting chilly. I cannot wait to try the restaurant again. Maybe there will be fish cakes this time.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2010/09/new-yorks-own-taste-of-senegal/63535/