Photo by NicolasMcComber/iStockphoto
Why had I never heard of or tasted merguez? Was I just oblivious? Or had I not been eating in the "right" restaurants, those serving North African cuisine? Is merguez this year's passion fruit -- the new thing every chef is serving? Suddenly, in one weekend, it seemed to be on every menu.
The first place where I encountered it was 1905, a second-floor restaurant in the U Street section of Washington, D.C. (1905 9th Street, NW). 1905 felt as if it -- and its clientele -- could have come right out of a Toulouse-Lautrec poster. There is the slightly run-down feel to the furnishings that seem from another era. The ceiling is stamped tin, the curtains are heavy red fabric. Down the middle of the dining room is a long communal dining table with a huge vase of slightly older flowers in the middle. There are locals there for a neighborhood dinner, and a lively bar. The place does not shut until 2 a.m.
The only way to describe the food is eclectic. The black-turtleneck-clad person who seated us -- not quite a maitre'd -- announced he was Italian (but was a dead ringer for the Puerto Rican actor Hector Elizando) and recommended the pan-roasted gnocchi or the saffron fettuccine. Unfortunately, both were no longer available. But that left the grilled merguez.