Tanoreen of Bay Ridge was recently named #1 in New York magazine's cheap food issue. I looked at some articles on their offerings, and while I have yet to try it (indeed, I look forward to it), the descriptions I read immediately reminded me of a sort of creative, vibrant, pan-middle east cuisine I had enjoyed at Chez Sima, a bit out of the way at 12-46 River Road in Fair Lawn, NJ.
According to a municipal business article I found, the proprietor, Sima, operated a restaurant in Greenwich Village for a spell before opening the current shop. She makes moroccan-sephardic and other middle eastern food that meets kosher standards (fair lawn is an orthodox enclave) while utilizing unique and enticing flavors.
For a portable lunch, they make pita sandwiches of all varieties, and upon my first visit, some were familiar to me, others not: falafel, fried eggplant and cauliflower, kufta kebab, "jerusalem mix" (chicken and turkey in a curry-mustard sauce), merguez (morrocan spiced beef sausage). Each of these is dutifully stuffed inside a thick toasty pita with fresh cabbage, and optionally squirted with house-made tahini and hot sauces. Devotion is exhibited through a dizzying array of prepared salads of impeccable quality and freshness which are displayed in metal pans: "matchuba" (stewed tomato, pepper and garlic), butternut squash, spicy carrots, fried peppers, eggplant with pepper and capers, eggplant with onions, and more. You can add any salad to a pita sandwich for .50. She told me that people "drive up in cars" to get the matchuba.
I think the singularity of the place might be due in part to the simple paucity of surviving Morrocan jews. Like the khmer cuisine of Cambodia after Pol Pot's "Year Zero", the Morrocan Sephardic tradition was in danger of being lost to history at one point. Sima is an emigre from Israel, but she credits her Moroccan mother for the bulk of her recipes.
The available items can vary. On Thursdays, and sometimes Sundays, (sadly Sima is closed for the sabbath on Sat.) she makes a Moroccan baked fish, which is dope. I believe it is a salmon smothered with garlic, and peppers with a blend of spices. She also makes cauliflower and other vegetables stuffed with beef in delightful oily sauces.
The cous cous, which was fluffly and moist, is excellent with the matchuba (Sima recommended that combo), and I have also had pickled curried vegetables, and roast beef with mushrooms. Sima's harira, a chickpea and vegetable soup which is flavored with lemon and cilantro, ubiquitous in N. Africa, is the best I have had.
There are also rice pilaf type dishes that originate in Iraq, Bahrain (I must admit I didn't even know this country existed until recently) and elsewhere. Sima explained that Israelis learn to adopt things they like from surrounding states.
I would recommend this place as highly as any sub-$15 restaurant in the NYC metro area.
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