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Restaurants & Bars 2

Ngoma on Wilshire

Stan | May 10, 2002 01:58 AM

Having passed by Ngoma several times, I finally managed to go there. (They don't seem to have an answering machine, so it took me a while to determine that they were actually in business.) It's an African restaurant on Wilshire a couple doors east of the Conga Room, near La Brea. I like the idea of African restaurants and keep hoping for good ones (aside from Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, of course, which exist in large numbers).

Ngoma is trying to be a mid-range, so somewhat upscalified, pan-African restaurant, so they have dishes from various countries on the menu, music CD's from various countries posted next to the cash register etc. One thing this tells you right away is that they are not cooking the food of their home town but something that they've designed for an audience. This particular evening it was run by a couple of solicitous African women. It was empty.

I had fried plantains and lamb stew in peanut sauce, which are pretty basic standard West African dishes (and central and southern for all I know). My general impression is that they are going for refinement and delicacy. Given that the food is just not that complicated to start with, this is almost a contradiction in terms. Peanut sauce often comes with chilis, for example, but here it seems like they're trying to tone it down. So why aren't you just eating pre-roasted lamb mixed with thinned-out peanut butter? I guess that's the question I was left with. It was pleasant enough, but at all points I had to make an effort to feel like I was tasting anything. The flavors weren't coming to me.

So I didn't end up being very happy. I've eaten at another West African restaurant in the mid-Wilshire area a few years ago that was different in every way, with no evident accommodation to American tastes (e.g., eating with forks). It was most interesting, though I can't now recall what or where it was.

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