The birthday boy, fondly remembering the Moroccan restaurant we ate at the final night of our honeymoon, decided Tanjia was the perfect spot for a family birthday celebration.
We did a brief stop at Sketch for a mid afternoon snack. Among the four of us, we ordered the blackberry, dark chocolate, lavender and burnt caramel. I loved the texture of the ice creams, but would have liked a bit darker burnt edge in the caramel and bit more juicy brightness from the blackberry. The dark chocolate was much like a delicious melty candy bar, and the lavender hit the perfect note of medium intensity for me, without being too overpowering or medicinal.
We arrived at Tanjia 15 minutes before our reservation, and the place was empty. Once we settled into our cushions, took in the surroundings and got used to being in an empty restaurant, the teenagers started to relax. As the evening progressed, three more tables filled up.
Tanjia is one of those rare destination or theme restaurants that provides a beautiful, exotic setting AND delicious, thoughtfully prepared food. The staff – a young man and young woman - was gracious and helpful, and we enjoyed chatting with the young woman about her home country of Mongolia. My only complaint about service is that when I called 10 days ahead of time and left a message requesting a reservation, I never received a phone call back to confirm.
The evening began with the ritual hand washing at the table. The staff made it clear we could have plates and utensils but we opted to eat with our hands.
The first course of lentil soup was not too thick, hot and perfectly salted, which I find can be a trick with legume based soups. However, we’re a spice-loving crowd and my stepson’s summary was that the soup would be perfect with a bit of Tabasco.
Next the salad platter arrived with addictive roasted eggplant dip, vinegary slices of cucumber, cumin flecked carrot slices and lightly dressed chunks of blanched cauliflower. My husband and I are both not big cauliflower fans, but agreed this was a version worth eating. Warm, soft slices of fresh bread accompanied.
We asked for one of the bastilla servings to be seafood, just as a contrast. Out came one large chicken bastilla, and one small, softer seafood bastilla without powdered sugar. The kids were really curious about the bastilla and how the combination of chicken, egg, pastry and powdered sugar would work. The seafood bastilla had a pleasant kick of spice, while the chicken was rich and not too sweet. We polished them both off.
The birthday boy was insistent we get the Royal Crown platter, which requires a minimum of 3 persons to order. It consisted of mellow but definitely gamey braised lamb with honey, piquant and slightly salty chicken with olives, mild and juicy chicken with lemon, tender couscous with deliciously spicy vegetables, a dish of barely overcooked shrimp and scallops, and tender kebabs of lamb (though my husband swears it was beef). As a 4th entrée I added chicken with almonds. Overall, it was chicken heavy meal, but the chicken was juicy and tender, each chicken dish different from the next. I loved the texture and feel of the couscous between my finger tips; plump, firm and not clumping together. This comment of course sent my family into giggles. We stuffed ourselves and there was still food left over. My favorites were the couscous with vegetables and the chicken with olives.
Someway through the main course, the belly dancer came out. I’ve seen a moderate amount of belly dancing in my life, plenty of it leaning uncomfortably towards the tacky and untalented camp. This dancer was beautiful, talented, elegant, didn’t grovel for tips and there were no snakes involved in her act. The absence of snakes is a huge plus IMHO. She took a few moments to give lessons, first to interested ladies, then to interested gents. The step kids were awed and horrified that their parental units participated in this.
The belly dancing done, awaiting dessert, suddenly the music took on a decidedly techno beat and the staff emerged with a dessert platter decorated by a single birthday candle as an upbeat refrain of Happy Birthday filled the air. I hadn’t mentioned my husband’s birthday ahead of time, the staff simply picked up on references among my family during dinner. The platter had 4 servings of deep fried bananas, oranges and watermelon, which we washed down with the requisite mint tea.
The final hand washing was followed by a sprinkling of rosewater, the scent of which happily carried me back to meals at Bay Area Moroccan restaurants with my own parents 20 or 30 years ago.
Many thanks to fellow hounds for all the inspired suggestions; the family is quite eager to explore the other places and cuisines suggested!
(formerly Jennie Sheeks)
My original query for a chowish, exotic, ethnic birthday dinner spot in SF/East Bay: