Friday, January 25, 2008

Nyala African Cuisine (January 16, 2008)

Two reviewers: ts and js

First of all, I must say that the meat choices for the entrees don't seem to appear on their regular menu. Hence, I am a little in doubt of their "authenticity"; I don't think they were at all representative of "African" cuisine (even though there's a "Moroccan" stew and a "Kenyan" curry). I'm thinking that perhaps they decided to provide more "conventional" flavours for the Dine Out crowd.

But, what do I know?

I guess it just makes me want to try the restaurant in its non-Dine Out form.

The night we went was the 1st day of Dine Out and it seemed like they were still somehow scrambling around and didn't yet know quite how everything should flow, in terms of food & service.

Vegetable Pakora
Fresh, frittered vegetables deep-friedserved with mango chutney and hot sauce
-- or --
Black pepper Scallops
Scallops sauteed in a special Nyala sauce
-- or --
Boerewos kobab (South African style beef Kobab)
Spiced South African sausage sauteed, skewered and grilled with some vegetable friends - served with Mango Chutney and hot sauce

This was served with a generic mesclun salad.

Not very pepper-y for my taste: when something is advertised as being black peppered, I expected it to be sweet and fiery from the aforementioned peppers.

Nothing spectacular for the scallops but at least they were cooked through. I've since found myself having an aversion to partial-cooked scallops.

I had the sausage. It was served with a pappadom and some sort of salad that had beets. I didn't mind the beets-and-something salad at all. The sausage itself was actually flavorful as well and not dry. I tried the mango chutney but I wasn't quite sure if that was homemade. It looked like it came out of a jar. In any case, I didn't think the sausage really needed it that much and hence, avoided it.

(Note, I like the write-up of "with some vegetable friends." Teehee, so cute.)

Lamb Tagine with couscous or rice
A Moroccan dish. lamb cooked in a clay pot (Tagine) with Dried apricots, okra and prunes over a slow heat.
-- or --
Chicken Curry with coconut milk
a Kenyan dish chicken prepared in coconut milk and curry served on a bed of scented rice
-- or --
Ingudi watt ( Split peas with mushrooms) and spinach stew
It is vegan friendly, no animal fat or dairy products are used.
It is served on a bed of Ethiopian flat bread (Injera) or rice


The lamb was tender, with a sweet, lamb-y, and not overly gamey flavour. I expected this dish to be more aggressively spiced though! Sweet, savoury, with a subtle heat -- but this was not very complex at all, with the sweetness from the dried fruit and the cinnamon overpowering the dish. Come to think of it, it was also slightly underseasoned. Again, aggressive spicing, please! This dish was too timid.

I had the curry chicken, of course... that is, not the vegetarian option! Teehee. It was a whole leg and thigh of chicken, so fairly "generous" in serving size. This was "OK". Nothing remarkable, but passable. I mean, I did eat it all, but it didn't make a strong impression.

Pecan brandy tart
-- or --
Cheese cake
-- or --

Did not like this at all. I don't know what it is, but I'm finding myself averse to mango syrup in desserts. The cheesecake served was drizzled with a mango syrup, which I really do not like on cheesecake! (On the same vein, please stop this pairing mango with seafood! I find mango to overpower everything it comes in contact with, it of the overly sweet flesh, ripe and heady aroma.)

I actually ordered the baklava, but the pecan brandy tart came instead. Also, it was more a cake than a tart. It was "OK"; not really "good," but not bad. I tasted the cheesecake and I have the same comment.

All in all, the food was "OK". Nothing was objectionable, but nothing was spectacular as well. But, for the price of $15, this was really good value. It was akin to home-cooking, which is fine with me. I just wished there were stronger flavours present.

Food rating: hmmm, I'm thinking a 5-ish/10 or something like that for this meal. Basically just not very memorable.

Again, I would like to try their regular menu items.

I think the owner just didn't know what to expect for Dine Out. He mentioned that he had to rush to get extra tables and other such last-minute prep, so perhaps he just didn't really have enough time/energy to oversee the whole thing. This seemed the case from the get-go, so even though things may not have gone really smoothly, we knew not to be overly "sensitive" to any

In fact, the experience of actually being in the restaurant was fairly pleasant.

I would go back to Nyala to try to discover dishes that I will like.

We ate here the first night of Dine Out and the owner seemed very eager to please and was really trying hard to make this a good night for his customers.

I like the restaurant because it seems to serve honest food. I don't know about the mango chutney -- I didn't try it because I don't like mango chutney in general -- coming out of a jar. I mean, I can't really tell if it did come out of a jar -- if that would jive with this idea of "honest" food at all.

What I mean by "honest" food: the food is not pretentious at all and does not claim to be more than it is. The price point is very reasonable. At $15 for the Dine Out menu, I felt a little embarrassed to get 3 courses out of it. Our server even forgot to add the coffee and the tea we ordered to the bill, which we easily remedied by adding 6 bucks to the total bill to cover those.

Where the restaurant can improve is in the execution of the dishes. They should hire somebody in the kitchen with the requisite culinary chops to present these dishes the way it can be presented. Of course, once they have someone with a whole lot of skill, their prices should reflect it. I don't mind at all: in fact, I would welcome a restaurant like that, serving "African" cuisine with integrity, skill, and artistry.

So, even if I were not totally satisfied with my Dine Out night, I would go back again and support the restaurant.

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