Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Zingerman's Do-Over Dinner: Algerian Jewish Dinner

One approach to food writing is to always be anonymous. Eat undercover; review with a fake name. The writer will never get preferential treatment and perhaps can offer the readers a more honest review.

That said, my husband and I were invited to the Zingerman’s Roadhouse for a do-over dinner after I blogged about a less spectacular “Special Dinner.” As you might have guessed, neither of us wore Salvador Dali moustaches to twirl while ordering a drink.

Everyone was quite gracious and the food was delicious. In fact, we used the fresh bread on the table to “fare la scarpetta” after almost every dish.

The lamb in the entrée was moist and complemented the poached egg. It was a combination that I wasn’t familiar with and it worked very nicely. I’m pretty certain I’ve never had fresh dates before and the two on the salad were sweet like candy. My favorite was the Regional Chickpea & Garlic Soup. As I tasted the first bite, I heard my father’s voice joking, “There won’t be any vampires in this group!” He’s right! It was so strong it was almost spicy.

Here is the complete menu:

Appetizer: Bestel of Fresh Grilled Tuna & Potato

Soup: Regional Chickpea & Garlic Soup

Salad: Carrot Salad with Dates

Entrée: Kouski bil Ghalmi (Braised Lamb with Ras al Hanout)

Side: Chakchouka (Ragout of Chickpeas and Peppers with a Poached Egg on Steamed Cous-Cous

Desserts: Semolina Honey Cake & Almond Stuffed Cigars

I tried the Pomegranate Mojito which had Bacardi, fresh mint, simple syrup, lime juice and pomegranate syrup. Allergic to corn syrup, I was happy to discover that they make their own simple syrup and the pomegranate syrup is made with cane sugar. It would be perfect on a hot day outside.

Each dish had an interesting new taste from to the combination of flavors less common in European cooking. The flavors and the history were explained by Rebecca Wall, a graduate student at the University of Michigan who studies Algerian Jewish cuisine and history. She gave a wonderfully informative talk with slides. She ended the talk with this quote from French historian Pascal Ory:

Cuisine is one of the most distinctive expressions of an ethnic group, or, in modern times, a nation. Frequently, the last sign of an individual’s attachment to his roots before total assimilation into the host community is the consumption of distinctive kinds of food.

If you missed the dinner, I recommend this great interview with Rebecca Wall from the Roadhouse blog.

And so the saga ends. Happy eating at the Zingerman’s Roadhouse, friends! If you’d like to join me for a meal there, I have to warn you that I might wear a disguise.

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