A very good friend of mine from Penn State (Alexandra, who goes by her middle name, Kizia) lives in New York — she was actually one of those rare “born and raised in Manhattan” folks. I say it’s rare not because she was born and raised here, but because she actually returned to the city to live and work after college. She’s actually about to go on the most amazing life journey anyone could ever go on — which is why we got together for lunch to talk about her upcoming trip. For several months in 2013 she will be living in India to study yoga and meditation. After working in PR for a few years, she’s ready for the physical and mental break (I wish I could do the same, but she’s just more daring than I am to actually go through with it). To me, the thought of packing just a backpack and traveling more than half way around the world to discover more about yourself in a few months than some do in a life time is very admirable — and I wish nothing but the most amazing experiences for her.
So, Kizia picked our lunch date location — Cafe Gitane in Soho (could be considered Nolita). I had never been before and I did exactly what I always do when I have never been to a restaurant … I stalk the online menu, I read reviews, and I pick out what I’m going to order before I arrive. Although this time I only eyed-down one thing I was going to order before arriving at the cafe, and Kizia helped me pick out my main dish.
The cafe was packed — even in the middle of the day after the typical lunch rush was over. There were even a few seats outside and they were full (it was a dreary cold day too!). So, we waited about 45 minutes before we were seated at this petite, round cafe table in the very center of the restaurant. Kizia ordered her caffeine-fix-of-the-day, then we ordered our food. Going off of Kizia’s recommendation I ordered the Moroccan couscous with red peppers, raisins, toasted pinenuts, hummus and eggplant. I had the option of ordering it with chicken but passed when she had told me it was a very large portion to begin with. We also ordered the most unusual starter to share — a seven grain toast topped with avocado, lemon juice, olive oil and chili flakes.
When the avocado toast came we split the bread and didn’t bother cutting it up for individual bites. It was hearty and full of flavor and the avocado was at it’s prime to eat (not too hard, not too mushy, perfect in color). The lemon juice was subtle, but present in every bite. And those chili flakes added the perfect amount of heat to the mild avocado. The ultimate conclusion was a mix, we were: confused as to why so many people were raving about it on various food reviews online, and we also figured these were basic flavors anyone could combine in their own kitchen so why would it be so fabulous at this little cafe? It was funny though, because we both left the restaurant ranking it out as a good plate but nothing out of this world, but a few days later we were chatting about how it grew on each of us and we really enjoyed it!
My couscous was a tower of unbelievable fabulousness. Piled high on my plate in the most perfect molded shape, I was afraid to pierce it with my fork knowing I would destroy the gorgeous presentation. After taking a not-so-devastating bite to the tower I couldn’t hold back — I tore through it for larger forkfuls of food. All of the flavors meshed beautifully well and the hummus was also a great ingredient to hold everything else together; it made picking up couscous with raisins, pinenuts and red pepper easy. I also really enjoyed the golden raisins in the mix of everything — it added the perfect sweetness to the savory plate.
Ready for something embarrassing? This was the first time I have ever ordered couscous at a restaurant. Yup, I’m mortified to admit it. This dish is a MUST to order if you go to Cafe Gitane; I actually enjoyed it so much I would love to attempt to make a similar plate at home. I guess I was shocked that I enjoyed the plate so much and it didn’t involve cheese as an ingredient. Actually, I got through an entire meal without eating cheese! #success
I hope to see Kizia again before she ventures off to India. Our food adventures together are always fantastic — I sure do hope she makes a few memorable ones while she travels in the upcoming year!