Friday, June 08, 2007

Cafe Carthage

I stumbled upon Cafe Carthage (1851 Commercial Dr at 2nd Ave, 604-215-0661) on the Drive and had a wonderfully satisfying meal. This is a Tunisian and French restaurant, and just the perfect "little something different" with a restful atmosphere that I was looking for to feed myself after running an errand in the area after a long week at work. A big plate of Couscous Carthage ($18.25), which had lamb sausage, a chicken leg and a lamb shank and autumn vegetables and tomato sauce, was hearty and flavourful. Unfortunately, I only had the patience to take the one blurry photo before setting my camera aside and excitedly digging into the mound of food.

It came with a sauce boat of harissa, the red Tunisian hot sauce made with chilis. I kept trying this sauce to see if I could like it. It was a pleasantly complex chili sauce with a big kick of heat, but I detected a distinct rose flavour, which I've never been fond of. I have looked the sauce up since (try the link) and apparently a well-known expensive version of the sauce does include rose petals. It was certainly fun to be introduced to a new condiment for me though.

In fact, much of the pleasure of this particular meal was in this feeling of being transported to another place. Maybe even another time. This doesn't feel like a typical Commercial Drive hole in the wall. Instead, it's quite an elegant little oasis. Dark wood everywhere, middle eastern tile work, wonderful lamps hanging from the ceiling, white and navy blue tablecloths and napkins, and female servers dressed up all in black, looking particularly proper and demure. In fact, one server's dress with black lace and heels was the perfect outfit to make me feel like I suddenly walked into a period film about French colonial Tunisia, or at least what I might imagine French colonial Tunisia to look like because I really have no knowledge of Tunisian history (maybe it's just what she likes to wear and really has no relation to the restaurant. Anyhow, I liked it). To add to this immersive experience, I had the Moroccan tea, sweetened, with lots of fresh mint and an appropriate small glass to drink from.

Having spotted other people's big dishes, I knew that I wouldn't have room to try an appetizer, but I managed to squeeze in some dessert. Their dessert menu is filled with French classics. I went with the creme brulee. This had a lovely custard, but the burnt sugar topping was too thick for my taste. I prefer just the thinnest little crisp sugar coat. I was certainly tempted by the chocolate ganache cake on the menu, but just didn't feel like something so heavy after my couscous gorge. I also had a Tunisian coffee with dessert, which is very strong and thick (with the grounds settling down to the bottom, like a Turkish coffee), served sweetened, in a metal flask, with an espresso cup and saucer to pour into. I quite liked that. Service was excellent, and the room had an overall relaxed and refined feel to it on this pleasant sunny summer evening. I really enjoyed this restaurant, and part of the charm was that it is so different from other restaurants on the Drive, and the frenetic energy that I associate with the neighbourhood in general. Check out their website, linked above, for a history lesson on Carthage. Check out their restaurant for a stimulating meal in a place where you can slow down and explore it.

Just one last note - I never did get to try the previous incarnation of the restaurant, Zanzibar, the Moroccan cafe. From Adam's list, I see that the owners were different, and the place was a much more casual affair, without credit card and alcohol. Cafe Carthage has both, and is more upscale.


CoffeeKid said...

You were on the Drive and didn't call or anything?

Sigh. ;)

Oh well - great report - I've seen the place several times, but hadn't ventured in. I will now!

Dumpling_Girl said...

Thanks for reading, M! Hmmm, maybe one of these days I will break down and get a cell phone. I only went once, so I hope the restaurant is good to you if you go. Would love to go back for a second visit - give me a buzz if you and B want to head out for dinner sometime there.

Sam said...

Over all it was bed experience.. Unpleasant service.