Cabbies Choose Cafe Ya-Bon
Last night I went with Dave MP to Cafe Ya Bon, a place I noticed several months ago (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/379538).
Finally they're up and running with a few Moroccan and Tunisian dishes. I gather that they're still installing necessary kitchen equipment that will allow them to expand the menu. As of yet, they offer Moroccan and Tunisian salads and sandwiches as well as a limited selection of hot foods. The food is cooked by the owner's wife, who was stirring a big pot behind the counter as we dined.
Yesterday they served lamb cous cous and harira. Unfortunately, they were out of the lentil soup my Moroccan cab driver raved about last week. We ordered the cous cous, harira and a Tunisian salad.
The lamb in the cous cous was divine--tender, succulent, lamb-licious. The cous cous itself was OK--moist (but not wet), but not flavorful enough until Dave poured the harira over top and mixed in a bit of harissa (Tunisian chili pepper paste).
Harira, a chickpea soup with big chunks of potato, carrot and zucchini, seemed like something my grandmother would make--warm, soothing, not a flavor sensation, but sometimes exactly the thing you crave.
The menu warns that the Tunisian salad is spicy, but I didn't find it to be so. I was a bit underwhelmed by this dish, but I didn't like a similar salad at Tajine either. Something about the texture is unappealing to me.
For dessert we split a slice of semolina cake topped with cracked pistachios. I like this moist, honeyed dessert, which I tried on a previous visit. Dave detected a flowery note, which may have been rose water or orange-flower water.
Overall, I liked the food and thought it was a good value. Dinner plus lemonade plus mint tea was $21.50. I would certainly stop by again when I'm in the neighborhood, and look forward to trying some of the dishes on the expanded menu. Now that Tajine has been "discovered" and lines can be somewhat horrendous, this is a great neighborhood spot with similar food and warm service.
I took pictures that I'll post later.
Dave, your opinion?
No place tag for this yet, and I don't know the exact address, but it's on Sutter at Polk in San Francisco.
I agree with pane's assessment of this place. Good, but in my mind nothing extraordinary.
We started the meal with mint tea (a silver pot served on a large silver tray) which was very nice, very generous serving for two people. I also tried a homemade lemonade, which was very strange. It had an almost thick consistency, as if it contained some yogurt or milk (or even, as pane suggested, vanilla frosting). But when I asked if there was anything special in it, the owner said no, just lemon juice. So maybe the texture and taste we sensed was a combination of lots of lemon pith and lots of sugar.
I was a bit confused between the words harissa and harira (until reading pane's post just now) but I think I have it straight now. Anyway, we had both, along with the lamb couscous. As pane mentioned, I liked the combination of couscous with the harissa and harira...the stewed vegetables were very nice and simple, and the lamb itself was great. I appreciated the basket of French bread that was great for dipping in the extra liquid.
The semolina cake was good. I enjoyed the flavor, though I thought it was a bit dry.
I didn't really care for the Tunisian salad. The texture reminded me of jarred relish (but it tasted a bit better) and the tuna on top was very plain. I wouldn't order this salad again.
Service was very friendly, and I would definitely like to return once they have a larger menu...or at least to try the lentil soup. While I really liked this place, I feel that it's so "homemade tasting" that it's actually not too different than food *I* might cook at home (I happen to have an excellent N. African couscous recipe, as well as a good lentil soup recipe).
Overall, I think this place has great potential, and is definitely a good addition to the neighborhood, even as just a cafe with nice tea and desserts. I would also guess that it's a better place to eat lunch at...they had run out of soup by dinner time. I'd be interested to hear what other people think of this place.
Thanks much for the follow-up. I'd thought I'd try the Tunisian salad next, but now I think it'll move to the bottom of the list. Is the couscous fresh or instant?
Here's the Places entry for Cafe Ya-Bon, http://www.chowhound.com/places/2521 , but can't get it to link here.