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Zitouna v. Tajine

  • Pei Jun 30, 2009 01:13 PM
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Hit with a sudden urge to seek out Mediterranean flavors, I visited both Zitouna and Tajine in the last few weeks. Short version: had a great time at both.

Zitouna: This tiny cafe is definitely the more casual of the two places. It's open for lunch as well, though I believe closed on Mondays. Service is casual and very friendly, and food comes out quickly. I don't know that I have a favorite dish here, but I loved the hummus. They also talk up their falafel wrap, so I'll be back for that. This feels like the kind of place to grab a quick lunch or have a casual dinner with a few people.

Tajine: They moved from their casual Polk Street cafe into a shared space with a bar/lounge. The ambiance is still very casual, but now guests sit at low pillows and sofas around metal Moroccan tables. I was fine with the low seating, but it was not the most comfortable dining position. Favorite dish by a long shot was the lamb tajine in white beans. I had the same dish at Zitouna, and it was good there but the flavors really popped at Tajine. The warm Moroccan bread with split pea dip (very cumin-y) was also a table favorite. Prices aren't much more than at Zitouna, but the space is more conducive to large groups or lingering over dinner. They also take reservations.

Cous cous at both places was fluffy, flavorful, and served with a nice variety of vegetables. Mint tea at each was good, but I noticed at Tajine the servers put on a bit of a show pouring the tea at a distance of two to three feet.

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Cafe Zitouna
1201 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

Tajine (Heights)
2080 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA

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  1. Tajine has reopened on Polk Street near Clay, in a space formerly occupied by an Indian restaurant. Use the link below to find my report and others of their new location.

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    Tajine Moroccan Restaurant
    1653 Polk St, San Francisco, CA

    7 Replies
    1. re: johnrsf

      Interesting that Pei describes Zitouna as tiny; I think it's pretty roomy. It's a sunny cafe, with delicious lemonade, desserts, and especially breek.

      I always look forward to meals at both spots. Good choices if you're going to the movies at the AMC or Lumiere.

      I'll give Tajine's kabobs the nod as well as the basteeya, but hard to complain about either.

      1. re: Windy

        Finally got back to Zitouna--half the times I wanted to go it was closed, the other half the forbidden alcohol was decisive. I've been in love with breek for 40 years.

        One man serving full house and take-out and cash register. Naturally had to wait to give order. Sorry--no breek tonight. Later, sorry, no baklava.

        I was so disappointed, I just ordered thoughtlessly. My cous cous royale was "pleasant"; our plate of Middle Eastern Mosaic featured delicious felafel, nice hummus, sheep's milk feta (server had said goat; I prefer sheep), a so-so eggplant stew, nice salad greens, and two (2) olives. Pita was ok, though hard to separate.

        He turned the open sign around at 7: 50 on a Sat night!

        1. re: Fine

          I was there last week, and was disappointed at no breek either. They're having trouble getting the dough, or something like that. However we ordered the chicken bastilla. And that turned out to be even better than Tajine's.

          Zitouna is Tunisian; next time try the harira (semolina cake) for dessert.

          1. re: Windy

            Sorry to be slow.

            When it first opened, Zitouna bragged about making its own breek dough from scratch.

            Can't remember offhand, did it change owners? Seems to me there was a woman doing that baking.

            1. re: Windy

              curious...Zitouna is Tunisian...

              But I've never seen pita or humus or felafel in Tunisia...

              ps- must be a little mistake: harira is a soup.

              1. re: escargot3

                Harissa (Basboussa) is the the semolina cake, according to the online menu

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Yes harissa is the cake at Zitouna--but also a spicy red condiment. Harira is the soup at Tagine.

                  The owners at Zitouna are the same to my knowledge. Chef has changed occasionally. They haven't had the breek dough the last two times so I tried the chicken bastilla instead. Really good.

                  Haven't ever tried the Middle Eastern plates there. I don't like hummous anyway except at Palmyra where it transcends its ingredients.

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                  Palmyra
                  700 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117

      2. in all fairness, zitouna claims a tunisian influence which tajine doesn't (not sure what that means though)

        9 Replies
        1. re: vulber

          While both countries are in the Magreb region of North Africa, there is a huge difference between the 2 cuisines. IMHO, any of the different regional cuisines throughout Morocco are by far superior to that in Tunisia. Different spices and food preps.

          Neither has humus or felafel or pita.

          1. re: escargot3

            I do recalling having hummus quite often when I was in Tunisia; indeed, it was on the breakfast buffet every morning at the hotel I stayed at while I was there. And I had some truly fabulous hummus this week (some of the best I've ever have) that is made and sold by two Tunisian brothers at various farmer's markets and similar venues in LA (my daughter purchased it at the Santa Monica FM). That said, I agree that hummus really is not Tunisian as such; rather, I am guessing that Zitouna includes those items as part of a pan-Middle Eastern/North African menu After all, the plate 'Fine' reports on was billed as 'Middle Eastern'.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Isn't foul served for breakfast in much of the Middle East (at least Egypt and Syria)? No idea about most of North Africa.

              I got a bowl with pita at Palmyra one day, and it was so good.

              1. re: Windy

                yes, I had foul for breakfast in Jordan quite often when I was there. perfect breakfast food, IMO, which could explain why there was also foul on the breakfast buffet in Tunisia every day, along with at least thirty other items. I think I've seen it on the menu at Fattoush in San Francisco, perhaps at brunch (?).

                This hotel in Tunisia had a particularly big breakfast spread, including North African, Middle Eastern and American items , and this was off season (it was a resort hotel). Of course, most of the hotel guests were members of my daughter's family and/or attending her wedding, and the hotel GM at the time was my daughter's FIL, so I can't discount the possibility that the buffet was a bit more elaborate than usual for our sakes. :-)

                1. re: susancinsf

                  Windy and Susan,
                  Are both of you talking about poultry? I can only imagine you are misspelling "fowl" as "foul". Or am I missing something?

                  1. re: Tripeler

                    it's a simple dish of cooked favas that's one of the essentials w. flat bread in the everyday diet in the eastern Mediterranean.

                    1. re: moto

                      Moto,
                      Thanks so much! It all makes more sense now.

                      1. re: Tripeler

                        yes, and it can be hard to find on the internet given all the various spellings *and* all of the other definitions of 'foul'. :-) Here is a wiki article:

                        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foul_Mad...

                        1. re: Tripeler

                          on the level of food value, the way working people depend on foul illustrates how folk in some poor countries eat better than in the u.s. ; they can pick up a quick morning meal of foul and flatbread from a sidewalk/street vendor the way people here grab something from drive throughs and convenience stores.