Near Rockwell & Leland in Lincoln Square
Out of a scale of four stars:
Would we go back: Yes.
With a bottle of wine in hand, we hopped in the car on a balmy March night to check out Tagine, a new Moroccan BYOB restaurant in the Rockwell corridor of the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Tagines, cone-shaped clay pots used for slow cooking meat and vegetables have been a hot item in the housewares industry for a couple of years now, so I thought it was a great concept for creating a restaurant. And, for wine lovers, BYOB is a great chance to enjoy wine you know you'll like at a price that's more in line with your budget. We brought the Rosenblum Syrah we'd just purchased at Binny's.
When we first arrived, one of the owners was at the door to greet patrons into the small space. The paprika-colored walls seemed just right, but unfortunately the lighting scheme was working overtime against any kind of charm. One fluorescent light was turned on in the back to illuminate the whole restaurant. And, of course, we were seated under that one light. Hopefully a successful start to this business will make it possible to replace the lighting as soon as possible.
Most importantly, though, the food was great. We both ordered Tangine-cooked entrees, although soup, salad, kebabs and cous cous dishes were also on the menu. Strangely enough, though, our dinners were not served in tagines. Another table we saw had them, but I think they ran out by the time we got there. But, service on an average white place didn't diminish the taste of the meal. I had the Oasis Tagine, a half-chicken slow roasted with olives, lemon confit and a ginger saffron sauce, accompanied by French fries. Soaking up the ginger saffron sauce, these thin American-style French fries may be the best fries I've ever had in my life (even topping the duck-fat fried fries at Hot Doug's, which is saying a lot.) Jeff had the Sultan's Tagine, but unfortunately the braised shank of lamb and artichokes were served on a large bed of spiced peas -- and Jeff doesn't like peas. But, we were able to share our meals (because I do like peas, and can say these were good) and it was a great way to get to taste two entrees. We also ordered the Vegetarian sampler as an appetizer, which included roasted green peppers, eggplant and cooked garlic spinach that were all wonderfully spiced. We ate the veggies on pita bread, along with our Moroccan salads, which came with the entrees. The salads included a lot of chopped cucumber, tomato and romaine lettuce, in a sweet vinegar-heavy dressing. Nothing too special about the salad, but it was fine. Each table is also served a dish of very spicy olives, and sliced carrots spiced with olive oil.
Overall I think Tagine has exciting food for an incredibly reasonable price. I just hope they are able to fine tune the restaurant into a truly amazing dining experience.
Note from Jeff: Before we publish this, I have to say that my entree could have been better. It was all peas (which I hate) and lamb with a little artichoke. I thought that I would come with some sort of starch (rice, cous cous), but alas did not. Menu descriptions and lighting (which Natalie mentioned) could be much better. I think it's worth another try, but there's work to be done.