The cooking of the Maghreb is among the most exciting in the world, though vastly underappreciated in New York City. Once known as the land of the Moors, this region of North Africa includes contemporary Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, and Tunisia. It lies at the end of ancient spice routes, so the flavors are diverse, yet used with extreme subtlety. A pinch of powdered ginger my enliven a roast chicken; cinnamon is used as if it were, quite literally, worth its weight in gold. French and Arab cooking techniques are woven throughout, like colorful threads in a Berber wedding kaftan.
Which is why news that Bar Omar was opening in Williamsburg three months ago was so exciting. Not only is it the city’s only Algerian restaurant that I know of, but it’s also linked to Chez Omar, a 38-year-old French-Algerian cafe in Paris’s 3rd arrondissement, which one American tourist referred to as “culinary heaven.” Near the corner of Grand and Bedford, with front windows flung open to late spring breezes, the deep and snaking interior effectively summons a classic French bistro.
A wooden bar clad in brass is flanked with bentwood stools darkly stained, and used bricks dabbed here and there with paint pave the walls. Antique-looking mirrors hang throughout, giving Brooklyn boulevardiers discreet views of other tables. There is an interior room in which a stunning quietness prevails, where you may converse to your heart’s content as you sip modestly priced wines. The Provençal rosé from Jas des Vignes ($31), fruity and dry, goes well with the tajines and couscouses that form the heart of the Maghreb menu; for the French flourishes like steak frites and assorted salades, pick the austere and lightly tannic Côtes du Rhône from Les Argentières ($31)….
the tajines are so damn good. These seem to be finished in the conical clay contraption from which the dish takes its name, which is nothing short of wonderful. Most North African restaurants in town simply dump the finished stew in the tajine as if it were merely a serving vessel. Does the charred clay add to the flavor? Not sure, but it certainly adds to the pleasure of eating. My favorite tajine ($36, for two) features eggs and kefta in what amounts to a Creole sauce, chunky with tomatoes and green peppers. That the meatballs are too big and beefy doesn’t matter — call it an Italian-American adaptation of a Franco-Algerian standard.
188 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Monday through Friday: 4 pm — midnight; Weekends:
11am — 1 am