It’s hard to know what the new year will bring in any regard, let alone for the beleaguered local restaurant scene. Because 2022 is in its infancy, I’ll opt for optimism.
So here’s hoping that existing and would-be restaurateurs will be able to launch businesses with ever-more diverse offerings. Relatedly, here’s hoping we see more eateries that prepare food that tastes as good as what’s available at Tajine House.
Columbus places specializing in Moroccan cuisine are few and far between. Their small number received a high-profile boost a few months ago when Tajine House opened in the Downtown North Market.
How the restaurant got its name
Named after a classic Moroccan dish that’s named after the conical-lidded earthenware pot it’s traditionally cooked in, Tajine House abuts Park Street Poultry & Game for good reasons: Both businesses are owned by Lotfi Khomsi and Alex Daray.
While the operations are in all respects connected, the Tajine House segment distinguishes itself with some of the more attractive decorations you’ll see at a food stall. These adornments, which are Moroccan in nature, include mosaic lamps, Arabesque tiles, tajines (the clay pots) and cutouts of Moroccan-style arches.
Tajines (the food) are essentially fragrant stews, and aromatic stews are what Tajine House consequently features from its cafeteria-style setup. The entrees are served atop saffron rice, or nice and loose couscous (another Moroccan staple) and come with two choices of fine side dishes.
Given this eatery’s poultry connection, the chicken tajine ($13.99) seemed like a smart place to start. It absolutely was.
A hearty portion of tender, boneless thighs arrived awash in a delightful gravy likely yellowed by turmeric and saffron, and brightened by preserved lemon and good black olives. As I’d find with everything here, the alluring accents enhanced, rather than overshadowed, the dish’s main ingredient. As I’d also find to be common — and this single fault is something Tajine House needs to address — the just-warm entree was far from piping hot.
A similar likable sauce offset the appealing earthiness of a lamb shank ($17.99). The huge, Fred Flintstone-like serving featured falling-off-the-bone meat, too.
I was also quite pleased with a sizable salmon filet — the more expensive but more desirable and ostensibly more healthful, wild-caught variety — in a bright, tangy, peppery and lemony chermoula sauce rife with sauteed onions ($15.99).
Menu boasts good values, too
The value-centric Moroccan kafta ($8.99) and ground chicken entrees ($7.99) each featured two extra-large meatballs drenched in a rich yet zesty, chile-kissed tomato-harissa sauce. It’s easy to imagine either version of soothing yet perky and garlicky sauced meatballs atop pasta.
Which one should you choose? You really can’t lose, but the crowd-pleasing beef meatballs were denser; the chicken orbs were equally good but lighter, springier and a dollar less.
Side dishes get plenty of attention
All of the sides — which are served chilled even though some would be better warm — tasted great, too. Echoing the entrees, they exhibited deft touches with seasonings and acidic flourishes that amplified the inherent appeal of the showcased components.
The options include: cooked-down spinach uplifted by olive shards; a refreshing, citrus-brightened cucumber salad with diced tomato, parsley and red onion; beets with an intensely zippy dressing that tamed their earthy sweetness; wilted cauliflower with a little cumin; loubya — stewed beans in a tangy tomato-based sauce enlivened by ginger and paprika; zaalouk — a rich and naturally sweet, long-stewed eggplant dish that could convert eggplant haters; and taktouka — roasted peppers and tomatoes with a hint of chile whose long-cooked, oil-enriched deep flavors belied its simple constituents.
Several desserts are offered, but I was told that only the flan ($5.99) is made by Tajine House. Had I not been told this, a couple scoops of the straightforward but silky and well-made custard with an on-target caramel sauce would have clued me in to its origin anyway.
Where: 59 Spruce St., North Market
Contact: 614-981-9372, www.tajinehouse.com
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays
Price range: $7.99 to $15.99
Ambience: sizable food hall stall with handsome, attention-grabbing decorations plus very friendly, helpful service
Children’s menu: no
Liquor license: no
Quick click: A new Moroccan eatery — a rarity in our area — with generally great-tasting, if not always piping hot, food served from a cafeteria-style setup.