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New England Regional | Tastes and Tables

Casbah Nights

Moroccan food served amid jewel-toned comfort

January-February 2005

It is strangely joyful to walk down the narrow, Colonial-era streets of Charlestown, lit by vintage-style gas lamps, and through the doors of Tangierino. The Moroccan restaurant's velvety, genie-in-a-bottle interior invites intimacy and comfort—a sort of exotic salve for what one imagines were the punishing wounds of Puritanism.

Samaad Namad and his wife, Heike, opened the restaurant about four and a half years ago and have seen a steady increase in devoted diners ever since. Although the smell of smoke never enters the restaurant, the couple also run under the same roof a popular "hookah den" offering fruit-flavored tobacco called shisha, "fine cigars and cigarettes," and fancy drinks. (The restaurant has an extensive wine list of its own.)

The main dining room at Tangierino is a cushy oasis.
Photograph courtesy of Tangierino

We recommend eating in the second, smaller, dining room that Namad has named the "Mohani Room" after his mother, who supplied many of the sectional sofas and armloads of satiny fringed pillows. After being seated, one companion immediately nestled deep into the burgundy-colored cushions, shut his eyes, and murmured, "I love this place." Sparse candlelight causes all to recede but the shimmering faces of your party (so go with people you like!). The darkness induces a feeling of delicious languor uncommon in a restaurant with food this good.

Moroccan cuisine boasts a complex mix of influences—Arab, French, Jewish, and Spanish—and strong-flavored core ingredients such as lemons, olives, paprika, cinnamon, mint, almonds, and honey. The first course to arrive at our knee-high, mosaic-tiled table included seafood bisteeya and tuna tartar (each $13). The former is a traditional dish usually made with layers of shredded squab and eggs wrapped and baked in a thin pastry dough and topped with sweet almonds. In this case, the filling was subtly spiced roasted halibut, calamari, and vermicelli. The tuna arrived layered atop honeyed mango cubes, mint, and a cucumber and avocado mousse. A rich balsamic sauce lent tanginess.

Tangierino

83 Main Street
Charlestown
617-242-6009
www.tangierino.com
Dinner nightly 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.; smoking lounge 5 to 12:30 a.m.
Valet parking available

The entrées were even better. The "Sultan's Kadra" ($27) was a glistening array of lamb filet, roasted eggplant filled with creamy goat cheese, succulent poached figs, and caramelized apricots in a rosemary reduction. A traditional Moroccan stew, or tagine ($19), offered piping hot, slow-cooked lemony chicken stuffed with spinach and green olives. Plenty of couscous on the side soaked up the fragrant broth. Also completely satisfying was the more contemporary grilled filet mignon ($30) accompanied by whipped potatoes with truffles and a sultry mix of braised shallot, bell pepper, and Vidalia onion.

We would have loved to try the Moroccan pastries listed on the menu, but were told (early on a Saturday night) that there were none. We chose instead the crème brûlée; it was nothing special, and its caramelized topping was too hard and candied. The chocolate soufflé looked like a black jellyfish floating in a sea of vanilla cream, but was absolutely scrumptious.

Tangierino, named for the residents of that famous port city, welcomes visitors to enjoy its pleasures every night of the week.

~N.P.B.