Cafe Society

Couscous With Vegetables -- Comfort Food on a Cool Day

After eating Jon Robbins' inspired French-North African fare at Bistro Barbès, I was hungry for more. Not just more of his upscale fusion, but more dishes such as the tagines and harira I came to love in Morocco, Algeria and France, a second home to many North African immigrants. Yesterday I couldn't stand it any longer, so I dropped everything and went in search of one of my favorites: couscous with vegetables.

See also: Review of Bistro Barbes, a Tiny Place That Cooks Up Big Flavors

At the time, I was around the corner from Mecca Grill, a Middle Eastern restaurant that I reviewed earlier this year. The owner had told me that she was planning on introducing Moroccan specialties, but when I called she wasn't in and the person on the line said the restaurant doesn't serve Moroccan food.

Then I tried nearby Tajine and Grill, and was told that there's a new owner but no Moroccan food. At Marrakech Grill, I heard a similar story. "We don't have couscous," said the employee, who explained that despite the Moroccan name, it's a Lebanese restaurant.

I couldn't go to Palais Casablanca because that's been boarded up for months, and Mataam Fez isn't open for lunch. So I did what any couscous-lover would do: I made the long trek to Cafe Paprika. Couscous isn't on the "express lunch" menu, but the owner said he could make it, as long as I wasn't in a rush.

By that point I was; I had a meeting across town in 45 minutes. But I really wanted the couscous. So I said okay, and hurried to the far corner of Aurora, where I was met with a Styrofoam container filled with what I'd been hoping for: a mound of couscous, golden grains plump and fluffy from being steamed, not boiled, covered with herbs, raisins and large hunks of soft carrots, zucchini and potatoes. Normally I'm not a fan of overcooked vegetables, but every time I've had the dish, that's the way it's been served, like vegetable soup without the broth.

The portion was more than generous, so I have half tucked away in the fridge, the perfect comfort food on a cool day.


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Gretchen Kurtz has worked as a writer for 25 years; during that time she's stomped grapes in Napa, eaten b'stilla in Fez, and baked with Buddy Valastro, aka the Cake Boss. Her work has appeared in publications including Boulevard (Paris), Diversion, the New York Times and Westword. Our restaurant critic since 2012, she loves helping you decide where to eat and drink tonight.
Contact: Gretchen Kurtz