The South End's Senegalese restaurant joins the bistro crowd
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 29, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars

JE T’AIME, NEMS: Nems, the Senegalese version of spring rolls (here featuring finely chopped shrimp, beef, carrots, scallions, and mushrooms), are familiar fried crunchies.

Teranga | 1746 Washington Street, Boston | 617.266.0003 | Open Monday–Friday, 11 am–2:30 pm and 5–11 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am–2:30 pm and 5–11 pm | DI, MC, VI | beer and wine | sidewalk-level access | no valet parking
Teranga is Boston's first serious Senegalese restaurant, but belongs more in the upscale-import category with the Helmand, Lala Rokh, and Orinoco than with typical immigrant restaurants. It's a pleasant and beautifully decorated bistro where diners mingle and have a good time. ("Teranga" denotes a strong concept of hospitality in the Wolof language.) On one evening visit there was a brief neighborhood blackout, during which the restaurant actually got louder without the lights and background music (jazz and salsa, likely African) and patrons exchanged jokes about power outages in Africa. Even early on in the night, people, ethnicities, and continents combined in the friendliest, most wonderful way.

Owner Marie-Claude Mendy comes from Dakar, but has lived all over Europe, and her African-art collection, some on display at Teranga, is from everywhere but Senegal. The small room is outfitted with a bar of dark tropical sapele wood, and zebrawood cabinets and accents. You know you are in the South End by the bare brick wall. But the wicker place mats, decorated gourds, and lively crowd can carry you away.

Food starts with some very plain sliced white bread and a dip of oil and spices. This is familiar bistro stuff, but the oil — with caramelized onions, fennel seeds, and hot pepper — is totally original. It's so addictive, I could see building a whole stew around the combination.

Among the appetizers, I favor the Accra ($6), three white patties of cowpeas with the skins rubbed off, like no-spice falafel, but with an orange mayonnaise sauce that packs a kick. Croquettes du Poisson ($7) are rubbery fish cakes somewhat like the Thai Tod Mun, but nicer, and served with a spoon of cilantro chutney. Fataya ($7), a spicier fish mixture in pastry turnovers, is for those who want stronger flavors. Nems ($7), the Senegalese version of spring rolls — more than just broken rice went between former French colonies — are easy and familiar fried crunchies. A Salade Vietnamiene ($7) is like the shredded Vietnamese salads with slightly sweet fish-sauce dressings, but with chewier noodles and strips of seaweed — a nifty switch. Brochette de Crevettes ($8) is an excellent shrimp skewer with real grill taste, and more of that orange mayonnaise.

Senegal's "national dish" is supposed to be Thiébou Djoun ($15), a steak of a solid fish, perhaps king mackerel, with a stuffing of green herbs. It's stewed in tomato sauce with vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, carrots), and plated over a lot of broken rice pilaf. But the Senegalese dish more people have heard of is Chicken Yassa ($14), here a half Cornish hen or small fryer chicken with aromatic white rice and an onion sauce. Mafe ($14) is a large lamb shank with a similar sauce, couscous, and greens. Even better were Dibi ($17), shoulder lamb chops served with soft sweet-potato fries and greens.

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