Archive for the ‘Cuisine: Moroccan’ Category

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Tajine

November 11, 2007

Tajine is a Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco’s Polk Gulch neighborhood. The restaurant used to occupy a small Tenderloin storefront on Jones Street but moved this past spring to a larger space on lower Polk, between Bush and Pine.

Naturally, the restaurant offers a selection of tajines, a signature dish of North Africa, generally slow-cooked in a glazed pot that also shares the name tajine. Also offered is the traditional harira (a lentil soup), kabab plates, salads, sandwiches, and various dishes involving meat and vegetables over couscous. On a recent visit to Tajine, a friend and I shared two dishes, including the lamb tajine:

tajine_lamb.jpg

The slow-cooked lamb was quite tender in some spots and a little tough in other spots, but it was still delicious, steeped in the spices and herbs. Soft prunes added a sweet fragrance to the dish, and almonds, roasted to enhance their flavor, added a comforting crunch. The whole dish was topped with sesame seeds and was served with a plate of Moroccan bread. The bread was a bit too dry but was still good to mop up the thick sauce in which the lamb and prunes had been stewing.

We also enjoyed the chicken bastilla:

tajine_chicken_bastilla.jpg

Although listed as an appetizer, this dish is easily the size of an entree. Essentially a large fillo pancake, the flaky bastilla is topped generously with a brown and white criss-cross pattern of sweet cinnamon and powdered sugar combined with a savory interior of chicken, egg, and almond. I found the interior of the bastilla to be somewhat under-seasoned, but the diversity of textures and flavors made this is a successful dish.

Mint tea is a serious endeavor in Morocco, so if you visit Tajine, you will want to try out a pot of the mint tea:

tajine_mint_tea.jpg

Served in a traditional pot, poured from a couple feet above the cup, and brewed with a large stalk of fresh mint, this tea is richly sweet and is a very nice treat either during or after the meal.

Although the food can really be quite delicious, my experiences at Tajine have not exactly been a home run. The cooking at the Polk Street location is at the same level as what was offered at the Tenderloin location. However, prices have risen considerably since the move, and to my mind, the quality of the total experience has not risen in correspondence with the prices. The service is often friendly, but sometimes indifferent, and repeatedly forgetful — either portions of my meal have been forgotten, or I have heard diners around me reminding the server that some portion of their meal had been forgotten. I am usually completely willing to overlook this for meals under $10, especially if it happens only occasionally, but now that Tajine’s entrees are in the double-digit range, it is easy to spend $20+ per person here including tax and tip, even without a salad or appetizer. (Note: diners should keep in mind that despite these prices, the restaurant is cash only.) At that price point, the “value” of a meal is not only connected to the quality of the cooking, but also the atmosphere and service, and therein lies the disconnect. Basically, the price increases seem to be disproportionate to the dining experience, which is essentially unchanged except for the somewhat larger (but often very crowded) space.

I still enjoy Tajine’s food, but the restaurant has been in a slightly awkward stage since the move to Polk. At heart, it is still a hole-in-the-wall serving tasty dishes. The price increases suggest that it strives to be something more, but that has not really happened yet. Although no longer a bargain secret gem, Tajine is still a nice choice in the area.

RATING:

COST:

1338 Polk Street (between Pine St. and Bush St.)
San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415.440.1718
Hours: Daily, 12:00 noon – 10:00 pm.

Cash only. Takeout available.

Cuisine: Moroccan
Neighborhood: Polk Gulch/Van Ness