African Restaurant (formerly Kaloum)

It Is What It Is

On a Friday night in February, after having a few beers with friends at The Flying Saucer, I decided to grab dinner at a place that I've never been to before. After thinking about it, I decided to satisfy my curiosity by going to another African themed restaurant, Africa Restaurant (the name of the restaurant used to be Kaloum, but for some ridiculous reason, the owner changed the name to something that is ridiculously generic and, in my opinion, unimaginative from a marketing standpoint). After the experiences I had at Gereny, which was negative (and had closed, replaced by a Don Don's Hot Wings franchise), and Abyssinia, which was positive, I went to "Africa" with absolutely no expectations. When I arrived there, it was a little after the restaurant's 8:00 P.M. closing time, and most of the people who apparently work there were leaving. After going inside, I noticed that there was only one person working behind the counter, and nobody in the kitchen, as far as I could tell from the lack of noise. Before I could place my order, the man working the counter told me all that was left was lamb, and I knew right then that I was in for another "Gereny" experience in not getting to choose what I want from a menu. Not in the mood for searching somewhere else to eat, I accepted what the restaurant was serving, which was lamb spare ribs (I think) and onions doused in a yellow sauce. Even though I wanted to eat there, my order was placed in a "to-go" box. Maybe I should have insisted on dining there, but if I wasn't going to get good service due to a lack of waitstaff, it was better for me to eat at home.

As for the meal itself, it was okay. Given that the food was already cooked before I arrived at the restaurant, I got the sense that I was eating "leftovers" from earlier in the evening. That said, the spare ribs were a bit dry and had a seasoned, salty taste. The onions, doused in the yellow sauce, had a vinegar flavor with a little bit of an onion aftertaste. Overall, on a scale of one to ten, I would give the food a "6" because of the uniqueness of the onions and the "so-so" taste of the lamb spare ribs, and would give the service a "3" because of the meal being essentially "leftovers" which didn't go over well with me.
After my experience at "Africa," I'm not sure that I wanted to go back. On the one hand, any restaurant can have a bad night. However, if a restaurant puts out a lackluster effort on my first visit, I can't be confident that it will be better the next time. Based on the review that I read in The Commercial Appeal, I went there again, but with very low expectations.

For my second visit that occurred on May 17, 2011, I arrived a little before noon. As I was walking through the door that was propped open (letting in flies that was an annoyance later on) I noticed a barbecue grill, apparently a sign that the food (at the very least, the meat) will be fresh. When I went inside, there wasn't anyone dining there, just like my first visit. After walking over to the counter to review the menu, I told the man working it what I wanted, which was the Lamb Mafe, but he told me to get the Saga Saga, a cassava leaf soup. Not in the mood for soup and feeling as though I was getting the "Gereny" treatment again, I thought about walking away and having lunch elsewhere, but I decided to give one more shot at ordering from the menu. I eventually went with the Thiebu Djeun (Djol of Rice), which is tilapia stewed in tomato sauce and served with cassava (the root, not the leaves), cabbage and a carrot strewn over a bed of "exotic" rice. It comes with a side of habanero pepper sauce which is EXTREMELY HOT, so it wouldn't be smart to spread the entire cup over the entrée unless you have the stamina to handle it. It took a little over five minutes after placing the order that I got my food, which was a LOT (so much so that the "fullness" of the meal carried over to the next day)! In getting this fish entrée, I didn't remember to ask if it was a filet (i.e. boneless), meaning that I was stuck with the head of a tilapia that had a lot of bones in it that I had to remove. Although removing the bones was irritating, the reward was well worth it. The fish was tender and a little spicy, likely seasoned in something foreign to me but tasted great. The rice had a nice seasoned flavor as well that perfectly complemented the tilapia, and a little bit of the habanero pepper sauce made it even better. The vegetables that I had were decent, including the cassava which was my first experience in eating. At first, I thought it was a banana, but after biting into it, the taste resembled more of a potato and it was pretty good. Overall, I enjoyed it, despite a pesky fly that flew around my plate during the meal.
After my second visit, which was much more enjoyable, I came to the conclusion that African restaurants in general, and by extension, African culture, is something different that is foreign to Americans and others unfamiliar with the laissez-faire way that Africans approach life. As it applies to operating a restaurant, they don't always follow protocol in offering their entire menu (in the case of Gereny, no menu at all), but rather cooking up whatever they presently have. From my perspective, this isn't something that I could get use to, for I like consistency in the places I dine at, but I can respect and even indulge it on occasion. After all, it is what it is.


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