Tajine

By ROBERT NADEAU  |  August 26, 2009

Only one dessert was available during our visit: a plate of cookies ($3.70) as bland as any dish, but not half bad with the sweetened mint tea.

The room below street level is painted deep red and becomes dark and romantic early, with dim and authentic Moroccan lamps lending an air of mystery. Wall-to-wall carpeting plus throw rugs — fake-Persian to my eye, but I'm not haggling — keep things relatively quiet.

Although my meal at Tajine wasn't extraordinary, we're still in the (hopefully) early days of the enterprise. Besides, there was nothing that couldn't be fixed with a $100 gift card for Penzeys Spices in Arlington. I'm suggesting a visit, although until we hear otherwise in the blogosphere, I'm also suggesting you pack a bottle of your favorite mixed spice or hot-pepper sauce in your purse or pocket.

Just as a memory test, readers, how many restaurants have been in the space where Tajine is now, which seems to suffer from lack of public awareness? Tajine's immediate predecessor was Serene Chocolates. The far-left corner of the building opened with a hippy joint called, I believe, Sophie's, and briefly had a franchise of Riverfront Chili before a string of Chinese restaurants and grocers took its place. That's about all for me; counting the corner storefront, how many can you recall? Winner gets name-checked in the column!

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Forgive the lateness, but I'm just now getting around to writing about the recent blockbuster Julie & Julia. We start with two big handicaps: it's hard to write about food, never mind convey flavor in a movie; and biographies of writers are notoriously difficult on the screen, because there is nothing very visual about watching someone type. My biggest issue with this film, though, is that blogiste character Julie elects to save herself with Julia Child's first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is not my first, second, or even third favorite of Child's books. The food in it was old hat in France when it was written, and bears little relation to contemporary gastronomy. Was it, as the movie claims, the first French cookbook for English readers? Not by 200 years. The book has a role in American food history, of beginning to bridge the gap between home cooking and a serious love of food. But it is really Child's TV show, launched the same month that Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique (thanks for this observation to Laura Shapiro), that pushed along that barge.

Of course, many food-history facts are nudged aside to make a motion picture. A sad one is that her literary ideal was not the '50s Larousse Gastronomique she gets as a birthday present in the movie, but the 1928 recipe book of Madame E. de Sant-Ange, recently translated into English by Paul Aratow.

Robert Nadeau can be reached atrobtnadeau@aol.com.

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