The restaurant Afrikando has gone out of business, reopened and changed locations and names so many times over the years it’s almost becoming a cruel joke. Why do they keep taunting us fans this way? After closing the Afrikando Afrikando location just south of Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood and reopening (yet again) a year ago just up the street, the restaurant, now called Afrikando Banadir, is back to serving up beguiling — and tongue tingling — West African comfort food.
Chef Jacques Sarr, who put Afrikando on the map years ago when it first opened in Belltown in the late 1990s, no longer helms the kitchen, but his recipes remain, owner Mohammed Aden says. Aden’s brother Shino Aden does most of the actual cooking now.
The menu: Given Senegal’s position in West Africa on the Atlantic coast, and its French colonial past, it’s not surprising that the food is a densely rich mélange of cultures and flavors that compete for primacy on the palate and send one wondering what all goes into the recipes, besides an apparent abundance of peppers (you’ve been warned). You can get things started with black-eyed pea fritters in a spicy onion-tomato sauce ($3.95), fried plantains with house-made hot sauce ($4.95) or sambusas, fried dough stuffed with minced meat, vegetables and spices ($1.50 each).
My dinner guest and I went straight for the main-course menu, which features lots of stewed, stuffed and baked meat and fish entrees piled on top of roasted vegetables and sticky rice and flavored with spicy tomato and mustard sauces. Think Southern American food but even more intense. Traditional Senegalese thiebou djeun, fish simmered in tomato sauce with eggplant, carrots, cassava, cabbage, parsley, savory rice and a throat-burning habanero pepper ($12.95), was intriguingly delicious, a tower of food that left little room for all of the pesky bones. My guest’s thiebou guinaar ($12.95), two baked chicken leg quarters with a similar mix of vegetables and rice, was less exotically seasoned but still satisfyingly different and just as huge.
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What to write home about: My thiebou djeun, Senegal’s national dish, hit me from all angles; it was briny, spicy, sweet, herbaceous, starchy and vinegary. I loved the punch of it.
What to skip: If you tend to shy away from hot peppers, ask that the habanero that comes with some dishes be excluded and advise the server of your general intolerance so the chef can prepare your meal accordingly.
The setting: The freshly painted, saffron and red interior felt almost too spacious on a quiet evening, but the pictures of African landscapes and visitor attractions decorating the walls were transporting. The staff were gracious and funny.
Summing up: Fish in tomato sauce ($12.95), baked chicken with vegetables ($12.95), fresh ginger-pineapple juice ($2.50) and fresh hibiscus juice ($2.50) came to $33.93 plus tip
Tyrone Beason: tbeason@seattletimes