Couscous Ca-choo!

A magical mystery tour through the Algerian fare

Fair-skinned Kahina, 21, speaks the best English of the three, with French being the preferred language of Salima and Rashid -- a result of Algeria's French colonial past. In fact, one of the reasons I love to visit the Hassaines so often, aside from their affecting bonhomie and outstanding victuals, is that Monsieur Rashid, as I'm apt to call him, gives my très mauvais françaisthe workout it so desperately needs!

"C'est un café, Steve," admonishes Monsieur Rashid, a thin, sprightly fellow sporting a gray mustache and glasses. "N'est pas une café!"

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Rashid, pour la pratique. I'm afraid I mostly learned my French pronunciation from imitating Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panthermovies, so I tend to be a little off. But this does lead into more kudos for Delicious Couscous: its superb café et patisserie.Madame Hassaine could easily make her living as a pastry chef. Her baklava is baked on the premises, and so far as I've tasted, the best in the Valley. In addition to baklava, she usually offers the choice of another Middle Eastern sweet for dessert. Some days it might be pistachio-filled bird's nests made of phyllo, other days it might be chocolate baklava, a specialty of the house. So far, I think the one I enjoy most is what Madame refers to as knafeh, a half-inch-thick square of almond paste with cheese and diced walnuts. Each of these is best appreciated, I think, with a cup of Algerian coffee, which is not as strong as its Turkish cousin but still flavored with cardamom.

The Hassaines: Lamb couscous, chocolate baklava, and French lessons pour vous.
Jackie Mercandetti
The Hassaines: Lamb couscous, chocolate baklava, and French lessons pour vous.

Details

Fava beans: $3
Royal lamb couscous: $8.25
Tajeen olives: $7.75
Baklava: $1.25

602-277-7745. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.

4426 North 19th Avenue

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The restaurant's decor is sparse, with plain green chairs around tables with green and brown covering. Here and there are hung prints of alluring women in traditional veils and dresses, and there's a framed list of the 99 names of Allah, written in Arabic calligraphy and translated into English, such as An-nur, The Light, and Al-baqi, The Everlasting. Otherwise, the plain white walls are mostly taken up with quaint but forgettable kitsch, but this is pretty standard for a family-run, ethnic eatery. The warmth of the place comes through in the presence of the Hassaine family members themselves, I believe.

The only caveat I'd have for those venturing there for the first time is patience. It's not a place to go if you're eating on the run, as Delicious Couscous is sometimes short-staffed and those exceptional dishes of Madame Hassaine's require time to bring to fruition. I'd also attribute the tardiness in service to growing pains: The Hassaines are novice restaurateurs; and the establishment has only been open since June.

However, if you ready yourself for a leisurely meal, you will not be disappointed, as the quality of the preparation and the ridiculously low bill far outweigh any delays one experiences. Monsieur Rashid will even throw in a French lesson à la maison, whether you ask for one or not. Why, with him as my doting tutor, I may one day surpass whatever I've already gleaned from watching that clumsily cunning Clouseau inadvertently save the world in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

E-mail stephen.lemons@newtimes.com

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1 comments
Leilani
Leilani

I love the way you wrote this article! Can't help but smile reading along...I was looking for things to send to my mother-In Law, Salima...to make her smile.This is one she will definately appreciate! If you happen to know of any others I would love to hear about them so that I can pass them along...

 
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