First Taste

Fu-Fu Cuisine Is Fun to Say and Eat, and Focuses on African and Caribbean Cuisine (Okay, There's Spaghetti and Meatballs, Too)

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions. Share a few photos, some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Fu-Fu Cuisine Location: 3633 West Camelback Road Open for: Four weeks Eats: West African and Caribbean Price point: $11-$30

If you're looking for a new restaurant to break the holiday hum-drums, it's time to head to West Africa and the Caribbean or, more specifically, Fu-Fu Cuisine on Phoenix's west side.

Located at 3633 West Camelback Road, on the north end of a strip mall that used to house soul food restaurant DorisAnn's Kitchen, Fu-Fu Cuisine (the name referring to the staple snack of West and Central Africa) came about courtesy of chef Esther Mbaikambey.

Mbaikambey grew up in Nigeria, attended high school in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and came to Phoenix by way of Atlanta. Now, after nine years of catering, she's bringing her background of unique cuisine and culinary techniques prepared simply and inexpensively to her first restaurant.

Ready for some yassa or pof-pof? Let's dig in.

For starters, there are West African and Caribbean meat pies, pastries stuffed with seasoned meat. They are interesting to compare, the Caribbean being much sweeter than the rich West African. There's also a pepper soup that means what it says. Made with goat meat and tripe, it's spicy and pepper-y, more so as you near the bottom of the bowl.

Fun to say and coveted by my table were the pof-pofs. These simple, fried sweet dumplings were the size of baseballs, dense, buttery, and lightly sweet with a bit of spice from nutmeg. With my guests abuzz as to what would be best to dip them in, Mbaikambey told us she often has them for dessert drenched in chocolate. 'Nuff said.

Entrees brought forth more goodness. There is a decent curried goat, -- not spicy, made with green beans and carrots and served over rice; and a delicious deep-fried whole tilapia, light with a crispy skin, and served with a refreshing salsa and couscous. Even Fu-Fu Cuisine's oddball dish, spaghetti and meatballs, was solid, the homemade meatballs dense and tasty, a testament to Mbaikambey's versatility in the kitchen.

The must-try dish at Fu-Fu is the yassa chicken. A popular dish in West Africa of grilled chicken marinated with onions and lemon juice, Mbaikambey tops hers with a sauté of dijon mustard, peanut oil, green olives, onions, and bell peppers. Served over rice, the tender marinated chicken and flavors from the sauté create make for an exotic mix of tastes -- with the mustard and sweet onions leading the way -- that I couldn't get enough of.

With exterior signage that's nearly impossible to read, finding Fu-Fu may be challenging. But once inside the simple, clean interior, chances are you'll be greeted by the gracious one-woman show known as chef Esther Mbaikambey. She'll help you find the right dishes, tell you when she hopes to have her liquor license, even bring you a bowl of warm water to wash your hands in before using them to eat fufu.

I'm eager to return to try more unique dishes and, of course, refill on pof-pofs.

Fu-Fu Cuisine 3633 West Camelback Road 602-995-2015

Hours: Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday from noon until 9 p.m.

What say you, lovers of West African and Caribbean fare? Have you been to Fu-Fu Cuisine yet? What did you think?

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld