KENWOOD — Senegalese cuisine from the tiny island of Gorée has arrived in Kenwood.
Adama Ba last week opened Gorée Cuisine at 1126 E. 47th St., an homage to the family restaurant on the island where he grew up a little more than a mile by ferry from Dakar, Senegal’s capital.
Ba said he’s wanted to open his own restaurant with the same menu as the family restaurant his sister now runs, and when Zaleski and Horvath closed its café next to his tailoring shop earlier this year, he snatched up the storefront.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for a while, but never had the space,” Ba said.
The restaurant is decorated in a simple and modest way, but there are luxurious smells coming from the kitchen.
Tilapia with vermicelli noodles is crunchy and savory and just a little spicy.
Ba carries out plates of grilled tilapia with rich and crunchy skin hiding white flaky flesh that’s just the right amount of spicy.
The fish and sides of caramelized onions and olives, vermicelli noodes and a half a lime are clearly well spiced, but when asked what the flavors are, Ba answers with a series of winks and whispers of “secret.”
There are some clues in the kitchen where a pot that covers four of the stove’s burners bubbles away with eggplants, yams and cabbage roiling around in the red broth.
Ba said it’s tiebu djenn, one of the most popular dishes in Senegal, and it’s a workout for the chef.
“People eat this every day,” Ba said. “But you have to start by at least 10 a.m. to be done by 1 p.m.”
Tiebu djenn takes hours to prepare, but is a staple of Senegalese food, according to Ba.
When he brings it out on a plate, it looks less like a stew and more like a multicourse meal of all of the vegetables surrounding a pile of savory rice topped by a fried fish and little pink shrimp. It’s both earthy and fishy, savory and a little spicy — a balance that appears to have been achieved through another set of winks and whispers of “secret.”
Ba said he’s adding more of the tastes of Gorée island after the grand opening Nov. 12, including baobab juice from fruit he’s having shipped straight from Senegal.
“There’s no way I can describe it, you have to taste it for yourself,” Ba said.
He said he’s happy with recipes and they taste like how he made them when he was a kid working in his family’s restaurant, Chie Nene. He said he used to have to take the ferry an hour to Dakar to pick up the supplies for the restaurant and carry them back to the island of 1,200 people where there are no cars or even bikes.
People in Kenwood are not unfamiliar with Senegal and Ba said he’s already had customers who have also eaten at his family’s restaurant in Senegal.
Goree Cuisine is open from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.