Photo by Brittany Claud
Real African food is hard to come by. Even when I lived in Africa, most of the cuisine I found was imposed by whatever European nation made its presence most felt. But if you looked hard, there was interesting food to be had. I had seen Goree African Restaurant in Shockoe Bottom and wondered if it was authentic. Turns out, it's the genuine article.
Most recognizable to me was the fataya (shown) — minced meat, vegetable or fish wrapped in dough and baked. The shell was a little dry, almost crunchy, but that's actually the way it's supposed to be. The dense dough locks the flavors and moisture into what I remember as being really great street food. Goree recreates this well. The fish (salmon was used) was a bit dry and not really authentic, but enjoyable nonetheless. The minced beef was really outstanding. Moist and tasty, it brimmed with flavors mildly reminiscent of the Middle East.
The list of a dozen entrées is actually limited to three or four each day. Most are slow-braised or roasted over long periods and served with slow-cooked vegetables and rice. My first reaction was to scrape the slightly oily sauce off to the side and try the chicken alone. I found it dry, as if it had been braised too long. Of course, I was eating it wrong. The yassa, chicken braised in onion and mustard sauce, needs to be dredged in the sauce to get the flavors and moisture to work right on your tongue.
I needed to remind myself of this when I had Thiebu Jen, white fish stuffed with herbs, fried and served with stewed tomatoes and yucca. The fish verged on being overdone, but with the juices from the tomato it came out quite nice. Yes, the branzino was very bony, but that's the way you need to serve it to maintain its flavor. The jollof rice, cooked with chicken stock and tomato, was a little bland but enjoyable. Even if you're just walking by Goree, stop in for a drink. There's no bar, but they make some intriguing beverages, including the bissap, a tea made from sorrel with added mint and juices. The dark red liquid was like a light berry juice with a hint of banana — perfect for a warm afternoon.
8125 E. Main St., 253-5241
Prices: Fataya $5, entrées $8 to $12, juices $3
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.