I never liked lamb or its scary parents—mutton.
I always associated the latter with Irish pubs that would do better to stick to quenching the thirst of its patrons and less with filling their bellies with overcooked, mostly bland food. And the former? Well, my mother used to make Leg of Lamb and as a child the title of that meal disgusted me almost as much as the greasy mouth feel as I swallowed the tiniest morsels that passed as a serving. I don’t blame my mother; she’s quite adept at cooking the things she knows best and cooking them well. Growing up in the suburbs often limits a person’s access to another butcher if the one at the local grocer’s doesn’t suffice. Even more often is lack of desire to drive to a still farther away strip mall in search of a superior cut of meat than one already does when living in a suburb. I blame lack of easy access for the poor cut of lamb that scared me away for so many years.
Over the last few years, I’ve become quite obsessed with baking (obviously!) and cooking. I prefer to cook Italian style (not Italian-American) at home but when I am out I enjoy trying new restaurants and new cuisines. After years of being a picky eater I’ve still got a great deal of catching up in the foreign foods department. I know I’m doing a good job shedding that image because I’ve got Rick raising his eyebrows now and again.
He raised them when I mentioned Kous Kous Café, a Moroccan
restaurant located in Mount Lebanon just several miles outside of downtown
Pittsburgh. A few reviews on
the internet complained that the restaurant was very small and it was hard to
get a table. Rick and I weren’t
bothered by this; we’ve eaten in some of the most delightful-but
tiny!-restaurants in Boston’s North End.
I’ll even venture to say that I prefer the intimate feeling of a small
restaurant to a gigantic sprawling box of a restaurant feels as though you are
dining in a warehouse with its too-high ceilings and echoing walls. Rick called Kous Kous Cafe that afternoon for a seven
o’clock reservation without any problems at all.
Kous Kous Café is tiny; think of the front part of the first floor of a row house and you’ll have the size of this restaurant. There were 6-7 tables for two and 3-4 tables for four. Please forgive my lack of exact count; all of the tables were meant for two and they were shifted around and pushed together to meet the needs of those coming in to dine. The walls were painted a warm golden yellow with that slightly dusty red that is so common to Mediterranean design as accents. At the back of the room there was an elevated workspace for the chef but once seated it was impossible to see him at work.
The tables were set with chunky plates and mismatched worn (but clean) napkins. A small blue and white porcelain set of two tiny pots with lids and handles of tiny spoons sticking out them was on one side of the table. I lifted a lid to peek inside and saw that they contained salt and pepper. The diners on either side of me were close enough that we could have knocked elbows but after a few moments it was easy to ignore them. No one paid any attention to anyone else and just talked quietly with those at their table. It’s a much easier trick to learn than you might think. Don’t let yourself be put off by close quarters.
For a starter, I tried the Harira soup. It’s a soup made with chickpeas, lentils, rice and lamb. I didn’t know that it is considered a meal in itself at the time but lucky for me I had only a tiny cup of it and shared it with Rick. It was hearty without being heavy with just a hint of spice to it. The lamb seemed to fade into the soup. Indeed I was aware that there was some sort of meat among the chickpeas but I couldn’t identify it by looks or taste. It tasted more of a meaty lentil soup with an occasion chickpea randomly cropping up. I anticipated my first bite of Moroccan food to be a little more…intense but this soup was more of a gentle, comforting soup. I could see Harira soup being served to bring strength to the lagging body or spirit.
The website for Kous Kous café shows someone holding a gloriously golden round of flatbread that I was looking forward to trying. It wasn’t on the menu and as an avid bread lover I was hoping for it to be served with our meal but it never arrived. It was a disappointment but then our dinner arrived and I didn’t think anymore of it.
Rick ordered the Shrimp Kebab as he has similar lamb issues to myself. Three kebabs arrived hot from the grill and served with a Harissa sauce. Harissa sauce is a hot chili sauce commonly made of piri piri chili peppers, tomatoes and paprika and sometimes a few additional spices. I tried one of Rick’s shrimp and it burst in my mouth juicy and spicy. Here was some of the spice I had been hoping for! I liked it quite a lot but for Rick it was just on the side of too spicy. Nevertheless, he ate all of them with relish, alternating them with bites of saffron rice and vegetables. He also humored me and listened to me discuss saffron and how it’s harvested and why it’s so expensive.
I had the Couscous Tfaya for my dish. It’s a lamb dish, slow cooked with a sweet and spicy Tfaya sauce nestled below a pile of caramelized onions. Couscous and big generous chunks of assorted vegetables crowded on the other side of the plate. I felt the onions to be too sweet—I do not think they caramelized these onions plainly and instead had a heavy hand with the sugar bowl—and I scraped the bulk of them aside in favor of the lamb. Oh, the lamb! It was falling off the bone and so delicately tender that sometimes pieces of it would slip through the tines of the fork. There was a hint of sweetness to it that encouraged you to hold it on your tongue and sort of just rub it against the rough of your mouth and just let the lamb melt. I so thoroughly enjoyed it and raved about it that Rick soon joined me in eating it.
The couscous was simple and unfortunately did not contain much flavor. Perhaps this was because of its proximity to the cloying onions, perhaps not. To give the couscous a bit of flavor, I cut off bites of the firm but not hard vegetables and ate a bit of couscous and a bite of a vegetable together. The vegetable portion was generous and neither Rick nor I could finish them. The reluctance to erase the lingering taste of the lamb might have had something to do with that I’ll admit. That might have been the reason we declined dessert though I did want to try Moroccan cookies with a cup of the Moroccan mint tea.
Both Rick and I are newly converted lamb lovers now.
665 Washington Road Pittsburgh, PA 15228-1902
665 Washington Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15228-1902