"Excuse me? Ma'am? Excuse me?"
The group at the counter of Tam Tam Restaurant did not appear to hear us. We were hoping for more than one menu for our table of four; eventually, we learned that we could borrow the menus laid out on surrounding tables—not hard, since we were the only table in the room. I get the impression that most people who come here already know what they want to order—the place is obviously a hub for the local Senegalese community. A platform with two wooden thrones, plus the twirling disco ball above, showed that the Govans restaurant hosts a good number of weddings.
Menus seemed like a formality, anyway. After some time, a maternal woman named Louise checked in with us. She explained that she and her family hadn't gotten around to making either of the appetizers we'd wanted that night: the neme ("Senegalo-Vietnamese style spring roll") and the fataya("fish or beef patti"). Instead, Louise suggested a house specialty salad of fried fresh sardines layered upon crisp shredded romaine and sliced cucumber, with a tangy mustard dressing ($5). The lightly breaded sardines were tiny enough that you could eat them whole, bones and all. With this, we drank housemade bottled juices ($2), either a ginger-pineapple concoction or bissap, a refreshing mix of hibiscus flower and fruit juices. Both, Louise assured us, were very healthy. I loved my ultra-gingery (and I do mean ultra) beverage, but could not help thinking how good it would taste with the decidedly unhealthy addition of rum (Tam Tam lacks a liquor license).
Senegal was colonized by the French, and highly spiced versions of Dijon mustard have become a staple of Senegalese cooking. In varying forms, it coated all our entrées. The two standouts were Toni's grilled fish ($10), whose moist and mild white flesh reminded us that Senegal is a coastal country, used to the very freshest of seafood, and Lynda's tender and garlicky roasted chicken ($10) with its tangy marinade. My dibbi yapp ($10), grilled bits of on-the-bone lamb ribs, was a little too fatty and difficult to eat, while the shrimp in Kimry's brochette ($12), a Senegalese form of shish kabob, were a touch overcooked, though their very spicy sauce was addictively good.
Each entrée came with a side. My favorites were the sweet, puffy plantains, though if you get the couscous you can indulge in its accompanying roasted onion relish.
Tam Tam is located just a few blocks from the Senator Theatre. Service can be very relaxed (our meal took two hours), but it would definitely be worth visiting after a show, or even before if you gave yourself sufficient time. Tam Tam also does a bustling business in carryout orders, and I can certainly see myself calling them up to get some more of that chicken to eat at home. I'd also like to check out the intriguing-looking lunch dishes, like "meat cooked in a creamy peanut-butter sauce and tomato sauce with yam, carrots, and cabbage." Tam Tam may not be the most gorgeous restaurant on York Road, but it definitely ranks as one of the more unusual and tasty.
"Excuse me? Ma'am? Excuse me?"