Tuesday, December 21, 2010

South African in Charlottesville

Jeffersonia may have been my reason for visiting Charlottesville, but my visit also gave me the opportunity to dine with friends I hadn't seen in over 20 years. The choice of restaurant would have been a no-brainer nine months earlier, when Calvin Trillin wrote an encomium in the New Yorker to Sichuan chef Peter Chang, then running the kitchen at Taste of China. But Chang was no longer in Charlottesville, and my research failed to turn up any particular must-visit restaurant in town. So I chose The Shebeen, a South African restaurant with good press, figuring that at least I'd get to try something different. Happily, it was not only different, it was very good.

We started with the spicy peri-peri wings and a "Stellenbosch sampler," which displayed the Indian and Indonesian influence on the cuisine of the Cape region. It consisted of chicken satay, samosas and fried eggplant, served with banana ketchup.

My main course far exceeded my expectations. I ordered sosatie, described as "a delightful dish of cubed leg of lamb, skewered on sugar cane with dried apricots and marinated for at least twenty-four hours in mango chutney, tamarind & turmeric, grilled and served with samp and beans, yellow rice, mango chutney and a cucumber-mint yogurt." I was concerned that it might be too sweet, but there really was just a touch of sweetness to the meat, and the lamb was really excellent. Samp and beans, a typical Xhosa dish, is a cracked hominy and bean combo that reminded me of cachupa, the hominy and beans dish I had at Cesaria's, a Cape Verdean restaurant in Boston. The Shebeen was all out of rice that night (how's that possible?), so instead I substituted mealie pap: hominy grits with cheese. This humble starch, a staple of the Bantu diet, was absolutely delicious.

The Shebeen doubles as a sports bar, which is perhaps why, as a public service, they hang the day's sports page above the urinals in the men's room.


Anonymous Stephanie said...

If you want good South African food in NYC, I suggest Bunny Chow on Orchard between Broome & Grand. It's pretty authentic. Madiba in Ft. Greene has gotten better over the last few years. There are also the 2 less traditional SA places in Midtown: Xai Xai (primarily a wine bar) and Braai.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Correction: Bunny Chow is now closed, alas. Well, the other 3 are decent, and Madiba has many SA items not found on Shebeen's menu, including Durban bunny chow (curry stew served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread).

4:07 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

Thanks. I had heard not-so-good things about Madiba, but if they've improved maybe it's worth a visit.

5:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Cherches said...

I finally got to Madiba this week. Had the pap & vleis (hominy pap with baby lamb chops & beans) and it was quite good.

2:56 PM  

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