The Early Word -- Samakmak

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Sizzle sizzle goes the cast-iron vessel, as a pair of snails parades across the table, oblivious of the food drama transpiring inches away. We've ordered one of the oddball tajines at Samakmak, the euphonious name of a new Egyptian seafood cafe, recently joining Bahary and Asmak Taama in the collection of Alexandrian restaurants within a single block of each other in Bay Ridge. Which is the best? We're still thinking about it...

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The tajines of Samakmak are certainly a lure. While we'd expected a Moroccan style seafood dish, what arrived was positively Sicilian in its outlook: plump shrimp and squid rings of scarily large circumference deposited in a spicy tomato sauce that also contained lots of garlic and onion. The idea of sizzling it in a cast-iron skillet was brilliant, because the seafood rapidly became clotted with a thick flavorful paste that did nothing to distract from the fresh taste of the crustaceans.

Our other favorite dish might also be placed in the "Incredibly Cheap Eats" part of this blog, since four pink fish, lightly crusted with starch and fried, devoid of nothing save their internal organs, set us back an astonishing $12 -- that's $3 for each of four people to have their own fish, and a largish one at that, as far as red mullet are concerned.

Other dishes went up and down -- we didn't like the grilled tilapia, which taste like river mud, but we loved the eggplant appetizer, which glistened in the glow of the Eyptian TV -- a constant in each of these cafes. This one is a little more upscale looking than the other two, and fearsomely decorated with objet d'art like ropes, harbor lights, buoys, fishing nets, etc. Good date spot? Maybe.

Here are my friends Suzette and Kate sitting in front of the giant photo of Alexandria. 6916 Fourth Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 718-491-0006

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