The Early Word--Sintir
Sintir is the East Village's pretentious new Moroccan restaurant, turning a cold shoulder to its long-running competitor, the still-delicious Cafe Mogador. The restaurant is named after a three-stringed lute, an example of which hangs on the walls of the semi-subterranean restaurant, which are painted in striking desert colors. A slightly elevated back yard begs for summer to arrive. The staff--some Moroccan, some not--parade around in traditional Moroccan dress. The owner of the restaurant (and sintir player) Hassan Hakmoun proclaimed in the pages of New York magazine of Moroccan food: "In New York, there is none," which, of course, is a self-serving exaggeration.
to read about our caravan to Sintir, make the jump
Having been to Morocco, and loved the food, Fork in the Road couldn't wait to test the menu at Sintir, which has been open only a week. We should have waited.
Indeed the food was not bad, offering tajines that complement, rather than duplicate, those on other Moroccan menus around town. Tajines are the heart of Moroccan cuisine, and anyone who turns to the couscouses instead is sadly deluded.
A trio of cold salads, subtly spiced, were the first dish to arrive in similar shades of green. They would have been better had they not been pulled directly from the refrigerator, and if there'd been more difference between them. The table bread that went with them, however, was spectacular--domed crusty loaves of variable size that came directly from the oven.
We tried a pair of tajines, including one of my favorites made with tiny lamb meatballs, which were unexpectedly flavorless and dry inside. On the other occasions we've tried this dish, both here and in Morocco, it came with a pair of sunnyside-up eggs riding atop the meat balls, but these were sadly missing. The sauce was good, though, best mopped with the aforementioned bread.
The waiter tried to dissuade us from doing so, constantly upselling us like a pirate. "You want some couscous to go with that?" he asked, sidling up to us confidentially. "It's too soupy without it, you've got to have some couscous," he continued, not mentioning that a small plate of dryish, fine-grain couscous costs an additional $5. The guy plagued us througout the meal, spilling water on the table, ignoring us for long periods of time as he talked up some babes in the corner of the room, giving us the wrong check, and making all sorts of mistakes that serious waiters easily avoid by simply paying attention. He clearly thought that a waiter's main talent should be charm.
So it was that we were talked into adding a sea bass filet to our shrimp tajine. "It's only $3 more, and I wouldn't eat that tajine without it," he lied to us. We later heard him advising other tables to try the fish in various menu contexts. The tajine was nearly wonderful tasting when it arrived, certainly one of the most interesting tajines in town, though the lemon rind in it was fresh, rather than the salt-preserved lemons Moroccans prefer. Unfortunately, the small fish filet, skin down, had burned to the bottom of the ceramic vessel, adding an unwelcome dark flavor to the dish.
I guess you can chalk these errors up to visiting the restaurant too early, but the place has a long, long way to go if it wants to become even the second or third best Moroccan restaurant in town. 424 East 9th Street, 212-477-4333