The Early Word: B & B Restaurant, West African in Lower Midtown
Clockwise starting at midnight: Two classic leaf-based Guinean sauces, Ivory Coast athieke, Senegalese dibi (lamb), and Caribbean-style curry chicken. Beware the red scotch bonnet pepper! (click to consume)
I watched sadly as many of the West African restaurants in Bed-Stuy along Fulton went from serving the food of a single country, to offering the food of several nations at once, in an attempt to appeal to the broadest constituency of observant Muslims. These places also switched from preparing individual orders, to buffet-style serving--and the buffets never quite look fresh enough.
Now Manhattan has one of these multinational steam-table African restaurants, and I'm pleased to report that the food is quite good. Perhaps more important, it looks and tastes reasonably fresh. At newcomer B & B Restaurant near F.I.T., the steam table offers two or three dishes each from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and the Caribbean, with a bit of soul food thrown in. This is the first West African restaurant to appear in the wholesale district in Chelsea along Broadway in many years, even though there's a large Senegalese and Guinean commercial presence there.
At full capacity, the steam table displays perhaps 48 trays; half of theses were filled this last Saturday, in observance of the smaller crowd on weekends. In the well-lit space, a number of long tables had been set up deeper into the interior of the restaurant, and a group of West African men sat, watching soccer and cheering periodically.
The Guinean "soups" (thick sauces served over rice) were particularly good: deep green pureed sweet-potato leaves dotted with lamb, and a lighter green sauce of spinach thickened with crushed peanuts. Senegal was represented by a cheb, which had to be assembled from a tub of joloff rice; a tub of bluefish stuffed with chiles, cilantro, and garlic; a dish of scotch bonnet peppers, and a dish of okra puree, the latter to be spooned over the cheb. There was also fried chicken, stewed kidney beans, mac and cheese, and various types of grilled, fried, and curried fish. Fish seems to be a common denominator of all the halal diets. B & B is definitely a good pit stop if you want some decent West African food without traveling to Harlem or Bed-Stuy. 165 West 26th Street, 212-627-2914
This plate shows Senegalese cheb at the top, a sour stewed okra relish at 4 o'clock, spaghetti with chunks of lamb at 6 o'clock, and also a plank of boiled beef, which was much better than it sounds. All meat is halal.