Nestled among other family restaurants of various ethnicities on Grand Boulevard is Baida, a small Moroccan spot owned by husband and wife Abderrahmane and Assia Meskine. It serves authentic Moroccan fare, including couscous, tajines and meat brochettes. The flavors are fragrant with cumin, coriander, cardamom, parsley, rosewater, golden raisins and almonds.
In atmosphere, it’s what you would expect of a modest ethnic spot on Grand: some exotic lights and wall decor, but otherwise very basic. Additionally, this cuisine can be repetitive in its flavors, but I don’t consider that a negative when the food is good. The 7 Salads platter ($12) was outstanding, offering a series of sweet, pickled and spicy veggies and beans. There were two carrot salads, one raw and grated (sweet with pungent harissa flavors), the other cooked and cubed. A garbanzo salad was rich with olive oil and spices, and the lima bean salad had a touch of hot pepper. Hummus was on there, mild and spreadable. The flavors of cumin, harissa, olive oil and coriander wafted through most of the seven dishes, yet each was distinctive and delicious.
Our Zaaluk ($6) appetizer, the Moroccan version of baba ghanoush, was a mash of eggplant, but it had roasted peppers and tomatoes in the mix with the usual garlic. It was fine, with a little bite, and came with toasted bread rounds. The M’Lwee ($6) is the Moroccan version of spanakopita, a phyllo pocket that comes with meat or vegetable filling. We chose the latter, and the two sizable triangles were tasty, if a little on the oily side. They come with a vibrant harissa sauce made with peppers and Middle Eastern spices.
Where this place really shines is the entrees, slow-cooked meats yielding soft and tender dishes infused with exotic spices. Iconic to North Africa is tajine, stewed meat and vegetables served in a conical ceramic dish. The ingredients are effectively slow-simmered in the special ‘pot,’ which traps moisture as it is released from the food and recirculates it around the heated dish. Our Fish Tajine ($16) came as a fillet of fresh cod slathered with the characteristic reddish puree of herbs and spices, tomatoes and olive oil. Alongside the fish were chunks of carrot, potato and onion, flavored with cumin, coriander, garlic and tomato.
There are some brochette entrees (lamb and chicken) and a couple of similarly slow-cooked meals, Chicken Under Vermicelli ($15) and Mashwee (roasted lamb, $20). Both were excellent, exhibiting the characteristic flavors that dominate this cuisine. The chicken was a platter of thin noodles dotted with shredded dark meat and golden raisins, and topped with chopped almonds and bits of sugar. It was sweet and fragrant at the same time, and had the added bonus of cardamom, an ingredient typically found in desserts.
The Mashwee is served over a choice of vegetable couscous or saffron rice. The generous platter of tender lamb was delicious on all counts, including the couscous we opted for, which was piled with carrots, lima beans, onions and chickpeas.
For dessert we had Orange Cake ($8), a large wedge of citrus pound cake sitting in orange sauce. It was moist and flavorful, thanks to the large quantity of orange juice and rind used.
the scene | Modest ethnic restaurant
the chef | Assia Meskine
the prices | $6-$13 starters, $15-$20 entrees
the favorites | The 7 Salads, Fish Tajine, Chicken Under Vermicelli, Mashwee, Orange Cake
food • ŏ • lō • gy
tajine | A term for both the covered ceramic pottery used to cook meals over hot coals in North Africa, and the food inside it
harissa | A spice blend made with roasted red peppers, serrano and other peppers and mixed with garlic, coriander, caraway, saffron and olive oil to flavor North African cuisine
rosewater | A flavoring made by steeping rose petals in water that is added to food in some cultures, especially desserts
354 n. boyle ave. | 314.531.4607
Pictured at top: Vegetable tajine – vegetables stir-fried with harissa (hot pepper sauce)
Photos: Bill Barrett