Now that I got your attention…
The story is all too familiar, but the outcome in this case has a GOT type twist. Girl starts working as a waitress at some of our higher ends. She then graduates from the French Culinary Institute, before working at names like Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Daniel. She then leaves to travel around the world to collect more inspiration before opening her first establishment. The girl becomes chef.
But the big twist in this story is in the type of establishment. Every time I sit in one of the four tables at tiny Berber Street Food in West Village, I wonder if there’s another place remotely like it in NYC. “Afro-fusion” is one way to describe it, but in order to understand what it means one needs to have a few meals here and meet Diana. She is as fierce, and confident as they come, with unrivaled talent and passion to boot. As the New Yorker put it, Diana “has the West Village wrapped around her finger”
This is not the case where I was blown away by the first bite. The Jerk wings had this familiar and pleasant fruity tone, but not quite as sharp or spicy as the Caribbean style jerk I’m accustomed to. Dont get me wrong here. I smothered these babies, licked every finger, and didnt wash my hands that afternoon, or evening. I just wasnt in a rush to come back, but oh so glad I did.
The love affair started with visit #2 when I had a bowl of rice, Black Eye Peas, seasonal green beans, and jerk chicken that came in a stew-like form this time. It had this addictive sweetness, and spicy enough to leave a nice tingle. Although if you want more spice, the intense Habanero sauce that accommodates the dish (if not, ask) will do. Enjoy it with the terrific homemade Ginger Lemongrass juice. Although on another visit the scent of the Morrocan mint tea next to me was hypnotizing.
But the dish to get here might be the Djolof Fried Rice with chicken. It may just rival the best Biryani you ever had and then some. The same chicken is used as a wrap in the Shawarma sandwich. Plenty of Middle Eastern dishes here due to the North Adrican connection. There’s also Koftas, Moorish Kebabs, and her own falafel interpretation on the menu. Diana is like Einat Admony reborn in a way.
Every time I come here I see the team grow a little bit. Yesterday the cook (not Diana) felt especially generous with the “Berber Feast”, slowly roasted chopped leg of lamb that is marinated for a few days with Harissa and cumin. You get more Harissa on the side, along with other spreads, a couple of nifty salads, and couscous. A taste of a Berber (North Africa ethnic group. Diana’s father side) wedding feast where they serve whole pigs as such. This has potential as a house specialty. On another day Diana was experimenting with an off menu North African pudding that tasted like something you may get at one of her old employers, like Per Se.
Half a block away, visitors from around the world, flock to Joe’s for its above average NY slice (I get mine at Sacco and elsewhere). While at Berber, you’ll find returning locals including students going for the cheap bowls and sandwiches to go. Berber is slowly becoming a little local hangout, where Diana knows everyone and you end up making new friends. This is possibly the best thing to pop in West Village in years.