422 NW 8th Ave, 241-0390
Ginger is aggressively tart; enough taken in one bite sends my eyelids fluttering into convulsions. Fortunately, since I love ginger, that's a good thing; two sips from a glass of ginger juice at Baobab and the underside of my brain began to tickle. I could feel the nerve endings across my entire face maxing out. It was an exhilarating start to dinner at Baobab. (For the weaker-spirited, there are two less affronting, but equally unique, fruit juices.)
Built in an old garage off the NW Park blocks, Baobab makes a noble attempt at capturing some of the charm of the owner's home country of Senegal. The entire front of the restaurant opens out onto the Park Block lawns and, in the late summer months, with the door swung wide open, creates the feeling of an open-air cafè.
There is a static menu with a handful of dumpling and soup appetizers, and 11 dishes, all hovering around $10. There are vegetarian dishes, but mostly the dinners are a study in seven different ways to cook a chicken.
For decades, the small West African country of Senegal was a French outpost. Like so many of their other colonies, the French left fingerprints all over the cuisine. But, even with the overlay of rich sauces, Senegalese food also holds onto some of its original integrity--spicy dishes and tropical flavors.
The peanut sauce is a few degrees shy of eye-opening spicy, and the chicken, while juicy enough, is not succulent. My dinner earns a three out of four thumbs up (if I had that many). With bulky yams and potatoes mixed with tangy olives, my dish, Yassa, had an unlikely deftness; the only analogy that I can think of is the New York Giants running back Ron Dayne who, at 300 pounds, still manages to float like a butterfly.