Sofra Is The New Cookies and Couscous (or I'm Hungry!)

The only picture I could find! Cookies and Couscous
Vegetarian, small town, 1990's: I lived on couscous because it was available at the local market, inexpensive, exotic, and most importantly, easy to cook in five minutes.

So it would make sense that one of my favorite places, once I moved to New York City, would be Cookies and Couscous (read a nice NYT review here), in the West Village.  I went to this magical place every single chance I could get, which is saying a lot because I rarely ate at restaurants during the first few years as a student in New York. Mostly I ate bagels and pizza like any sane college student paying $600 a month in rent would do.

But Cookies and Couscous was an enigma. I HAD to take every one I knew there. Every celebration was had there. Dates and birthdays. I even took the parents of friends. The food was just delicious. It felt good in there too; warm, inviting, transporting. An oasis, oh yes, if you'll allow me to get Orientalist. The chef, from Morocco, was always around, mingling with the crowd, making everyone feel right at home. There are few places in New York that have this feeling, even back then. I can only think of one other, a delightful (and closet sized) Egyptian restaurant on Astoria Blvd. in Queens directly across the street from my first apartment. There is no menu, the chef chats with you for a minute and then custom makes your meal.

Mombar Restaurant, Queens, NY.
After tasting the venerable Bertillon sorbet on a romantic trip to Paris (try the cassis), I tried the sorbet at Cookies and Couscous. The taste inspired physical, sensory memories of France. I suppose the French-ness of this Moroccan place is evidence of days of colonialism or it's just because the French sorbet is the best in the world.

Bertillon in Paris.

These are the things I live for, a taste or scent that puts you back in time and space with such an uncanny feeling it's supernatural. I have little containers that still hold key scents from high school, though I'm reluctant to open them because each time some escapes. I wish I had Maude's olfactory machine.

And then, one sad day, without warning Cookies and Couscous was gone. Clearly I still dream of the many past adventures.

Nothing had really ever come close to that experience, until I moved to Cambridge. My absolute favorite place in the world right now is thankfully in my own neighborhood and it is Sofra. Although it's not the place to celebrate birthdays or drink lots of wine after a major bonding session (there is no alcohol and thy close around 6), it is the place that I excitedly take everyone I know. It is a reminder of all the friends and family that have visited, of sweet adventures like the Lilac Festival and apres-ski feasting, and quiet moments spent enjoying good things.

Middle Eastern textiles and copper tables inside.
Some of my favorites: 
shakshuka: a Tunisian/Israeli dish of poached eggs in a curried tomato sauce with pita, chocolate hazelnut baklava, parsnip skordalia with toasted almonds, Turkish breakfast: soft-boiled egg, cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, thick yogurt with spoon sweets, Persian doughnuts with tahini inside, everything pistachio, etc. etc. Also, it lies on the border of Cambridge and Watertown, aka Little Armenia (for more treats!). Alex and I went yesterday to try the outstanding Watermelon Gazpacho, specifically. Tasting it, I had a full body memory of Cookies and Couscous, after all they had a similar gazpacho with watermelon and lavender that we have, for years, been trying to recreate.

People in Cambridge, Boston, and beyond: go to Sofra! Every single thing is delightful.

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