African fare is largely unfamiliar to most American palates. Some of its dishes have exotic-sounding names like moi-moi and jallof rice and come with ingredients not customarily stocked in our kitchen pantries.
But a pleasant surprise awaits diners new to the cuisine. Often the first bite will win them over.
Bisi African Restaurant853 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg, (847) 466-5425, bisirestaurant.com
Setting: Casual strip mall dining
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
That's the expectation of the husband-and-wife team that recently opened Bisi African Restaurant at 853 S. Roselle Road in Schaumburg. Anthony Onu and his wife, chef Kafilat "Bisi" Agaba, offer a friendly menu that mixes traditional Nigerian dishes and American favorites -- a menu designed to raise the profile of African foods.
A diverse array of appetizers -- including beef kebabs, barbecue and buffalo chicken wings and oxtail pepper soup -- are available. One of the most popular is moi-moi, a cylindrical savory cake made from steamed African honey beans and zesty seasoning. I recommend sharing this tasty starter that adds a new meaning to the comfort food genre.
Among main courses, consider the jallof rice featuring seasoned rice made with a puree of tomatoes and bell peppers and plated with a side of fried plantains. The dish comes with a choice of beef, chicken, goat or fish. If you have never tried goat, know that the roasted meat was tender and not the least gamey. And the underlying sweetness of the plantains complemented the flavor of the rice.
A dining partner enjoyed the same dish, but substituted fish (whiting) and was pleased by the choice.
Chef Bisi learned the ins and outs of African cuisine from her grandmother, and her cooking shows a penchant for fresh ingredients, many of which, if not available locally, are imported to preserve the authenticity of the recipes.
Consumers will find that entrees, priced from $10 to $11, are as pleasing to the taste buds as they are to the wallet.
Some other choices diners will encounter include the hot and spicy Ayamashe, a blend of green bell pepper with spice and herbs served with a side of steamed white rice and choice of protein. In Fufu, or pounded yam, the vegetable is plated with a choice of jute leaves or ground mango seed -- as well as meat or fish.
Chopped okra soup comes with pounded yam on the side, plus the protein of one's choosing.
Vegetarian expressions of many of the dishes also are available. An African honey bean-corn porridge, pictured on the menu, looked enticing; it's cooked with spices in a tomato and bell pepper sauce.
Desserts are still on the drawing board, and the only beverages served include bottled water, canned soda, various fruit juices and malta, a carbonated, nonalcoholic malt drink. A liquor license application is pending, with approval anticipated by January.
Bisi's sleek decor and comfortable white-tableclothed booths and tables enhance the dining experience. Recorded contemporary African music is a plus, and the service is spot on. The place accepts reservations and also accommodates carryout orders and catering for private parties.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.