Ngoma - Pan-African Style in the Heart of Los Angeles

5358 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Darius McCrary of Family Matters, Kingdom Come Ngoma restaurant in the Wilshire district in Los Angeles has been open just over a year and can be termed a success with innovative and at times exciting cooking. The menu covers most areas of Africa with a wide range of dishes, with a slight emphasis on Kenya, the home of the hostess/chef, Pam. She spares no effort to make the place work working hard all day in preparing and cooking the dishes. That is why the restaurant is closed two days a week-she needs the rest. Even Tunisian and Moroccan dishes are being planned. Portions are big enough to satisfy the American customers, but apparently, they are still considered too small by most African customers.

The location of Ngoma on Wilshire Boulevard/La Brea helps keep the area buzzing, and being next door to the world famous Conga Room can only help. Serena Williams and Evander Holyfield are regulars when they are in town. On Saturday night, a disc jockey plats the hottest new sounds from Africa focusing on Soukos music from Zaire, South African and Kwaito sounds. The décor is tastefully done with several murals depicting African life and tasteful African art adorning the sponged ochre walls.

A slew of recent positive publicity in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today has given the restaurant a significant boost, and it is no longer the little secret of homesick Africans or old colonials living in Los Angeles. The restaurant has a few signature dishes such as Sambusa, an African version of the Indian samosa, and the West African dish of Ogbono Soup ($10.95), a main course made from Ogbono seed and mixed with fish or meat. I tried the sambosa and found it much lighter than the Indian version, but not the Ogbono. Maybe next time.

Another popular West African item from Mali is the Mafe, lamb in a peanut sauce with white rice and vegetables for $10.95. An even better deal is the Poulet Yassa from Senegal for $9.50, chicken marinated in lemon sauce and sautéed with vegetables. Not quite as appealing to me was the fufu, a heavy starch filled blob of mashed cassava root, a tasteless side order that can only be an acquired taste. Similar starchy accompaniments include the matoke (mashed green banana) and the ugali (white cornmeal mush). Much smarter to go for the outstanding collard greens as a side dish

An interesting selection of African beers is available like the Tusker Lager from Kenya, Castle Lager from South Africa and Windhock Lager from Namibia. However, you have to start with one of Ngoma's non-alcoholic delights such as the ginger root or hibiscus root drinks, both refreshing and a perfect complement to the food.

Desserts are particularly good here, such as the wonderful mango cheesecake or the Coup Mt.Kenya-mango sherbet topped with diced pineapple soaked in rum mixture and topped with chopped pistachio nut.

The special buffet lunch at $5.99 is an excellent way to sample some of the foods available. Ngoma is well worth a visit and seemed like a cross between Indian and Soul Food, but with the quiet elegance seldom found in so-called "ethnic" restaurants. Ngoma is more like a themed restaurant, but something that happened more by chance than design.

Tel: 323.934.1595
Fax: 323.934.1565

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 11:00 am-9.00 pm
Friday-Saturday 11:00 am-12.00 pm

All major credit cards taken
Dinner for two w/wine $50
Street Parking

Ngoma online

Mike Hepworth, January 2003

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