304 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 529-3512

Shrink's birthday was upon us. So Bro and I, dutiful sons that we are, took it upon ourselves to take her and padre DudeMan out to dinner. There were a handful of restaurants on the shortlist ranging from overpriced tapas joints to German essenhauses specializing in wild game; from loud gastropubs to hear-a-pin-drop bistros. After so much consternation, we naturally opted for none of them, instead choosing Zerza, an East Village Moroccan restaurant that Citysearch patrons loved and that Time Out hated.

Zerza sits on 6th Street, a street once dominated by Indian restaurants. These days, it has become the most diverse 750 feet in Manhattan. The south side of the street is literally solid restaurants. It would take a month of eating out every single day to try them all (and people ask me why I would want to be immortal...). One thing I can say, the competition must be fierce. Just walking down the street we were approached by a restaurant owner or maitre'd or whoever and offered free dessert if we were willing to change our plans and have dinner at his restaurant. When we declined, he moved on to the people walking behind us.

Zerza itself is a tri-level place with most of its dining upstairs. The upstairs dining room is small, too, and fills up quickly, especially when large groups arrive and suck away all the tables. The seating on the first floor is sparse, but there's also seating by the street in this tight, enclosed solarium-like space. Make reservations.

DudeMan started the meal out with an appetizer of Harira Soup, a vegetable chickpea soup. He and I both found it delicious. Those fans of chickpeas out there will enjoy it. Shrink ordered Moroccan Cigars, a somewhat spicy dish of ground beef wrapped in filo dough. She found this tube-shaped appetizer was to be a bit on the bland side. I liked it though and would have certainly preferred it over my own choice.

Speaking of my choice, I went for the Saganaki, fried feta cheese coated in honey. Now, to be fair, I suspected that it would not be something I'd particularly love. I've just never liked feta cheese. But if I only ate things I know I'd like, then I'd have a pretty boring palate. If you like big squares of feta, you'll probably like this sweetly fried version... especially if you like your sweetly fried squares honey glazed. Finally, Bro ordered Bourekas, a spinach pastry with pine nuts, raisins and feta cheese. He finished it off before I could try any, but he and Shrink were big fans of it. Shrink felt that it was the best appetizer of all of the ones ordered at our table.

DudeMan and Bro both ordered lamb dish entrees. DudeMan's was the Lamb Tfaya, a leg of lamb in a stew of chickpeas, raisins, and caramelized onions. It was very good, but verrrrrry sweet. This would have gone perfectly with a little crusty bread to soak in it, but also to somewhat dull its sweetness. Bro, meanwhile, ordered the Couscous Lamb Berber. I'm pretty sure that there was lamb and couscous in it, but there were also stewed vegetables. Bro thought it was very good. My own opinion was that it was somewhat bland. Both of these dishes were cooked absolutely perfectly. The meat was so tender that it was practically falling off the bone. But while the cooking of the dishes may have been bar-none, the recipes themselves needed a little tweaking to reach that happy middle ground between sweet and bland, at least as far as I was concerned.

Shrink ordered Chicken Bastilla. A chicken doughnut with a fancy name. It's shredded chicken, coated in a thick, deep-fried dough envelope, then coated in a moutainous heaping of powdered sugar. This was the most unique of the entrees, and I thought it would be the tastiest, but the chicken was a little on the dry side. Still, if you've got a hankering for the one flavor Krispy Kreme has yet to come up with, this is the way to go. My entree was the Duck Confit. Normally, I'm used to a crispier version, but this ain't French food. Our Moroccan dish comes instead with a softer skin and with pears, figs and couscous. It was also a little fattier than I was used to, but like the lamb, it was so tender that I never even had to get my knife dirty. I just tore through it with a fork. And lest I forget, it tasted good, too.

Finally, dessert. We were warned that the chocolate lava-esque cake needed a half hour to prep and that required us to decide whether to order it, or not, when placing our entree orders. We chose to skip it. Instead, Bro and Shrink both ordered the Zerza Fig Ice Cream, which, as you can imagine, is fig ice cream made here at Zerza (or at least served here). It was exactly what I thought it would be, which was a very light, bittersweet ice cream. Almost like green-tea ice cream. Bro and Shrink thought more if it than I did. As for me, I chose to try the Baklawa, which is the Moroccan spelling of baklava. Same thing. The baklawa was chewier than I wanted and too syrupy. And to top it off, it didn't stay together. So when I dug my fork in, it just smooshed like a sponge and didn't cut. Instead, the top layer would slide off. Not very impressive. And to top it off, they were completely out of espresso beans and regular coffee. They offered me decaf. Uh, no thanks.

To sum it up, Zerza's hit or miss when it comes to much of it's food. Where it's good, it's good. But there are plenty of struggling dishes. I would go back and try some other items on the menu, but you can see from the photos that it's really the atmosphere that stands out. All those pillows and velvet, candles and gold flake paint relax you like few other restaurants can. It doesn't hurt that the waitresses here are smoking hot. Plus they have belly dancing some nights and a hookah lounge. Cool cool.

One glass of wine, one beer, two cocktails, four appetizers, four entrees, and three desserts, plus tax, but not counting tip, cost $157.36.

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