Restaurant Review: Tagine

Media’s State Street gets an infusion of North African flavor.

Paella served in the restaurant’s namesake cookware//All photos by Steve Legato.

How does a business owner succeed in differentiating his pizza shop from the 27 or so others in town? By converting it into a Moroccan restaurant, of course.

With the new Tagine Restaurant, Media Pizza & Grill’s Seif Khammassi has overseen a pungently triumphant transformation. The native Tunisian is flaunting his North African roots with the Berber-inspired food of Morocco, interspersed with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. “My goal is to introduce people to the flavors I know from my homeland—foods that I would have never dared serve in an ordinary pizza place,” says Khammassi.

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From left: Chef Imed Grami applies some final touches in the kitchen; The elegant dining room 

Tagine’s intimate 40-seat interior is lined with imported wall tapestries and Moorish-style lanterns. Turkish rugs and wide-backed banquettes laden with plump throw pillows impart a regal aesthetic. Traditional village music provides a plucky background soundtrack. 

Harira was served at a recent dinner. The classic tomato-based Moroccan soup came dotted with chickpeas and lentils, delivering a heady depth of cinnamon, ginger, cayenne and turmeric. For the second course, chef Imed Grami—also Khammassi’s brother-in-law—compiled an abundant sampler of baba ghanoush, hummus, eggplant caponata, feta-chunked Greek salad, and houriya (steamed carrots, olive oil, garlic and harissa). Each deftly prepared item represented a different part of the Mediterranean. The platter was served with a tasty layered flatbread of semolina, flour and fresh olive oil. Much more than simply a vehicle for dipping, the stuff is downright addictive.

Salade de Marrakech, with kale, arugula, orange slices, sweet figs and a zesty lemon vinaigrette.

While our lemony grilled octopus would’ve benefited from a smokier char, the supremely tender slow-braised New Zealand lamb shank—in an aromatic apricot-and-corona-bean sauce—was emblematic of the Tagine’s namesake earthenware and cookery. The punchy tagine dishes are somewhat toned down to placate most guests’ softer palates, but Khammassi encourages guests to ask for flavors to be heightened, if so desired.

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Chicken tagine served in the restaurant’s namesake cookware

As we dove into our sweet and flaky baklava, the server poured our tea with a flourish into a handmade glass. The genteel Dali once worked at Center City’s famed Le Bec-Fin. He’s also Khammassi’s cousin, coming aboard to train the novice staff through the summer months.

Hopefully, Dali’s skill and subtlety will rub off. If the rest of the team becomes as attentive as the fare is delicious, Tagine is sure to get piping hot.

From Left: Dessert is served; Baklava with Moroccan mint tea 

THE SKINNY: Ditching pizzas, hoagies and cheesesteaks for couscous, saffron and slow cooking, Tagine concocts a savory mélange inspired by Morocco, Lebanon and the Mediterranean.

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111 W. State St., Media, (610) 566-6101. 

Moroccan, Tunisian and Italian, with Greek and Spanish influences. 
Cost: Appetizers $5-$15, entrées $25. 
Attire: Nice casual. 
Atmosphere: Warm and cozy. 
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. 
Extras: BYOB; live belly dancing on Thursday and Saturday nights; outdoor seating on Wednesday nights, May-September.    

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