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Korhogo 126

A modest Brooklyn restaurant

unleashes exotic African spices.
126 Union St., near Columbia St.
Phone: (718) 855-4405
Dinner: Weds., Thurs., Sun., 5-10 p.m.;
Fri. and Sat., 5.-11 p.m.

Some restaurants lack soul. Not Korhogo
126. You can taste the soul of its owners on nearly every plate. This
French West African eatery marries the culinary heritages of
Parisian-born Emmanuelle Chiche and chef Abdhul Traore, who made his New York City debut at Les Enfants Terribles on the lower East Side. Traore hails from Korhogo, a small town in the Ivory Coast that’s become this prideful new restaurant’s namesake.

chef injects a rush of seasonings and flavors from his homeland into
French bistro staples. This translates to a menu where African
classics, like grilled prawns in a pili pili (chili pepper) sauce
appear alongside steak frites. But here the steak frites gets an
aggressively spiced marinade of thyme, cardamom and kanifi (African
black pepper).

These intensely exotic aromas spill into a
modest dining room appointed with sponged yellow walls, a tin ceiling
and wood tables. Past a tiny open kitchen the owners refer to as the
“restaurant’s laboratory” is a greenhouse decorated with a clunky
antler chandelier, African masks and tribal fabric. The slightly
kitschy surroundings belie the sophistication of the best of the chef’s

Order the escargot: Out comes an elegant appetizer of
escargot tucked into a wafer-thin pastry shell, resembling a large
oyster overflowing with richly flavored treasures. These plump nibbles
luxuriate in a Pernod sauce perfumed with star anise and crushed red

There’s also a bouillabaisse that’s not to be missed.
This Provençale fish stew – brimming with fresh shrimp, scallops, clams
and tilapia in a tomato and white-wine broth – gets an original and
briny awakening from a sun-dried stockfish that Traore sources from an
African grocery store in Harlem.

He works wonders with an
entrée of roasted chicken, transforming a standard-issue dish into a
memorable affair. A 24-hour marinade of cilantro, onions and garlic
yields a moist and flavorful bird nestled into a toothsome yassa sauce
– a mix of stewed onions, green olives, peppers, lime juice and a
habañero chile that delivers a lingering heat. So does a fiery grilled
prawns pili pili plated with spinach, sautéed vegetables and an
aromatic puck of Wolof rice.

When Traore harnesses bold
flavors, his cooking shines. It’s only when he tempers the spices that
he slips up. This was the case with a neutered vegetarian mafe (a
Senegalese peanut stew) and a dainty cup of soup that played more like
a dipping sauce for a side of spinach, eggplant and okra. Ditto on a
Flintstone-size, gamy lamb shank with a restrained measure of ras el
hanout seasoning. He plays it too safe with a generic mix of tough
calamari and baby octopus, an out-of-place Greek salad and an
uneventful goat-cheese terrine.

Where dessert is concerned, your best choice is a crusty mbous fass,
which translates to and tastes unmistakably like French toast: a moist
baguette soaked in sweet butter and topped with a marjoram-infused
strawberry salad.

Korhogo 126 is a gutsy restaurant that rests on a sleepy block in Brooklyn’s Columbia Waterfront District, adjoining a pizzeria, laundermat and wine shop. This earnest joint venture is a spirited journey into West Africa and France – a trip worth taking where a soulful chef delivers.

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