Poised on the edge of discovery in Canton

At friendly Fatima's, the emphasis is on Mediterranean fare and affordable dining

Sunday Gourmet

April 11, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Restaurant Critic

Fouad Bouberri, the chef / owner of Fatima's, says Tuesday nights are busier than Saturday nights at his new restaurant. That's because unescorted ladies eat for free from a special menu between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Apparently they more than make up for the free food with the drinks they order.) It's a gimmick that worked well for Bouberri at a place he owned in Miami, and it seems to be working here -- at least the first Tuesday he tried it.

"I was glad my wife wasn't around to see it," he says with a laugh. "I was like a big rooster surrounded by chickens. The room was filled with ladies."

Pretty soon Bouberri won't need gimmicks to fill his dining room. He's got a good thing going here: a pretty little restaurant -- on the edge of Canton, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town -- that dishes out tasty food at reasonable prices. It just needs to be discovered.

Bouberri cooked at Tiburzi's and Peerce's Plantation before he opened his own restaurant. It's named for his mother, who still lives in his native Morocco; but in spite of the name, in spite of the belly dancer Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, this isn't a Moroccan restaurant. The food is minimalist Mediterranean: mostly fish and meats prepared simply, with flavors and accompaniments of the region like black olives, rosemary, garlic, olive oil, tomato sauces, artichoke hearts, orzo and pita. The entrees aren't expensive, and there are lots of sandwiches and salads to choose from even at dinner. You could eat here for less than $10.

Fatima's also has specials that branch out a bit from the minimalist Mediterranean formula. The evening we were there, they included an ahi tuna appetizer and a blackened rib-eye. The fish of the day was a thick, flaky white rockfish fillet, surrounded by plump little clams in their shells, chopped tomatoes, herbs, onions and a pretty sprig of rosemary.

Bouberri's wife, Dina (who is almost certainly delighted that the restaurant is filled with ladies on Tuesdays, in spite of what her husband says), is Italian. Her country of origin is represented by a few dishes on the menu, such as the shrimp with linguini -- a fine concoction of big, perfectly cooked shrimp, artichoke hearts and olives in a pleasingly reticent tomato sauce tossed with the pasta.

Dina is responsible for the interior design, turning the bar and dining room (formerly Josephine's) into a calm oasis, with soothing neutrals, ceiling fans, palm tree motifs, and Moroccan appointments. At least it's visually calm; the floors are highly polished bare wood, so it must get noisy when the restaurant is filled.

Some of the dishes are comfort food, like the huge, fragrant bowl of Mom's homemade chicken soup with large chunks of chicken and Israeli couscous. Some are a little trendier, like Fouad's Special Salad with lots of greens, dried apricots and cranberries, walnuts and an intriguing black olive vinaigrette.

The osso buco lamb falls from the bone with the touch of a fork, and its sauce perks it up without dominating. The flavors of meat, tomatoes, spinach and orzo intermingle flawlessly. This may have been the best dish we tried, although the shrimp with linguini gave it serious competition.

Fatima's menu is actually quite meat heavy, with a mixed grill for serious eaters and a reasonably priced petite sirloin for those who want a modest portion of decent grilled steak with a potato casserole and a flavorful vegetable saute.

Not everything works, but what doesn't is pretty minor and mostly involves bread. The bread basket is filled with pita triangles and slices of soft Italian bread that have been toasted. This food deserves better (although we loved the tapenade that came with the bread). A meatball po' boy started with a soft roll labeled ciabatta; even the meat's good seasonings, tomato sauce and two kinds of melted cheese couldn't lift it above the ordinary.

Desserts are a combination of in-house creations and pastries from a local bakery. We enjoyed a variation on the ubiquitous creme brulee made with raspberries, a rich apple-caramel galette that tasted more like a cheesecake, and a traditional bread pudding that would have been even better if it hadn't been a bit dry. The dense chocolate torte was too intense to interest me, but chocoholics will be happy.

The service is as good-natured and attentive as you would hope at a small, family-run restaurant. Often restaurants this young are still working the kinks out. Fatima's manages to suggest it's been making customers happy in this same spot forever.

Fatima's

Food: ***

Service: ***

Atmosphere: ***

Where: 2112 Fleet St., Canton

Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner

Prices: Appetizers, $3.50-$8.95; main courses, $12.95-$23.95

Call: 410-327-3773

Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *

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