Madina Gets your goat, East African-style 

A friend of mine, a really adventurous Macedonian, kept mentioning Madina. "You have to try this place. They make the best goat I've ever tasted." He knows good goat, apparently. With an endorsement like that, how could I say no?

Madina is a tidy, friendly spot located on a stretch of Memorial Drive that's chock-a-block with ethnic eateries -- Jamaican, Chinese, East African. The restaurant's jovial owner greeted us at the door and pointed us to a table.

Chop, Chop: The server handed us menus, but we didn't really need them. He looked us up and down, squinting a little. "For you, the fried goat. And for you, I think, chicken chop-chop. How about beef for you, my friend?"

And so our dinner was decided. All dishes at Madina come with either rice or spaghetti -- a vestige of Somalia's days as an Italian colony. Our friendly server suggested rice for everyone, and moments later four steaming plates of basmati rice, fragrant with cardamom and allspice, arrived at the table.

Despite the goofy name, chicken chop-chop was my favorite. Tinged red from spices, chunks of white-meat chicken had been sauteed with onion and red pepper until caramelized. I expected mouth-searing heat, but the dish was mellow. A similarly sauteed beef dish was spicier, redolent of hot pepper, allspice and ginger.

Some like it ultra-hot: My friend who recommended Madina is one of those lunatics who likes his food so spicy, it would make an average person start to sweat after a couple of bites. He used nearly the whole bottle of a chunky jalapeño puree that was on the table, squirting it liberally on every bite. I managed to swipe it from him and try a little myself. It tasted garlicky, green and freshly made ... but a taste was all I could manage.

Go for the Goat: And it turns out, he was right about the goat. Goat meat figures prominently in Somalian cooking (they eat camel, too, but that's probably harder to come by here in the States). Goat is lean and can be tough, but at Madina they stew it until it's tender, or they fry it to a mahogany brown. Allspice, cinnamon and cardamom create a heady flavor, and frying intensifies it. I expected a gamy flavor akin to lamb, but it's surprisingly mild.

Tangy: The drink choices are limited at Madina. A complimentary pitcher of Tang comes with the meal. Remember Tang? I hadn't had it since about fifth grade. It wasn't as good as I remembered. There are regular soft drinks, but there's also a mystery drink called Vimto, a cherry-flavored soda in an orange can. Try one. It's part of the experience.

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