Review published July 2005
WAZOBIA MAY BE the only place in town where if your server approached the table and said, “I’m so tired—mind if I sit down while I take your order?” you’d be relieved, rather than offended. Because until proprietor Tope Ogundeji pulled up a chair and propped her feet on another, we’d been scanning a list of words we didn’t understand, or understood just enough to feel uneasy about (tripe, cow foot, goat), trying to discern which dishes were even available—many are labeled “only on Tuesdays” or “only on Wednesdays.” So we were quite relieved when Ogundeji grinned broadly and said, “How about I just make you some food?”
It’s a good thing Ogundeji has such a warm, welcoming personality, as Wazobia can feel a little sparse without her. The décor is somewhat bland. A few plants sit in the window, a couple of pieces of African art are scattered about, and photos of entrées like the ones you sometimes see at shopping mall food courts (though infinitely more helpful here) line the back wall. Wazobia’s menu features a number of Nigerian specialties, including savory meat and vegetable pies (the African version of the pasty or samosa) and entrées served in generous, motherly portions. Main dishes are essentially combinations of rice, beans, plantains, soups, and fufu (dough made from a starchy vegetable) with your choice of goat, chicken, fish, or assorted meats.
One of the most popular items is the egusi & efo (ground melon seeds and mustard greens cooked in tomato sauce and spices), a thick, stew-like mixture that has a smoky, nutty flavor with a pinch of heat. It’s served with a puréed tomato/red pepper sauce and the singular West African fufu. The fufu we tried was made from African white yams; it looked like puffball mushrooms or softball-size gnocchi and tasted potato-like, not sweet. African expats seemed quite adept at using hunks of fufu to scoop up bites of stew; meanwhile, we made a fantastic mess of the fried fish, trying to separate the meat from the skin and bones. Luckily, bowls of rinse water are provided.
The Jollof Rice with chicken was reminiscent of Southern picnic food with a bolder palette of spices. The sweetness of the fried plantains complemented the tender bird and floral, woodsy flavor of the rice. A stew made from okra and jute leaves was another favorite, in part for its impressive physical properties—okra has a somewhat slimy, mucilaginous quality to it (lovingly referred to by some as “okra snot”), which leaves a trailing saliva-like thread after each bite.
Did that push your boundaries a bit? So might having a couple of squealing girls chase each other around your table. Or having the host and her staff settle in to watch a Nigerian soap opera, laughing hysterically and filling you in on the best points of the plot. But then again, what do Africans think of scripted greetings, vibrating pagers, and smiley faces scribbled on the check?