When I first set eyes on Keur Coumba, I'd noted the name "Kilimanjaro," called out on the awning, perhaps in affection for the "Roof of Africa"; worldwide, several Senegalese restaurants are named after that Tanzanian mountain. The Latina manager didn't know. She did, however, explain that the owner wanted some Caribbean food to complement his West African chow, given the local demographics, hence the two different takeout menus, one Senegalese, one Dominican. She also acknowledged that both menus conformed to West African dietary preferences. Keur Coumba might have been the only restaurant in town that served Dominican cooking entirely free of pork.
Months later, when I finally stopped in for lunch, all traces of the R.D. had disappeared. A young lady at the next table set aside her novel long enough to say that the former chef of the nearby, erstwhile South Beach Cafe was in charge of the kitchen; she and her friend debated the merits of the chef's two thiebou djeuns, the red and the white, before returning to more cosmopolitan topics of conversation.
She did, later, call the chef over to elaborate on the virtues of her mafe (shown above) — a peanut butter sauce rich with lamb, carrots, and potatoes, all redolent with the flavor of dried red snapper. As food for debate, Keur Coumba is also one of the city's few kitchens to offer both thiebou djeun rouge and thiebou djeun blanc, though never both of these fish-and-vegetable platters at the same time. During lunch — when the atmosphere inside the restaurant is at its liveliest and the street outside seems less dreary — just three entrees are available each day, in rotation. The going rate for all lunchtime entrees is $10, unless you order a community plate of thiebou djeun, for three or four, as I witnessed on several occasions.
Also shown: yassa guinar, lemon-marinated baked chicken with onions; a yassa guinar close-up, revealing some unknown seasoning that had been tucked under the skin; theibou djeun red and thiebou djeun white; thu djeun, with lamb swapped in for this stew's customary fish; and feuille patate, a sweet-potato-leaf sauce. Lamb in this one, too.
Keur Coumba Restaurant
125 West 116th St. (near Lenox Ave.), Manhattan