To my knowledge Safari is the only Somali restaurant in New York City. It may well be the first: Although Yemen & Somalia Restaurant operated on this very West Harlem block in the 1990s, Robert Sietsema noted at the time that the proprietors were Yemeni; the chow he described seemed Yemeni, too. At this family-run business, by contrast, the two cousins I spoke with were born in the southern Somali port city of Kismaayo (kiss-My-oh), namesake of my Kismaayo chicken suqaar (soo-Car, "diced"; $13). The spicing of the chicken was less pointed than its ruddy hue would suggest; a pale green housemade hot sauce picked up the slack.
Over many centuries, Somalia's long East African coastline has opened the country to many commercial and culinary influences. "Suqaar," for example, is Arabic, with Somali one of the country's two official languages; order the beef suqaar, however, and you'll find it infused with the Ethiopian spice mitmita. For my accompaniment I chose basmati rice, whose aroma and elaborate decoration seemed almost Persian, but I might easily have been swayed to order the humbler-looking chapati. (A complimentary round of that Indian flatbread, once it had cooled to the touch, proved to be thin and light yet many-layered.) A third starch option, spaghetti in a cream-based basil-and-rosemary sauce — a legacy of Italian occupation — must await a return visit.
Safari soft-opened in May. The restaurant, which keeps halal (most Somalis are adherents of Sunni Islam), is open during the month of Ramadan from 5:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. However, even though food is served by light of day, just as at Midtown's many halal carts, long-cooked dishes such as hilib ari, roasted goat, may be ready only at sunset, when observant Muslims break their fast. Safari's grand opening, and earlier dining-room hours, are planned to coincide with or shortly follow this year's Ramadan-ending celebration of Eid al-Fitr. This begins, in North America, on the evening of Friday, July 17.
H/T Ethnojunkie (via private communication)
219 West 116th St. (Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.-Frederick Douglass Blvd.), Manhattan