Carthage Cafe

Awhile back, Grace tipped me off about a place on the Drive that rarely gets much attention.  The place?  Carthage Cafe.  Okay...  I've heard of it, but indeed it was not on my "to eat" list.  She raved about the Moules et Frites (mussels and fries) and insisted I give it a shot.  Well, I was convinced.  I needed to go.  But with who?  Well, mussels...  Oh yah!  Whipping Girl!  Oh no...  She couldn't go...  Okay, who else loves to eat (I bet most of you!)?  Choobee and JoJo!  And yes, they were able to go since they had a meeting nearby in the afternoon.  Located in the "less busy" part of the Drive, it is little wonder that Carthage can be easily missed.  This little spot is quaint, charming and unassuming.  I arrived first and had to wait for a bit.  For a minute there, I thought I was meeting Miss Y!  Wait, I'd be waiting for over an hour in that case...

So without further ado, let's talk about the mussels shall we?  We ended up with 2 versions consisting of the Carthago and El Atlas.  The Carthago broth consisted of a cumin, spicy harissa, white wine and olive oil.  We were pleasantly surprised by the large and plump mussels which were all open (that's right, not a single one unopened).  I know I use the term "ethnic" quite loosely, but that is the best way to describe the flavours.  The broth was not merely a "run-of-the-mill" concoction, rather it had a unique spiciness accented by cumin.  We preferred this over the El Atlas which was much more mild consisting of fresh ginger, bell peppers, olive oil, saffron and white wine.  I personally love ginger, but in this case, it was the main flavouring agent as the saffron was pretty much an afterthought.  That's not to say it wasn't tasty because normally when a menu states "ginger", we often do not get a really big hit of it.  In this case, it was pretty apparent. They started us off with a warm crusty baguette which was excellent for soaking up the flavourful broth (the Carthgo that is).  In addition, what are mussels without Frites?  They served both portions on a big plate and it was more than enough for all of us.  These were hot, crispy and quite light. They went really well with the mussels and broth.

Moving onto our vegetable intake of the meal, we had the Salade Niçoise.  When it arrived, Choobee cried out, "why balsamic, why???".  Yes, usually it is made with a light vinaigrette, but in the end, it still tasted great and that's all that counts right?  Well, not for some people I guess, but don't get me started on that...  It appeared that balsamic was the only artistic liberty taken on the dish as the usual components such as lettuce (butter in this case), beans, red peppers, egg, tomatoes, potatoes, canned tuna and anchovies were present.  The ingredients were fresh while the tuna was moist and tasted great with a good amount of olive oil.  Moving onto the mains, we ended up with 2 cous cous dishes because the Chicken Tagine wasn't available.  When the Cous Cous Menani arrived, I was taken aback at the portion size, especially since it was halibut.  Served bone-in, the halibut was moist and flaky, which was no small feat as it can usually overcook very easily.  It rested on a bed of steamed couscous in a cumin sauce reduction with autumn vegetables.  This was a hearty dish where the flavours were mild which didn't overshadow the fish.

To get a handle on all the meats, we had the Cous Cous Carthage consisting of steamed couscous, chicken, lamb, merguez and autumn vegetables in tomato sauce.  Again, this was a really large plate of food considering the price.  The lamb shank was fairly moist while the chicken was stewed until the meat practically fell off the bone.  As for the merguez sausage, it was "ethnic" tasting once again (especially the spicy harissa).  We didn't end up finishing those dishes as they were really that big. The best way to describe Carthage would be "elegant rustic" where the restaurant has a certain charm while the food is both plentiful and homestyle in appearance. We enjoyed our meal and as for myself, I am already planning to return for those mussels.

The Good:
- Really good Moules et Frites
- Quaint and charming
- Large portions

The Bad:
- Dinner can get up there in price, but the portion size makes up for it
- It's definitely quaint, but also a touch cramped too, best to keep it a small group 

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