JAJA (858 Bloor West, at Roxton, 416-537-7334) Toronto's only Algerian eatery, this terrific take-away offers Mediterranean mains combining Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Greek grub and twists it through unique spicing. There's a lot more here than falafels and baba ghanoush. Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a mint tea. Open daily 11 am to midnight except Friday 2 pm to midnight. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: two short steps at door, four steps to washroom. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Painted on a glass storefront, the words "liver sandwich" draw me into what looks from the street like just another falafel hut. Once inside, a photo blow-up menu informs me that Jaja's got a lot more going than tabouleh and baba ghanoush.
I pass on the calf's liver pita sandwich ($2.99) and order the grilled veggie 'swich (char-broiled sweet pepper strips, eggplant, sweet potato, thin cross-slices of waxy yellow turnip mixed with shredded iceberg, sharp raw red onion, minty tabbouleh, a squirt of nutty tahini and a lashing of cumin-scented homemade harissa, $2.49), adding to it a lamb's liver brochette ($1.50 each). Because Jaja uses only halal meat, lamb's liver isn't always available, but when it is this is quite simply the best Mediterranean combo in town.
Further investigation of the Mediterranean lineup reveals more tasty surprises. Accented with tangy pitted green olives, chicken tagine ($5.50) finds slow-stewed on-the-bone chicken and chunks of sweet carrot subtly enhanced with cinnamon and lemon zest plated over a bed of fluffy couscous. If Jaja's red lentil soup ($1.99), an intoxicating blend of yellow beans, potato, onion and tomato, were put through a sieve and garnished with a mint leaf, a far fancier boîte would call it Tangiers Bisque and charge seven bucks.
Another bombshell: after ordering the sardine plate ($5.75), I'm asked how I want them cooked -- well done or juicy. Juicy it is, four fab fillets garnished with lemon wedges and served with tomato rice and salad. To finish, don't miss Jaja's house-made baklava ($1.25) dripping with honey.
Algerian-born owner-chef Cherif Berrachedi sold La Forchetta, his Cal-Ital College spot, six months ago to open the much more relaxed Jaja. Wisely, he's taking things slow and will gradually introduce lamb tagine with almonds and sultanas, spicy North African mergez lamb and summer-tastic garlicky fava bean salad in the upcoming months.
Ja Ja? Ya Ya!