Barbès is a comfortable French–Moroccan restaurant in Murray Hill, named for a Paris neighborhood known for its North African immigrant population. It is less than a block from the Pierpont Morgan Library. Indeed, it was an evening concert at the PML that drew my friend and me to a pre-show dinner at Barbès.
Tomate Montrachet (left); Couscous Royale (right)
I started with the Tomate Montrachet ($9.75), a warm tomato and goat cheese salad in a red wine vinaigrette. It was competently done, if rather dull. For the main course, I had the Couscous Royale ($20.75), which comes studded with lamb, chicken, and Merguez sausage. Frank Bruni raved about this dish in his one-star review, but I found it a bit dry. It came out rather quickly, so clearly all the ingredients were prepped in advance, and perhaps had simmered a bit too long.
My friend ordered two appetizers, which I didn’t photograph, but I noted that either one of them could have been an entrée in many restaurants. She particularly enjoyed the Confit de Canard, which Frank Bruni also liked.
After the concert, we came back for dessert. I was rather lax in my note-taking, but I believe this was the Warm Apple Tart ($7), which was wonderful: the best thing I had all evening.
The dining room was considerably busier later on, but on both visits the service was fast and attentive. Tables are rather closely spaced in the 50-seat dining room, and the sound track was a little too loud for our taste.
Portions are generous and prices moderate, with appetizers $7.75–12.75, and entrées $17.75–26.75. There are an ample number of reasonably priced wines, including the Crozes-Hermitage we had for around $35.
The food is uneven, but if you have a craving for Moroccan food, there isn’t a lot of competition. For that, and for being a decent sensibly-priced option in its neighborhood, Barbès wins a star.
Barbès (21 East 36th Street near Madison Avenue, Murray Hill)