Côte d’Ivoire Hospitality

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ZereoueThe word zereoue, I’m told, means someone who brings people together.

“Well, that’s how my father described it to me,” laughs Amos Zereoué (pronounced zaro-way), owner of the restaurant that bears his name. And bringing folks together drives the happenings at Zereoué.

In Zereoué’s homeland of Côte d’Ivoire, traditional cooking usually consists of some kind of stew with vegetables and braised poultry or fish. The reworked versions of these dishes at Zereoué, guided by Head Chef Clement Gogoa, are of a West African-French fusion. “It’s African flair with classic French style,” says Amos Zereoué.

Zereoué, a former NFL player, first opened his midtown restaurant in 2006; and after closing for a short while, it reopened this past summer with a revamped menu and a sophisticated interior design. The ambience hints at dawn in Africa.

Zereoué, 32, immigrated to the United States from West Africa with his family in 1986. He began a career in professional football after graduating

from West Virginia University, where he studied sports management. Zereoué was a running back for the Pittsburg Steelers (1999), the Oakland Raiders (2004) and the New England Patriots (2005). “I used to cook for my Steeler teammates and that’s when my interest in cooking was really ignited,” he says. “I like to cook, I like to entertain; and when I left the NFL I wanted to have someplace where I can invite friends and a place where former teammates can hang out when they’re in town.”

Although the restaurant exudes a hip and modish atmosphere, Zereoué says he’d like customers to drop by to discover cuisine from Côte d’Ivoire. “Foremost, we like to say it’s ‘taste over presentation. Much of the menu is inspired by the cooks in my family, particularly my mother. One of my favorite dishes when I was growing up was peanut stew and I’m happy we have it on the menu.”

Gogoa, who also hails from Côte d’Ivoire, fuses fresh ingredients and herbs, along with grated, dried fish and shrimp he adds to some dishes for enhanced flavoring.
Recently, one evening after lunch and right before the dinner hour, the bar and lounge area was in full swing as a mix of African tunes and world music played beneath the talk.  After being tempted by several items on the menu, choosing a West African specialty seemed apropos. Zereoué explained that kedjenou was a popular dish in his homeland and it’s also a favorite here. The chicken stew is prepared in a canari, a type of African pot used for slow-cooking.

The tender portions of chicken were cooked in a broth of garlic and onions and served with attieke, grated and steamed yucca prepared like a couscous. Whatever spices used to make up the subtle flavors of the dish were indistinguishable.

I also tried another traditional dish and was absolutely delighted with the pieces of broiled kingfish covered in a creamy peanut sauce, which is a blend of ground peanuts, Jamaican peppers and a few chilies.

Aside from offering authentic African dishes, Zereoué also scores points with its live jazz on Thursday evenings and its popular late-night comedy, which is held on Fridays. “I believe a country’s cuisine is like being a spokesperson for that country,” says Zereoué. “I want this to be a place you’ve never heard of, but glad you discovered it.”

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