Pizza, burgers, chicken strips, Easy Mac – such is the weekly pattern of many a college student. But one sip from a tall emerald blue glass at Zanzibar, home of North African and island cuisine on State Street, transports a diner from campus to the Caribbean. It is a restaurant often passed by, occasionally admired, but rarely frequented by the average student who may feel more comfortable at the more wallet-friendly Mr. Greek’s or chicken-happy Buffalo Wild Wings, both situated across the street from Zanzibar. Four hungry souls in pursuit of finer dining set out to discover what this mystery had in store.

Angela Cesere
Zanzibar offers many exotic dishes, such as Caribbean seafood stew. (SHUBRA OHRI/Daily)

Though the bamboo furniture and palm-patterned upholstery bring to mind memories of dinner with the grandparents in their Boca Raton retirement center dining room – and the dinner crowd does little to change that impression – Zanzibar is as upscale as any Main Street restaurant.

Spanish-style “black and whites,” littleneck clams in a spicy ham broth, are an appetizer not to be missed. The clams are succulent, with a hint of garlic; generous chunks of ham accompanies the broth, which doubled as an excellent dipper for the petite loaves of in-house baked bread. Another fine complement to the bread was grilled cypriot halloumi, a sheep and goat’s milk cheese, which arrived warm and melty with sides of salted green olives, pickled grapes and a sweet shredded carrot salad.

Specialty salads included a farmer’s market tomato salad, whose mild tomato base was enhanced by feta and lemons. Though flavorful, the heirloom tomatoes were soggy, detracting from the overall enjoyment of the dish.

Neither of the day’s featured soups, shrimp bisque and a black bean and bacon, were worthy of raves, but our server was honest in telling my companions and me of their shortcomings ahead of time. He was also prompt and attentive, never leaving water glasses empty. A perk for the food-sensitive: leave the Epi-Pen at home, as Zanzibar features a detailed recipe list of every item on the menu.

Zanzibar’s entree list brings an entirely new dimension to the table, offering vegetarian, seafood and meat dishes boasting flavors from all corners of the world. The seafood stew was exotic; chunks of mango infused the sauce without making it too sweet, adding to the large chunks of salmon and scallops. The orzo was perfectly cooked and was harmonious with the steamed spinach accents. As a vegetarian option, we found the eggplant and zucchini purses delicious, filled with a creamy cheese center in an Italian-style tomato sauce. Though the entrees are expensive, ranging from $14-22 per dish, they are big enough to be shared by at least two.

No meal would be complete without dessert, and Zanzibar is happy to oblige with a variety of chocolate and fruit options. The peach ice cream sandwich left much to be desired; the cookie was hard, almost inedible, and the ice cream was more of a barely flavored sorbet. Chocolate pave, however, made up for it. Beautifully plated, it arrived as two sticks of satiny rum fudge and a chocolate-almond cookie, an excellent after-dinner sweet tooth satisfier.

As if to further its claim to be unlike all the other area restaurants, Zanzibar delivers the bill accompanied with chocolate-dipped chunks of candied white ginger. They taste good, but not quite good enough to take the sting off the total.

Zanzibar is famed for its Sunday brunch, especially its eggs benedict a la Zanzibar; the dish features sweet potato biscuits, topped with crab cakes, poached eggs and a jalapeA

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