President Obama is a Luo, a member of a small minority in Kenya, which prompted a former Luo political prisoner Raila Odinga to quip bitterly, “America would have a Luo president before Kenya.”
Indeed, his words came true, and on a similar note, I can proclaim that Las Vegas now has a Kenyan restaurant, Wine 5 Café, which bills itself as “American-Kenyan fusion,” whatever that is. Well, we beat L.A. to it.
Grace Njoroge and her son are in the kitchen, and if what I ate here is any indication of the concept, I want more. The north-side café near Tenaya Way and Cheyenne Avenue used to be a pizza place called Gallo’s, but the eccentric décor—lots of original oils of wine-themed still life, bistro murals and frilly tablecloths—is not discernibly East African in any way.
I visited Nairobi in 1973 and ate chicken curry, a hot specialty at Wine 5. Kenya has a sizable Indian population, and that’s why dishes of Indian origin such as chapatti (an oily flatbread) and samosas (stuffed pastry triangles) are on the menu here.
There is also ugali, a steamed white polenta, which looks like an enormous corn muffin, served with the wine-braised strips of beef called nayama. This is purely African, as beef and maize are staples of the Kenyan diet. Njoroge serves it with a piquant spinach stew, as well as logs of fried sweet potato, a true taste of Africa.
In fact, she’s Africanized these Indian dishes as well. A meal here starts with fried bread, dense golden cylinders that are, by my lights, an appetite-killer if consumed too rapidly. I washed a couple down with Kenyan ginger tea, milky black tea that reminded me of the chai you get in some Indian restaurants.
But the samosas, about twice as large as Indian ones and with softer dough, had ground beef, what I’m guessing were collard greens and a variety of Kenyan spices. Beyond their shape, they bear little resemblance to their Indian counterparts. Did I mention they’re addictive? I’d make a meal of them anytime.
The chicken curry is even better, all legs and thighs on the bone in a large casserole dish. This is a mild, sauce-rich curry, with long shards of carrot, potato and onion smothering the meat, and a crown of green beans. It’s nominally an Indian curry, but again, a dish that reflects the fusion of India and East Africa.
Wonder where America comes in? The rest of the menu is a compendium of burgers, salads and oddball dishes such as green chili-fried vegetable logs, and a delicious sandwich they call their Nairobi hoagie, like a po’ boy with fried tilapia, aioli, lettuce and tomato.
Several low-priced boutique wine choices are available by the bottle or glass, one notable choice being 14 Hands merlot from Washington, a bargain at $26 a bottle.
One thing you won’t find here is Tusker beer, which everyone in Kenya drinks. Many Indian restaurants in California sell it, even though it’s a native Kenyan beer, and Njoroge told me she’s trying hard to get it distributed around here.
We got a Kenyan restaurant before L.A. did, but they got the Tusker.