Carthage Café
By Lise Boullard

Window Seat, Please

Searching for the perfect setting for your next big date-night or celebratory dinner? Look no further than what can be described as one of the most romantic rooms in the city — Carthage Café on Commercial Drive. Vancouver’s only Tunisian restaurant, Carthage serves classic French and Tunisian fare using fresh ingredients and exotic spices.

Opened in 2006 by brothers Zico and Mohammed Draoui, the room itself has an intimate, authentic charm unlike anywhere else in Vancouver. With its bay windows, glossy 85-year-old mahogany floors and walls, candle-lit tables and fine-dining service, Carthage has mastered the Parisian bistro vibe. Not surprisingly, Carthage draws a strong French crowd. “When I opened here I discovered there was a big French community in Vancouver,” says Zico.

My favourite dish is the Couscous Carthage with Fish. For dessert it’s the homemade profiterole with puff pastry and high quality ice cream with fresh berries. - Zico Draoui, owner
Carthage Café, Tunisian cuisine, French cuisine, Traditional Couscous
Good things come in small packages: Carthage Café seats just 30.

Couscous for Two

This warm, rich setting provides the perfect backdrop for feasting on delicacies from France and Tunisia, cooked up by Zico and his team of chefs. The menu’s shining star is its couscous; a quintessential North African stew served over a fluffy wheat semolina grain, which shows up regularly on restaurant menus in France. (French colonization of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in the 1800s has resulted in a strong reciprocal influence between France and North African cultures).

Carthage serves its couscous in six variations: vegetable, fish, chicken, lamb shank, merguez or the traditional Carthage Couscous, which combines chicken, lamb, merguez and autumn vegetables. Though other restaurants in the city serve “blonde” Moroccan and Algerian-style couscous, Carthage has the monopoly on the Tunisian style, which boasts a tomato-coriander base. French specialties make its appearance in the form of escargot, pepper steak, French onion soup, profiteroles and crème caramel for dessert.

Carthage Café, Tunisian cuisine, French cuisine, Traditional Couscous
Seafood and vegetable stew over saffron rice: one of Zico’s rotating specials.

Top Chef

Though Zico has never been to France, he did study French culinary techniques in Quebec. He first immigrated to Montreal from Tunisia in 1985, where he worked in restaurants for 25 years, honing his cooking skills at culinary school in Quebec City. He then made the move to Vancouver where he further perfected the art of French cooking at The Smoking Dog and Le Gavroche before deciding to go out on his own.

Today, Zico is one of the rare restaurant owners in Vancouver who also is the head chef of his establishment. That means he spends most of his days in the restaurant’s kitchen, pouring his passion and expertise into every dish. It also protects against talent turnover, which can spell the end of a restaurant when its star chef moves on to greener pastures.

“I will always be here. There isn’t the danger of a talented chef leaving and me having to struggle to find someone else to replace them,” says Zico. Good thing he gets the chance to escape the kitchen every once in a while to chat with guests, many of them locals from the Commercial Drive neighbourhood. “I make sure I come out and say ‘hi’ to guests and regulars,” he says. Lucky for us, we get to experience both Zico’s culinary talents and his charisma.

Carthage Café, Tunisian cuisine, French cuisine, Traditional Couscous
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