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Ima is the Hebrew word for mother, but the food served at the kosher Teaneck restaurant pales in comparison to the dishes turned out by my Sephardic Jewish mother, who was born in Aleppo, Syria.
The cook at this restaurant is the daughter of the woman who opened the original Ima in Israel, featuring recipes from the family kitchen in Mosul, Iraq. Iraq and Syria share a border, but, judging from the food I ate at Teaneck's Ima, not the spices that set Grace Sasson's food apart.
This is also a kosher restaurant, which means it's expensive. I can understand why dishes with kosher meat are more expensive than non-kosher meat dishes at other restaurants. But why are dishes without meat so expensive?
I wanted to try one of Ima's signature items -- kibbeh -- which is a fried bulgur-wheat casing containing vegetables, but only the meat version was available Sunday evening. Instead, I ordered a red pepper stuffed with rice ($6), a bowl of tomato soup with white beans ($6) and an Israeli salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers that serves two ($8). Hummus was listed at $9.
The food was good, but bland. I couldn't taste any cumin, allspice or tamarind sauce, just three of the ways my mother seasoned her home-cooked dishes.
The restaurant is simply decorated and seats about 20. During my visit Sunday evening, I saw at least three, large Israeli families with noisy children eating there.
After I ordered, I received a small bowl of pickled vegetables and a single, doughy, partially burned pocket bread. I asked for a second bread during my meal. I drank water, because there was no seltzer.
Ima is about a mile from my home, and I was hoping it was a place where I could experience the flavors of my mother's kitchen, but I'll have to continue driving to Paterson for the real thing.
Ima Restaurant, 445 Cedar Lane, Teaneck; 201-357-5789.
Closed Friday at 4 p.m. during the summer, and all day Saturday.