The health fad spawned from the pits of Monsanto protests and Netflix shockumentaries has sent Americans, who have lost touch with the craft of composing daily life-conscious meals, on a shopping frenzy for overpriced Whole Foods produce and organic Pop Tarts. It is the rediscovery that starting any meal with whole ingredients and without cutting corners is the cheapest, healthiest and most delicious way to go about putting things in your orifice.
5470 South 900 East Ste A
Murray, UT 84117
Mon. – Fri. 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sat. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Starting with the basics and overlooking the capitalist traps known as “organic only,” let’s look at owner Nick Shams, his partner Cary and the little things they do at CousCous Grill to make price and plate the only thing behind your food.
“It’s little techniques that make the biggest differences in your diet,” says Shams, who wakes up early every morning with his 15 employees, including members of his family, to dice and prep all the raw ingredients that make up the bold Mediterranean fusion flavors that are CousCous Grill.
To think it almost didn’t happen. Years back, Shams found something that his life as a professional father, chef and restaurant-overseer couldn’t afford: cancer. He was given many choices for treatment and would eventually find his plan of attack, but what medicine couldn’t fix, his life choices could.
He comfortably explained to me, after his usual friendly greeting when I came for lunch a few weeks back, that with a strict regimen of diet and exercise, Shams would ultimately live to see his demon through hell and feel the inspiration to originate a just-for-fun-project, which has become one of my favorite restaurants.
Outside, this gold-mine looks like just another roadside strip mall joint that can best be spotted at night from its light-weaved sign shining the words CousCous.
Inside, the industrially bejeweled walls and turquoise-inlayed wooden booths of a gutted-out Bahio carry over a new theme of the Old World beautifully.
If you’re not instantly greeted by some of the finest smells that their made-to-order, open-faced kitchen has to offer, then a menu and welcoming staff member will have to do as you talk specials and place your order at the register. This will give you just enough time to grab your drink, pick a table and study the soup bar, home to two of CousCous’ always-changing daily soup specials ($4.00).
I’ll start by saying that I never go without making soup part of my meal here. Whether it be Shams’ take on tomato basil, salmon curry or lamb and lentil, each promises to be hearty, full of veggie love and different every time you dine.
“I begin every soup with a single pot of water,” Shams explains. Unlike what we’ve figured to be the norm, this process takes away the need for stocks or cream bases and puts all of its faith in the chef’s experience. Every flavor and texture has been thoughtfully tossed in the pot to create these warm and humble spoonfuls.
It’s a good thing that CousCous offers a bottomless soup, authentic pizza and salad lunch ($9.99) because the light, sweet and zingy lemon-basil dressing would be better served in a Big Gulp.
At this point, let’s hope that you’ve sat down and started on your appetizer because food should be at your table.
The Mediterranean Burrito ($8.99) is what I’d expect on my usual lunch break. Think your choice of grilled chicken, shrimp, steak or ground lamb, then let it rest on a whole-grain tortilla before it’s stuffed with couscous, refried garbanzo beans, avocado, yogurt dill sauce and Charmoula Sauce (we’ll call it Moroccan Pico). The creamy dill, fused with the onions and tomato from the Charmoula, will sweeten and add a second texture to the deeper, more prominent flavors of lamb and couscous which have been seasoned with three or four of the 16 spices in Shams’ vault.
This, or sometime after you taste the side of baked garbanzo chips and cool mango salsa, is usually when you realize that everything you’re now eating came through the back door as raw, unaltered food life forms.
It’s also a good thing you brought your friends as scapegoats, since sharing ensures that you get to try everything.
In that case you’d be eating the Chicken Florentine Bake ($9.99), which can be saved from gluten provided you request the zucchini noodles. It comes served as a sizzling clay plate with grilled chicken, in a garlicky Alfredo sauce, Italian ham and fresh spinach laid over steaming penne with mozzarella to top. It’ll be the cheese that locks in moisture and drags the best part of the sauce, which has been partially bake-simmered into the rest of the dish, to the very bottom.
Now that you’ve finished the substance, you can mop up the lingering Alfredo with your fresh side of rosemary bread. Keep in mind that all of the breads come from unbleached flour with extra-virgin olive oil, where butter would have taken its place. Because of this, any bread coming from CousCous looks, tastes and feels lighter in your stomach without you having to feel like a hippie for eating healthy tasteless food –it’s chewy, a tiny bit salty, with a hint of yeast, herbs and there’s no blandness about it.
CousCous has also built quite the catering reputation about town and is also just about ready to install a new-and-improved version of their buffet line. They’ve just introduced lamb, salmon or turkey burgers slid under a red pepper sauce with fresh tomato, caramelized onions, avocados and feta with a salad on the side.