Originally, the Spice Grille billed itself as serving Caribbean and African cuisine. We could use a good Caribbean restaurant, but there is quite a bit of competition when it comes to African food, a state of affairs that would have been unheard of not that many years ago here.

The atmosphere at Spice Grille is akin to fine dining in the area. No televisions, comfortable lighting, music low enough to talk over. The mostly African menu can be a bit confusing, but service is pleasant, predictable and flexible. If you are not used to this kind of cuisine, you'll find patient wait staff willing to help you understand what you are ordering, and they are willing to substitute side dishes and accommodate tastes. African food can be spicy and servers are good about providing side sauces at various heat levels so you can try your taste buds and give them a break now and again.

Meals begin with a bowl of plantain chips. Once again, this sets up the meal nicely with a colorful bowl set against a nicely dressed table. It makes wait times pleasant and conversation easy. We began with kelewele ($8.99), cubes of plantain dressed with a spice mixture hard to decipher. Cayenne? Perhaps a little ginger and chili? It's hard to say, but it's a nice introduction to the food of Ghana.

Food is generally good, but some preparation details are overlooked when considering the price point. The banku, made with fermented corn and cassava, and served with the tilapia ($18.99), was excellent with the touch of sourness that makes it a side dish rather than a simple starch on the side. The grilled tilapia, nicely spiced and served with a variety of sauces at various heat levels, lacked the crispness you might expect from a grilled fish, the skin being a little soft and the flesh a little dry.

The reverse was the case for the curry goat with rice ($16.99). The curry, spiced so differently from Asian curries, and the full, rich sauce was served with a sticky rice soft in some places and hard in other places. This little bit of unevenness in both dishes seemed like it could be easily resolved.

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The Ghana pancake, a sweet rolled crepe ($4.99), makes a nice finish to the meal. Exactly why most restaurants in the area can't seem to whip their own cream is a mystery, but it seems universally understood in the valley and perhaps that's just the way it is.

The menu is varied and there are a good many options to consider. Spice Grille is the fourth African restaurant in the area and all have taken up the challenge of adapting African comfort foods to accommodate Midwestern tastes. The gap can be considerable and it's good to have the options. And it's also nice to have a fine dining experience that includes the kind of atmosphere that encourages conversation and feels both welcoming and unique.

Spice Grille

Address: 28 Moorhead Center Mall Avenue

Cuisine: African

Food: 2 stars

Service: 3 stars

Ambiance: 4 stars

Dining details

Hours: Tuesday through Thursday - noon to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday - noon to 11 p.m., Sunday - 4 to 8 p.m.

Phone: (218) 477-1112

Reservations accepted: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.