NOW THAT you've seen "Out of Africa," maybe you'd be interested in getting into Africa. A quick glance around the unassuming African Room in Mount Pleasant wouldn't automatically announce that you're in an African restaurant. But look again: There's an eight-foot boa skin stretched out on one wall, a beautiful ceremonial drum from Senegal on another, portraits of grand African kings and African artwork made from iridescent butterfly wings. And the high-spirited sounds of makossa, reggae and rhumba pulse percussively in the room.
Owner/chef and sometimes disc jockey Ibrahim Thiero makes you feel at home right away and dispels any apprehensions about the foodstuffs of Africa. His authentic and adventurous menu spans the African continent, borrowing dishes from Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta, Ghana, Toga, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire and Sierra Leone.
Thiero, who sometimes greets guests in his splendid bou bou, the traditional dress of Africa, was chef at the Baobab and Last Hurrah before starting his own pan-African place, and he's as devoted to entertaining and teaching people about Africa's culture and history as he is to feeding them.
If you're a new face, Thiero will be pleased to give you a culinary geography lesson. The dishes, based on stews and rices with exotic ingredients like cassava leaves and palm butter, are hot enough to rival peppery Thai cuisine, and each entree has a fascinating history, which will set Thiero to spinning stories of African kings and countries.
The eating style is communal, and if you brave the hotter dishes, you can wash it down with Thiero's startling homemade ginger beer, which is like fighting fire with fire. On Fridays and Saturdays, you can dance off your dinner as the lights dim, the mirror ball spins and the African Room becomes a lively African disco.
Open since June 1985, the African Room attracts a healthy mix of loyal locals, visiting parties of Africans and curious first-timers as colorful and varied as the fare. The restaurant also has a picture window facing ethnically eclectic Mount Pleasant Street that's better than MTV -- the passing faces on the street can't help peeking in to see what the fun is about.
THE AFRICAN ROOM -- 3102 Mt. Pleasant St. NW. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Tuesday-Sunday 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. for dinner. Disco Friday and Saturday beginning at 10:30 p.m. Entrees $5.50 to $11.50. No credit cards. Call 234-1600.