February 2, 2013
Marrakesh, Philadelphia PA
The Three-Salad Platter
Spicy Chicken with Cumin Sauce
Tajine of Lamb with Almonds and Honey
Marinated Berber Beef Shish Kebab
Couscous Grand Atlas Topped with Vegetables, Chick Peas and Raisins
Basket of Fresh Fruits
After hearing about the exotic experience at the popular Marrakesh, I was so excited to go there with our dance team. It was cold and snowing, but we stood outside the door for over thirty minutes since our party was huge and they needed time to clear out two rooms for us. The traditional Moroccan restaurant was quite obscured, and you had to knock on the door for them to let you in. Inside, it was very crowded and decorated in a Moroccan style. I loved the atmosphere, with everyone sitting down on couches around a stainless steel plate-like table. The server brought out rosewater for us to wash our hands. There were no eating utensils. The bread that was passed around in a huge basket was used as the vessel for eating all the food. For $25, $30 after tax and tips, we enjoyed a seven-course meal and were so stuffed. I loved the entire experience of the most traditional, family-style Moroccan food.
The first course was The Three-Salad Platter, which included zaalouk (cooked eggplants in tomato sauce), oasis carrots with cucumber, and cucumber and bell peppers in Mediterranean seasoning. The cucumber and peppers salad was refreshing and tasted similar to a Greek salad. The carrots were like that of a carrot salad in Mediterranean cuisine, with the carrots flavourful and slightly mushy. My favourite was by far the large chunks of mushy eggplant. Each piece was literally a quarter of a medium-sized eggplant, so tangy, so sweet, and absolutely delicious!
Up next was The B’stella, or rather a pastilla, which was a layered pie made from phyllo pastry, stuffed with chicken, eggs, assorted nuts, almonds, parsley, and onions and topped with confection sugar and cinnamon. Never have I tried chicken with eggs, cinnamon, sugar, and nuts, all in the same bite. I do not regret it, as it was amazing. It was freshly out of the oven and piping hot we had to wait a while before digging in, and digging in we did. The dough was flaky, thin, and crisp. The top was sweet and spiced with cinnamon but the center was savoury and bouncy from all the eggs. The chicken did not have much flavour but made the filling a bit more substantial. I did not taste much of the nuts but the overall flavour was multi-layered. Savoury and sweet, flaky and bouncy, it was a gorgeous pie.
For the third course, which was also the first main course, our table unanimously chose the Spicy Chicken in Cumin Sauce. According to their online menu, there are three versions of non-spicy chicken, but we were only offered the choice of spicy or non-spicy. The cumin sauce was incredibly red and hot. It was not like chili pepper hot but rather spices hot. However, when eaten with the chicken and bread, it was certainly more than bearable. The chicken was quite tough and dry on the inside and rather bland. Only the parts near the surface were juicy and tender, soaking up the flavour of the sauce. The skin was quite thick and fatty, relatively unappealing. If it were not for the sauce, this would not have been good.
Since we had so many people, we were able to get two different choices for our second main course. The first was the Tajine of Lamb with Almonds and Honey. Again, we were not offered the other preparation for the lamb with onions and chick peas. The lamb was delicious, though. It was moist, succulent, and cooked to tender perfection. The honey gave it a slightly sweet undertone. The almonds did not add much to the dish for me, but each large bite of lamb was absolutely phenomenal.
The most disappointing course of the evening was the Marinated Berber Beef Shish Kebab. The peppers and onions were nicely grilled with a char on them. The large cubes of beef, however, were extremely tough and very dry. They had some spices on the exterior but the inside was bland and sinewy. It was not just I could not chew through it, but I could barely bite into the meat, it was that tough.
The last main course – I know, there was so much food, but bear with me! – was Couscous Grand Atlas Topped with Vegetables, Chick Peas and Raisins. The couscous was nothing special. It also had shredded chicken that was slightly dry and bland. While I did not like the potatoes, I did like the soft sweet potato, chick peas, and plump, juicy raisins. The dish lacked moisture and did not shine compared to some of the other dishes.
Next, they served us a Basket of Fresh Fruits. This was actually quite refreshing and pleasant. Oranges, apples, strawberries, bananas, and large red grapes were a nice touch. However, I was disappointed we never got the hot mint tea that everyone was raving about online. I was rather looking forward to that.
Finally, just as we were about to leave, they served a plate of Moroccan Pastries, or rather the most delicious baklava. It arrived late because they ran out and had to make a new batch. These just came out of the oven and were warm and dripping with overly sweet syrup. I could eat the sweetest things, so it was no problem. More than one or two would have made anyone go on a sugar high, though. A bit more chopped nuts would have been nice to contrast the stickiness and the flaky phyllo dough. As over the top as these were, they were certainly addicting.
The belly dancer that came by was very entertaining, and being a dance team, we had a lot of fun with the three moves she taught us. It was a most enjoyable evening, being a BYO and all. I just wish the restaurant was better lit so we could see the food clearer. Apart from that and the tight squeeze around the table, it was a great night spent with fellow team members – a fine Moroccan experience!