Tuesday, May 12, 2009


One of my favorite songs as a teenager was "Marrakech Express." Something about that bright and bouncy tune made me want to travel to Morocco. When my then fiancee and I were planning our wedding, we even toyed with the idea of honeymooning in Marrakech. While that never panned out, I've always been fascinated by northern Africa.

Maybe it was that fascination that I pulled me into Marrakech last weekend. We were visiting friends in northern New Jersey. It was too wet to hike, so we make the trek to Montclair for the annual museum fundraiser, Art in the Park. There were four tents with crafts from the region and beyond, another tent for kids crafts, and a caravan of food trucks.  It was a soggy Sunday, and after a few hours browsing the craft stalls, we were chilled and tired. Marrakech proved to be the perfect antidote. 

The restaurant has two dining rooms, and we opted for the inner sanctum, separated from the main dining room by a beaded curtain. The tables are low and surrounded by banquets covered in orange and gold striped pillows. Our waitress delivered baskets filled with warm pita wedges and bowls of tappenade, tangy and garlicy and redolent of olives. The menu offered a wealth of choices for vegetarians and carnivores. While we waited for our meals to arrive, we were served sweet mint tea from individual silver pots and poured into clear classes.

Our entrees included bouillabaisse, a tagine of lamb and prunes, brochettes of chicken and lamb served with zalouk (eggplant with garlic and tomatoes) and a salad, couscous de ma mere au poulet (couscous with chicken breast, raisins, chick peas and caramelized onions), and traditional Moroccan couscous served with vegetables. Each plate was attractively arranged, and every choice was delicious. My couscous de ma mere was a perfect blend of sweet and savory, with enough couscous for a second meal. 

None of us had room left for dessert, but that just means we'll have to return. 

We had a chance to ask the chef for his recipe for tappenade. He told us to put olives in a food processor with a little garlic and extra-virgin olive oil to taste. I blended a combination of canned black olives with pitted Kalamata olives, and the result was delicious. It's an easy appetizer to keep on hand for drop-in guests or for any sudden snack attacks. It will take you straight to Morocco without the hassle of boarding a plane.

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