In a city full of Mediterranean- and Lebanese-influenced restaurants, it only makes sense that there should be a Moroccan option, as the cuisines share many of the same influences. Enter Marrakech Cafe, which opened earlier this year. Here diners can find traditional food from the owner’s native Morocco.
The small eatery is tucked into a strip mall at 21st and Woodlawn in an area that is home to a variety of ethnic restaurants. Inside the recently updated dining room are several two- and four-top tables as well as easy chairs for kicking back and enjoying Moroccan tea.
The highlights of the concise menu are the tagine dishes, which feature chicken, beef, or lamb cooked with vegetables or fruit in a traditional earthenware pot called a tagine. Also, there is a chicken pie called a bastilla and several salads, including zaalouk, made with eggplant and tomato, and the ubiquitous fattoush. Rounding out the menu are shawarma wraps and grape leaves. Special dishes are offered throughout the week including the popular Friday evening couscous meal.
On our first visit, we tried the lamb tagine with dates and slivered almonds, which was brought to the table in the tagine cookware, making for a nice presentation. The bone-in lamb was wonderfully tender, the rendered fat added excellent flavor and texture, and the dates provided a sweet balance to the lamb.
On the menu the bastilla is described as a “plate from heaven,” and after sampling it, I would say that is a fair assessment. The warm phyllo pastry was filled with onions, eggs, shredded chicken and spices. Sprinkled on top of the pie was a light dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon. The sweet and savory mixture of egg, chicken, sugar, and cinnamon was addictive.
We also tried the zaalouk salad, which was more of a dip, but nonetheless made for a good shared plate served with soft pita. The cold dip consisted of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers and various spices, namely cumin.
On our next visit we tried the new lunch buffet, which featured steamed rice, falafel, several tagine dishes of chicken and beef, Moroccan bread and fresh fruit. The fresh falafel was good, but overall, I thought ordering off the menu yielded better food than what was offered on the buffet. Luckily we were still able to order a bastilla.
The service on our first visit was excellent as the waitress walked us through the menu and offered suggestions. During our next visit, the staff was strained because of a larger crowd and new lunch buffet. We had to wait for drinks and for the silverware to be replenished on the buffet.