Dining with Denise Newsletter
July 18, 2014

Review: Marrakech Cafe brings Moroccan cuisine to northeast Wichita

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.

A closing, an opening and a reopening

1. Thai Smile, 1601 E. Pawnee: The Thai restaurant’s owners announced on Facebook on Saturday that it was closing for good. “Unfortunately we cannot keep opening for personal reasons,” the post read. It also said that if the owners could find a way to reopen the restaurant in the future, they would. Last summer, Sakunphan Pongphan moved the restaurant from its original spot at 1524 S. Seneca to the bigger location on Pawnee, the former Li’l Mexico building. When it first opened four years ago, Thai Smile was called Thai Five.

2. Eastern Cuisines, 613 W. Douglas: A new restaurant is moving into the space that Lotus Leaf vacated in March when it moved to 251 N. Washington in Old Town. Tumaini✔ Kilangwa, a native of Tanzania, says she will open Eastern Cuisines in the space on Aug. 11. The restaurant will serve breakfast and a lunch buffet that focuses on foods native to countries including Africa, England, Ireland, India, Italy and the Philippines. It will include items such as rice pilaf, samosas, noodle dishes and kabobs. She’ll also have meat pies, beans, vegetables and many styles of potatoes. The restaurant will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Saturday. The buffet will end at 3 p.m. each day, but pastries and coffee will be available until close. Kilangwa, who moved to Wichita in 2000, said she has been doing catering from home while saving money to open a restaurant – and building her confidence.

3. Stroud’s, 3661 N. Hillside: The restaurant, which closed last week after a fire heavily damaged its kitchen, is expected to reopen in the first week of August, said manager Kevin Allis. Staff members are now cleaning up and assessing the damage, which Allis said could have been much worse. “When we got in there and saw the daylight on it, it really wasn’t that bad,” he said. The big question is whether the kitchen’s custom hood was too damaged to be repaired. If it wasn’t, Stroud’s should be able to reopen within about three weeks. If it was, it’s going to be longer because the hood must be custom-made, Allis said. You can get cleanup updates by following the Stroud’s Facebook page

Taco truck, bar team up for Taco Thursdays

Chino’s Parrilla, the taco truck that’s mostly a catering business, now will offer its food on a regular basis. The owners have partnered with Maggie’s Scotch & Soda at 3827 W 13th St. North to begin offering Taco Thursdays. Every Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., they’re taking over the unused kitchen at the bar and preparing street tacos, tostadas, nachos, beans, rice, fiesta dogs and more for owner Maggie Ballard’s customers.

The partnership came about after Chino’s Parrilla, owned by Chino Herrera, his wife, Kim, his daughter, Tasha Schrant, and his son-in-law, Bill Schrant, was hired by Ballard to serve at a Cinco de Mayo party at the bar. “We talked to her about the fact that she had a kitchen she was not using a lot,” Bill Schrant said. “We thought this would get some more people in there for her on Thursday nights and would be a way for us to get our food out there.”

Chino’s Parrilla opened in 2012 and since then has served its food at street fairs and private parties. The owners dream of opening a restaurant someday and decided this would be good practice. The Thursday night menus also will offer specialty tacos including an Asian-inspired “Kung Pow” taco and a carne elote taco, filled with steak, cheese, cabbage, sour cream sauce and sprinkled with corn and Parmesan. Ballard will offer drink specials such as $2 Coronas and $3 margaritas. For more information, call 316-990-3646.

It’s almost Free Tea Day

The sixth annual McAlister’s Deli Free Tea Day is on Thursday, July 24, when the chain plans to give away 350,000 glasses of tea across the country. Patrons can get one free 32-ounce glass of sweet or unsweetened tea each, and no purchase or coupon is necessary. Wichita’s McAlister’s locations are at 306 N. Rock Road and 7130 W. Maple.

Still craving for a restaurant that closed? Share your memories

It was bad enough back in May when Golden House, the fried-rice destination of choice of downtown workers for 16 years, closed its doors at 504 S. Broadway, then was bulldozed into oblivion.

Just a couple of weeks later, the 20-year-old Yen Ching at 430 N. Rock Road also closed, taking with it its amazing sizzling rice soup and moo shu pork.

And this week, another longtime restaurant disappeared. Red Beans Bayou Grill, which had been providing Wichita with reliable jambalaya and etouffee since 1998, closed for good at the end of business on Thursday. Owner Bill Rowe said his lease at Red Beans at 7447 W. 21st was up, and he decided not to renew and to focus instead on his Blue Moon Caterers. He’ll auction off all the restaurant decor at 9 a.m. Monday and the kitchen equipment at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Restaurants come. Restaurants go. But when the restaurant that goes is one of your favorites, the cravings can linger for years, even decades.

This week, I’m asking local foodies to help me reminisce about restaurants we used to know. I want you to send me the names of your favorite Wichita restaurant or restaurants that have closed and tell me what, specifically, you miss about them.

I could go on and on.

The Chinese buffet at Kwan Court, which closed in 2011, stood alone in a sea of super buffets. Its offerings were focused and always fresh and delicious. I miss the hot and sour soup in particular.

It was a chain, yes, but I loved Romano’s Macaroni Grill, which closed in Bradley Fair in 2006. That complimentary rosemary focaccia loaf. The cheap glasses of chianti, poured on the honor system. The singing waiters. The penne Rustica.

I also miss Da Nang’s banh mi. Bartelli’s New York slices. King’s X’s counter full of regulars. Maharaja’s centrally located Indian food.

And don’t even get me started on the tragic 2006 closing of Angelo’s at 1930 S. Oliver after 46 years in business. Owners of the family-run Italian restaurant, home to Wichita’s favorite pizza, cannelloni and eggplant-topped Italian salads, have considered a comeback several times over the years but are looking for the right backer.

Sometimes, if you wish hard enough, your favorite restaurant does return. Tanya’s Soup Kitchen was mourned from the time it closed in 2004 until it reopened at 1725 E. Douglas in 2011. Same for Frida’s, the home of the amazing pirata and salsa selection, which closed in 2010 and reopened as Molino’s last year.

Usually, though, once a restaurant is gone, it’s gone, and your only options are to try to re-create the recipes at home or travel to other cities that have a version of the closed restaurant and hope the reality lives up to your memory.

Or, in this case, you can share your food memories with others and see whether they’re still hungry, too.

You have two ways to share your memories of your most-missed restaurants.

The first one is to go to the Dining with Denise Facebook page ( www.facebook.com/diningwithdenise) and share it on the post pinned to the top. (You could go ahead and “like” the page while you’re there.)

The second, if you’re not a Facebook user, is to e-mail it to me at dneil@wichitaeagle.com. Be sure to include your full name.

Tell me the name of the restaurant, what you miss and any other memories. If you have photos of yourself or your family or friends in the restaurant, even better.

The Wichita restaurants I named existed during the past 20 years, but yours can be as old or as new as you want. Be sure and send your reply by July 21. I’ll share some of your comments in Go! on July 25.