International Philadelphia

Morocco

Marrakesh Restaurant

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Snug among lower South street. A turn here, a turn there, and ANOTHER turn and you’ll fund yourself at Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant. The following review precisely tells of our experience.  http://www.philadelphiarestaurants.com/review.cfm/restaurant/939/Marrakesh

We pass through the first floor, noticing that, due to the low, couch-like, communal seating, the entire area has the social atmosphere of an intimate get-together. It seems like a unique dining experience, although, one that is dependent on your social mood. He leads us to the second floor, which is relatively vacant, a shocking, yet pleasant transition from the first-floor social scene.

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We sit down on low couches lined with floral and gold-traced pillows. Several pillars link the floor and ceiling, giving the room the feel of a palace. The room is dominated by red, turquoise, gold, and brown. The Moorish influence is apparent in the key-shaped doorways, while traces of Middle-Eastern influence lie within the delicately designed rugs hung from the walls and ceilings.

The waiter approaches us, lays towels on our laps, takes our hands, and pours water on them from an old-fashioned tea pot that looks somewhat like a genie lamp from Aladdin. We rub our hands clean and dry them on our laps.

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Shortly after this ritual, the first of our seven courses arrives. It is a Three Salad Platter, with a colorful array of Oasis Carrots with Coriander; Cucumbers and Bell Peppers in Mediterranean Seasoning; and Cooked Eggplant in Tomato Sauce, with, of course, pita on the side as an edible utensil. The cucumbers and peppers are the crunchiest of the three, with a hint of garlic and vinegar. The carrots, although not as raw, are not fully cooked, so they retain a bit of their crunch, adding a refreshing aspect to their spicy, garlicky zing. The eggplant is warm and pureed, contributing a smooth, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth aspect to the trio. Dipped, combined, and wrapped in warm pita, the salad’s texture and flavor is versatile and voluptuous.

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The second course, B’Stella, has us confused about whether or not we are indulging in an appetizer or dessert. Although the filling is made of chicken, nuts, almonds, eggs, parsley, and onions, the outside is baked in flaky filo dough and topped with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon. Despite the categorical and consecutive confusion, our palates are able to transcend cultural boundaries into the inevitable satisfaction of unexpected sweetness.

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The laid-back attitude of the staff is relaxed, without being negligent, as the vibrant Arabic music flows throughout the colorfully decorated space, as well as our tongues and taste buds.

The third course is the first main course, a Spicy Chicken with Cumin Sauce. It comes as bare wings, with thighs attached, swimming in thick gravy and garnished with orange slices and parsley. The chicken is melt-in-your-mouth tender with traces of ginger and saffron. Depending on where and how much you immerse your chicken in the sauce, the degree of spiciness varies, although the flavor lingers throughout. My date decides on full-immersion and is deliberately overwhelmed by the spicy intensity, while I choose to graze the chicken over the sauce and am fulfilled by a milder zing.

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Next comes the Tajine of Lamb with Almonds and Honey—a sweet follow-up to the spiciness. Moroccan lamb is typically cooked so long that it is tender enough to be pulled apart with the fingers, and this case is no exception. The almonds add a nice, crunchy texture and the warm tomato base soaks in, to give it the full feel of a hearty entree.

After confirming we are finished with the lamb, despite seeing our hands resting on our swelling stomachs, our servers bring out another dish. It is a Middle-Eastern staple that has already been adapted by the American culture: Couscous. Cooked stew-style with potatoes and carrots, and blended with chickpeas, raisins, and chicken, it has a brown-sugar sweetness, gradually leading us to the dessert aspect of the meal.

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The sixth course, a fruit basket, arrives with green grapes, oranges, two peeled bananas, strawberries and two apples, and is served on ice, which makes each bite cool and refreshing. After indulging in such an eloquent meal, it is all I need to feel like Arabian royalty.

Last, but not least, the dessert arrives. Mint tea, one of the most culturally and socially principal drinks of Morocco, is served in small, clear glasses, and poured by our waiter from a standing height. This type of pour enhances the taste of the tea and adds bubbles to it, the way Moroccans traditionally prefer. In addition, the presentation is somewhat dramatic, adding an essentially climactic effect to the final course.

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Along with the tea, the final course includes Baklava, cut into two small triangles, with the strong, yet smooth, taste of pistachio. It is crunchy, flaky, fruity, chewy, and spicy, and followed by the sweet, yet invigorating mint tea, has the final refreshing touch on an almost overly-filling, but extremely fulfilling meal.

While we do not want to ruin the vibe by asking the cost of this exquisite and abundant experience, it is shockingly relieving to discover that the price is very affordable at less than fifty dollars per person, including wine, drink, tax and tip. For seven courses, we certainly cannot complain.

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If there is one piece of advice I can offer it is this: come hungry and pace yourself. It’s a lot of food, and it would be a shame to waste it on a full stomach.

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