Tonight we headed out for dinner, not really knowing where we would end up. We were kinda wandering around, looking for a new place to try, and were heading north on Maple St. when I remembered we were near a place I have been wanting to go for dinner. so you might say that it was on a bit of a whim that we decided to try the Moroccan restaurant called Marrakesh, here in Spokane. We turned back towards Northwest Blvd and found the place we were looking for, but I have to admit, the appearance of the place was a bit dilapidated.
It didn't even look like the restaurant was open. The outside had only a few entrances and from outside things inside looked pretty dark. The paint seemed faded and the parking lot unkept, almost as if the place was no longer in business, but there were people and several cars in the parking lot that kept us curious and then we saw a neon "open" sign in the window, and it was on. We we parked the car and made our way to the entrance on the main street.
It was dark inside and it almost felt like we had entered another world, another culture. Middle eastern music filled the air and scents of aromatic spices wafted by us as we were greeted by our host for the evening. He came through a decorated doorway dressed in a red hat, ( I figured this was probably a fez) and slippers as well as a silky sort of attire. Escorting us to another dimly lit room, he offered us a table, which was kinda small and only a a little more than a foot from the floor. It was enough to make a city dwelling person feel just a little Bedouin.
The walls, at least half way to the ceiling, were covered/decorated with carpeting and there were oriental type of rugs on the floor. Also the ceiling was draped with fabric. Geo commented that he had thought before of doing the inside ceiling of a yurt like that before and as I looked around, I have to say it looked and felt quite yurtish to me . We liked it.
Geo also commented that it brought back memories of Saudi Arabia... and no wonder; Arabic is the official language of Morocco and as we looked over the menu we saw that Arabic writing graced the page before us.
We read a warning on the menu that said not to leave valuables in sight in your car as their had been vandalism before. We took the warning seriously and removed our valuables from the sight of passersby. I have heard that in some countries, like Saudi Arabia, thieves are punished severely, usually by the public and gruesome cutting off the offending body part. I suppose that if we were in Saudi, we could have left gold in the car with the windows down and not given it a second thought. It's a little sad to think one would have to post such a warning on a menu in this city of Spokane.
Our host informed us that dinner was to be a five course meal, and that all we had to do was pick two entrees. We asked him what he liked to eat and he gave us some suggestions, but added that the question was a little like asking which child a father wants to visit with, he loved them all. He left us to make our selection and it ended up that we ordered the things he mentioned, Leg of Lamb and Honey Chicken with Prunes. We also ordered hot Marrakesh tea.
Our host disappeared, only to return with clean white towels which he handed to us and told us to put them on our laps. He then bought over what I thought to be a teapot and very large metal bucket which he placed it on the table. a bit perplexed we did as we were instructed, put our hands over the bucket and rub them together, and he poured warm scented water over them from the teapot. It was then that I remembered reading on the menu that utensils would be provided upon request... and I knew we would be eating with our hands. That being the case, the handwashing made perfect sense.
We were instructed to keep our towels, so we kept our towels on our laps and they made perfect napkins as well.
The first item on the menu was the Lentil Soup. It was a flavorful soup, a little spicy, but not much, like maybe a good chili. It was in a bowl, served without a spoon. With it came a glass of water and a glass of tea, which was ust a little unusual as I would have expected a tea cup or coffee cup for hot tea, but it was instead a beverage glass. The soup was delicious and when we finished, the bowls were removed, the tea was replenished, and we waited to see what came next.
Meanwhile the tea was fascinating. It had such a unique flavor. Our host told us it had no sugar in it, but was made in the restaurant using a special blend of herbs and spices only. We kinda doubted that was the case. We even joked about testing it for sugar content. Whatever it was it had our attention and it grew on us the more we tried it.
It was a very fragrant tea, kind of like perfume and it was alluring. It reminded me of scents like jamine and sandalwood, maybe licorice or mint. Whatever it was different from anything I had ever had before in a cup or a glass... and it was great! Our glasses were refilled several times throughout or meal.
Next came what our host called salad. Served with french bread slices, the salad consisted of finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers (or maybe zucchini) celery and cabbage in some sort of tasty, mildly spiced dressing. It's taste, I thought, was simular to gazpacho, only it was not soupy.
After the salad, plates we taken our host retyurned with a pie lloking object that had been sprinkled with powdered sugar. He called it Bastela, announcing that this was an appetizer. He told us it was made with scrambled eggs, almonds and ground chicken. The dough was a filo dough and the Bastela was delicious!
Then came the entrees... Honey Chicken and Leg of Lamb; both served over rice. We ate it all; every bit, to which our host, (whose name was Mamdouh) said, "Life is good!" Then he brought the familiar teapot and basin and we washed hands again. Next he brought desert.
Desert was Baklava, which was a fine way to end the meal. It is a pastry made of layers of filo dough filled with chopped nuts and honey.
We enjoyed dinner very much and it was a pleasure also to talk with our host who for some reason joined us at the door as we left for conversation. He told us he was originally from Egypt and the chef was from Morocco... and that this restaurant had been here 18 years. He joked with us about not coming here before now and told us how people came from all around to eat here, at the Marrakesh. I am sure they do, we will probably return.
We do have some favorite restaurants in Spokane and this may be one we add to our list. As is said in the movie, Casablanca... (Casablanca being the economic capital of Morocco, )
"I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Missed the movie Casablanca? I did too. However, I did see the 30 second version performed by bunnies You can too at:
Casabunca... too funny.