Travel to North Africa for $17.50
Reviewed January 2008 - Spokane Coeur d'Alene Living
Cuisine: Moroccan / North African
Great food almost magically can take you on a trip. One bite of the right pie transports you for just a moment back to Nana's house, a sliver of perfect pizza puts you in a dive bar in Chicago or a store front in New York, and just the smell of a true taco can slip you through the border checkpoint into Tijuana.
Given this power, let me humbly suggest you book a ticket for Morocco immediately simply by calling Marrakesh for a dinner reservation any night this week. No passport is required, but plan to eat with your right hand and sit on the floor on a cushion or along a low padded couch that circles the main room used for dining.
Mamdouh will welcome you with warmth and a sparkle in his eyes. Omar might not show his face, but you'll meet him in every dish that comes out of Marrakesh's kitchen. And between the two of them, you may well forget not only that you are in a cinderblock building on Northwest Boulevard in Spokane, but what continent you are on entirely.
For much of Marrakesh's fifteen years I simply drove by the building and wondered vaguely if the restaurant was still open. From the outside, it has always looked a little worse for wear and about ready to close. Now I'm willing to pray fervently in either English or Arabic (help would be required here) that that day never comes.
Marrakesh transcends the normal dish-by-dish approach most of us use to evaluate a restaurant, and becomes a something of a journey accompanied by Mamdouh, a steaming glass of mint tea, and a bath-sized towel in your lap. And for the price of what you might pay for an appetizer alone at a high-end concept restaurant, Mamdouh and Omar set out a feast in five courses.
The meal begins when you invited to wash your all-important dining utensils (your hands) over a basin that arrives at the table with a pitcher of warm water. Then the tea and a simple saffron lentil soup laced with cumin that subtly suggest you aren't in Kansas anymore.
On the heels of the soup comes a salad of chopped and marinated tomatoes, cucumber, celery, carrots, and red cabbage that you pick up by pinching together pieces of bread that arrive with the salad.
Mamdouh arrives next with the house's Bastela Royale. Imagine a cross between a pot pie and a puff pastry, stuff it with chicken, almonds, and egg and top it with a dusting of powdered sugar and cinnamon: unexpected, surprising, and a delight.
After the Bastela come your entrées-one per person but meant to be shared (again with your hands). Choose from eleven possibilities, but allow me to suggest the Lamb M'Rouzia; Omar pares tender pieces of lamb with rice, onions, raisins, and a honey sauce. Equally wonderful and more savory is the Chicken Lemon and Olives. The meat is actually Cornish game hen, the lemons in the sauce are preserved, the olives green, and it works beautifully.
Truthfully, everything works including the baklava included for dessert. I plan to book another trip as soon as possible, and I'm tempted to spring for the special, order-ahead Mechoui dinner for 8 or more that features a whole sheep roasted on spit over charcoal.
2008 W Northwest Blvd
Spokane, WA 99205
Open 5 - 10 pm, 7 days a week.