THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon Square
Once again, Official Friend of DCWD MPDD was in town, two weeks away from a yearlong stint in Ecuador. She rounded up a group of friends (including Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, and Official Friends of DCWD HR Intern, Yupster, and Aaron), and we headed off to the restaurant of her choice, Marrakesh (unaffiliated from what I can tell with Marrakesh Palace, despite its similarities).
The trip to Marrakesh was like a litany of surprises. Marrakesh, located on a random strip of New York Ave, is reservation only. The front door of the restaurant is actually like the front door of Oz: two large knockers on two giant double doors, which can only be opened from the inside... and at that only opens a small mini-door where you step in; I half-expected a window to open and have someone ask me for a password or to answer a riddle before going in. If this were the only over-the-top quirk, that'd be one thing. But it's just one part in an committed nod to Morocco (having never been, I can't say how authentic it is, but I'm assuming it's okay). Even the outside is marked by a tiled overhang.
The inside is a foyer with a running tap fountain and a curtained-off doorway, which leads to the main dining area: an expansive room with mostly big square sofa cushioned booths designed to seat large parties, so even couples have to sit at a corner and try and occupy the large space. The walls are almost entirely covered in carpet tapestries and hexagonal patterns and fringe. It's also dark, like I-can't-see-the-colors-of-my-food-clearly dark (causing the poor lighting quality of my already poorly taken photos).
The last part to note is that at some point in the night, the lights all shut off, the wait staff ran through the main aisle with sparklers, and built a mini platform where all of a sudden, a bellydancer appeared and performed for an awkwardly long amount of time. No seriously, awkwardly long. Like her one piece would end, the lights would go down, I would move to clap, and then the lights would go up and she'd be back at it. This happened for, I swear, twenty straight minutes. Sort of interrupted the flow of the dinner.
Dinner at Marrakesh consists of a seven-course prix fixe meal served family-style with no utensils (as a traditional Moroccan family would, as the website indicates). Before the first course, your hands are washed via watering can, since everyone is going to be digging into the same collective plate. This is followed by the first course: a salad platter of stewed eggplant in tomato sauce, a cucumber/bell pepper/tomato salad, and stewed carrots. The dish was pretty eh, fine but nothing I couldn't make by myself with some vegetables and a huge supply of Mediterranean spices. Also, each of us was given just one piece of bread to try and scoop up the salads. No flatbread, not unlimited bread, just one sole piece of what tasted suspiciously like regular grocery store bread.
The next dish would end up being the best dish of the night in my opinion, a giant b'stella: a puff pastry monstrosity filled with minced chicken, almonds, eggs, and onions, topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon. There was nothing not good about this dish, and it made me think immediately, "Why am I not putting confectioners sugar on more things?" This was a beautiful combination of savory and sweet, and we basically licked the plate clean. I'm sure we looked like a bunch of coke addicts afterwards, but such was the fervor with which we attacked this dish.
Where the second dish was great, the third dish was blegh: roasted chicken with lemon and olives. The chicken was good, with some beautiful skin and it broke apart really nicely in stringy, oily, delicious pieces, but isn't that what everyone should expect out of roast chicken? So in that way, there was no real value added, and the olives actually took something off the table. Let me be clear: I love olives. I'm not an olive hater like some of my friends and exes. But these olives were "perfumey" with an aggressively bitter and off-putting aftertaste. It definitely didn't add up to the Moroccan Chicken my mom used to make (and like I said, when it comes to dishes my mom makes, I have high standards and expectations).
Next came a choice between two entrees, and we went with a tajine of lamb-on-the-bone with almonds and honey, over beef kabobs. The lamb was nice, especially the slivers of tendon that came with the tender meat, adding some nice unctuous notes to the dish. The honey also gave it a nice sweetness. If anything, I didn't like how unsubstantial the dish was (I mean, the almonds were few and far between, and otherwise it was just some meat in its own juice), and how it wasn't really lamb-y in texture; it might as well have been beef tail.
Course five was a large pile of couscous topped with stewed carrots, squash, and raisins. Here's the thing: I like couscous as much as the next guy. But the sheer amount that we had, with no sort of sauce or alternate flavor, was pretty boring. In fact when the raisins were gone, the group gave up on the dish. Maybe if I had the couscous at home, it'd be okay. But not at a restaurant. Half the dish went uneaten because we all waved the white flag on it.
The next course elicited a response of, "this is a course?" A basket of fresh fruits: grapes, oranges, and miniature apples. Boring. Seriously, not even the freshest quality fruit. Luckily (or maybe this was planned), this was when the belly dancer arrived.
The last course at least was a good finisher: Moroccan mint tea with baklava-like pastries. The tea was poured table side by the waiter, from about two feet away from the cups, which was pretty cool. Plus, the actual tea was brilliantly sweet and refreshing in its mintiness, prompting me and Yupster to say to each other, "I want this every day of my life from now on." The pastries were nice, with a dense mushy fruit filling (if that makes any sense), but made good by the honey coating.
At the very least, it's an interesting place for a date, and there's enough good food to pull it through. Maybe the sight of a nearly naked girl dancing quasi-provocatively for the longest ten minutes of your life isn't the best idea for a date. But it's a fun experience.
Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: I mean, there's a belly dancer. If this doesn't capture the spirit of meal pairing, I don't know what to say.