I’m not a fan of shopping malls. In fact, nor am I a fan of shopping. The only thing that might lure me into a maze of chain stores and restaurants is a jewel, and friend Lois and I were successfully enticed recently.
Marrakesh (thought to mean “Land of God”) in a mall? In a Moroccan souk (Arab marketplace or bazaar) perhaps, but not in a large mall in Clifton Park. But there it was, just off Clifton Country Road. Realizing we were hopelessly lost in aforementioned maze, and already late for our reservation, we called the restaurant. Given a couple of familiar landmarks, it took us only a minute or two to pull up to the front door.
Stepping through one of the two entrances, we encountered an exotic land. Four gentlemen, three in traditional garb, greeted us with smiles. One of them, Adam, seated us in a plush burgundy- and gold-colored paisley upholstered booth, handing us menus.
We looked around as Adam took our drink orders — hot tea for Lois, iced for me ($3 each). Typically, Moroccans serve green tea with mint and sugar in exquisitely carved and colored miniature glasses. The curved, narrow spout of the pot allowed the tea to be poured from a height of a foot into the small glasses, producing bubbles without splashing.
To the right was a cozy seating area warmed by a central fireplace with about a dozen low round, brass-colored tables and low hassocks for seats. In addition to this circular area were eight booths and six tables with chairs.
We each started with one of the five appetizers (most were $7), intending to share. Intrigued with the name, Lois ordered the Moroccan Cigar, which was similar to an egg roll and stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms, olives and seasoned vermicelli. It was accompanied by a mustard dipping sauce.
My extravagant chicken bastilla ($15) was large enough for two people, or would make a lunch for one person. Baked phyllo dough was stuffed with a layer of chicken, a layer of eggs cooked in a special sauce and garnished with a layer of almond paste with rose water. Cinnamon and sugar were sprinkled on top with a small mound of sliced almonds piled in the center, creating a dessert-like chicken pot pie.
Entrees were divided into brochettes ($13-$26, served with saffron rice or couscous and roasted vegetables), tagines ($19-$25, served with rice or bread), and couscous ($21-$25, served with chicken and/or lamb and vegetables). Meat can be omitted for a vegetarian meal. Couscous, often part of a Moroccan meal, is made from small grains of semolina coated with finely ground wheat flour.
Fond of chicken, Lois ordered the casawe tagine ($23) which featured chicken cooked with raisins and caramelized onions, seasoned with honey and cinnamon, and topped with almonds. Served with saffron rice, Lois commented that this was not just a meal, it was a dining experience.
I like lamb but rarely find it on a menu. I was in my glory — Marrakesh serves it a half-dozen ways. I opted for lamb couscous ($25). Expecting cubes of lamb, I was delighted to learn it was a lovely long lamb bone-in shank. The leg was positioned across a mound of seasoned couscous and flanked by tender chunks of summer squash, winter squash and carrots. The lamb was fork-tender and gently seasoned.
Moroccan food is spicy without being hot. While Adam agreed I could Google Moroccan spices (salt, pepper, ginger turmeric, saffron, paprika, cumin, cinnamon and white pepper), the “secret” of the house secret blend would be the proportion of each used in the various dishes.
Lois and I were eager to taste the desserts offered at Marrakesh, and ordered two sampler plates ($4 each). We were charmed by the assortment: ghriba (Morrocan almond cookies), faqas (a cookie similar to Italian biscotti), briwat (sweet filled puff pastry) and the more familiar baklava (layers of phyllo dough with chopped nuts, which are bound with honey or other syrup). The chosen confections varied in degree of sweetness, flavor and texture, creating a pleasant balance.
I ordered a small cup of Moroccan coffee and was surprised by a nip in the cup which was identified by Adam — white pepper. In fact, most of what we ate came with a little surprise for our taste buds — which is why we will certainly return.
Alcohol is not served at Marrakesh. Restrictions dictated by hallal prescribe intoxicants not be permitted in the Muslim religion. Even vanilla might be excluded because of its alcoholic content.
A tagine is a shallow pot similar to a pie plate with a vented, cone-shaped lid made of earthenware or flameproof glazed ceramic. Although originally heated in ashes, today the food is slow-cooked in either an oven or on a stovetop.
Marrakesh Authentic Moroccan Cuisine
WHERE: 22 Clifton Country Road #39, Clifton Park, NY 12065,
(518) 930-0411, https://www.marrakeshcp.com
WHEN: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Fri. 4-10 p.m.,
Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 12-8-p.m.
HOW MUCH: $87.00 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible, large mall parking, all major credit cards, noise level permits conversation, takeout, catering,