Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant
A Dining Experience In Portland, Oregon, US

United States of AmericaBy: Jase Luttrell on 21 April 2010
Category: Travel > United States Of America > Oregon > Dining Comments View Comments

For those who can't bear the excruciatingly long flight, customs issues, plane delays, lost baggage, and inappropriate frisking by airport security officials, sometimes it's best to leave the passport at home, and follow your nose to the source of Moroccan delicacies that are best described as tantalising, succulent, dreamy, and experiential.

Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, USAThe exterior of Portland's preeminent Moroccan restaurant is quite unassuming; besides the large, illuminated sign, you might not know of the wonders inside until you walk by the restaurant and smell the intoxicating aromas of cumin, cinnamon, clove, and slow-cooked meat. Once you step through the doors, you are instantly transported to a Moroccan restaurant, replete with Arab music, cushions on the floor for sitting, and elaborate decorations.

Reservations are practically required and it's best to show up in a large group (four or more people). You can choose to order any one of the a la carte menu items separately or as part of a five-course dinner for US$18.95 [?], which includes lentil soup, salad, an entrée [see the sidebar], dessert, and mint tea. If you and your group decide to go for the Royale Feast Dinner (US$19.95 [?]), you are treated to the soup, salad, appetiser, and an assortment of entrées [see the sidebar], dessert, and mint tea. For only a little more cash per person, you receive an enormous amount of food, so it's worth the extra money.

Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, USAThe dinner is served in the traditional Moroccan way: guests are seated on cushions or low benches and the tables are low to accommodate sitting on the floor. After taking your seat and ordering your drinks and your choice of meal, your server will come to the table with a large ornamental pan and a teapot filled with warm, rose-scented water. Everyone at the table places their hands over the ornamental dish while the server cleanses their hands with the rose-water mixture. When the food is served (with large hand towels to prevent the impending and inevitable mess), no silverware is provided: you must eat with your hands. For some this may cause a bit of squeamishness but it really is quite fun. The food isn't excruciatingly hot and is meant to be shovelled into your mouth with your hands. The experience is exciting and sensual and one that most of the Western world misses out on. There's really no better way to know and appreciate your food until it is sticking to your fingers. Besides, it makes for an enjoyable experience for children.

I went to Marrakesh with a large group (11 people) and the entire table opted for the Royale Feast Dinner. I was impressed when the server asked if there were any vegetarians and/or vegans at the table, and he made accommodations above and beyond the call of duty for their diets. He was also careful to explain the key ingredients for each dish that was served. For ease of reading, I've listed out the dishes served for each course.

Lentil Soup: a warming and hearty lentil soup that was refined and not grainy in the slightest. It had a minor level of spiciness, garbanzo beans, and small pieces of onion. Overall, the soup was great but prominently featured cumin, which was a bit overpowering.

Salads Marrakesh: This was a strange dish. In the centre was a hummus-like spread made of eggplant (aubergine/brinjal), garlic, and minimal spices. This spread sat atop shredded iceberg lettuce, which was encircled by a "dressing" of onion, tomato, cucumber, and olive oil. The server passed a large bowl full of thick bread (resembling focaccia) around the table for us all to grab a few pieces. This dish was eaten by splitting the pieces of bread in half and, starting in the middle of the circular plate, sweeping the bread along the radius of the plate, trying to grab as much as possible. Then came the difficult part: you had to manage to get this mass of gooey food and soggy bread into your mouth. This is the moment when the hand towels were of good use. I wasn't particularly fond of this dish. Not only was it excessively messy but the flavour profiles were rather bland and uninteresting.

Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, USA

B'stilla Royale: A type of chicken pie that features phyllo dough, chicken, egg, onion, and a variety of spices, most notably allspice. What is curious and unique about this pie is that it is both savoury and sweet: the filling has a spicy tang to it, while the top of the phyllo dough is covered in powdered sugar and decorated with a design made of ground cinnamon. It is truly remarkable and unforgettable. I first had this dish in the fourth grade as part of a school field trip and was extremely excited to see it placed in front of me. For the vegetarians, a smaller pie was brought out that features couscous and/or garbanzo beans, and the vegan pie (even smaller than the vegetarian pie) had similar ingredients but no egg. I do not know if the vegan version contained butter but I imagine it would be difficult to make this without butter.

Tagine Of Chicken Lemon And Olives: This wasn't a particularly exciting dish for me. The lemon flavour wasn't pronounced, and neither was the olive flavour (which is good for me, because I don't like olives). The chicken came off the bone with ease and was especially moist and tender but because of its lackluster flavour profile, I only tried one bite.

Tagine Of Chicken Honey And Prunes: By far, this was the best dish. The honey sauce was sweet, sticky, and slightly creamy. The chicken was incredibly moist, and the slivered almonds provided a necessary crunch. The prunes were plumped full of the honey sauce and were tangy, sour, and chewy, making the perfect contrast to the honey sauce.

Tagine Of Lamb With Eggplant: Large slices of eggplant accompanied even larger chunks of soft, tender, stewed lamb meat on the bone. I'm not a huge fan of eggplant as it tends to absorb the flavours of what surrounds it but the lamb was succulent and, if I may say so, absolutely dreamy. Only a few pieces were tough or gristly but these pieces were not common.

Couscous Marrakesh: This dish featured a large mound of couscous lightly seasoned with lemon and possibly saffron. Atop the couscous were tender chunks of lamb, which was then topped with a vegetarian medley consisting of garbanzo beans, mushrooms, carrots, onions, raisins, and yellow summer squash. This was all topped with a gravy-like sauce that was made of garlic, onion, and spices. For the vegetarians, this dish did not feature the lamb (obviously) and had more of the vegetarian medley.

Chicken Brochette: These were basically hunks of chicken on metal barbecue skewers with a small mountain of couscous. The chicken was lightly seasoned with garlic, and was slightly tough. Some pieces of the chicken were a little too chewy or over cooked but the overall flavour was palatable, though not memorable.

Couscous T'Faya: Unfortunately, I wasn't able to try this dish as it was placed at the far end of the table and was devoured before I could get to it. I would conclude, then, that it was quite tasty.

Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, USA

Fresh Fruit: The dessert included slices of pears, raisins, mangoes, and apricots, stewing in a orange-blossom rose-water syrup that wasn't overly sweet and was quite incredible.

Mint Tea
It is obvious to say that this was mint tea but it was delightfully sweetened and had a subtle hint of rose water and orange-blossom essence.

Marrakesh Moroccan Restaurant, Portland, Oregon, USA

After drinks and the lentil soup were served the belly dancer came out to entertain the diners. Arabic music played from the speakers and the woman glided from room to room with ease while moving her body sinuously to the rhythm of the music. As there is no stage for her to dance on she moves throughout the tables and dances within reach of the diners. During many moments she plays the castanets as accompaniment to the music, all while moving her hips and stomach muscles with fluidity. Because of the dim lighting and her quick movements, I was unable to get a photograph of her but it's probably for the best: this is something you should experience as a photo wouldn't be a good replacement. As she danced and danced, nearly thirty minutes total, it was obvious she was getting tired but her smile and enthusiasm never dwindled. As she finished her performance, the entrée were delivered, and the diners' other senses (smell, touch, and taste) were stimulated.

Though the meal is expensive, for the sheer amount of food and the quality of the entertainment, the experience is well worth it. It is the expensive "sticker shock" that might surprise or turn away potential customers but for the amount of food you receive the price is great. Marrakesh delivers the flavours, setting, and culture of Moroccan life and, to be treated as royalty, is best experienced in a group of four or more. OpinionShare/Bookmark
Rating: 8/10

Key Facts
Cuisine Style: Moroccan
Address: 1201 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209, USA
Phone: +1 503-248-9442
Hours: 17:00 to 22:00 daily; belly dancing Wednesday through Sunday, approximately 19:00 and 21:00
Price Range: US$18.50 [?] to US$29.00 [?]
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Vegan Options: Limited
Smoking Section: No
Child Friendly: Yes
Wheelchair Friendly: Yes
Dress: Casual
Reservations: Highly recommended

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