Monday, May 9, 2011

The Marrakech Cafe is smelling better and better

Posted By on Mon, May 9, 2011 at 2:57 PM

Now you can actually smell garlic, cumin and other spices in this exotic restaurant.
  • Now you can actually smell garlic, cumin and other spices in this exotic restaurant.


You don't need to tell Noure Kamal, the owner of the six-month-old Marrakech Cafe, about the stinging aroma of mothballs that still vaguely lingers around the entrance to his restaurant at 4116 Broadway. "We're working on it," Kamal says. "Soon it won't be a problem at all."

To Kamal's credit, the fragrance of parfum de mothball emanating from the Oriental carpet shop next to his restaurant, has been toned down quite a bit since last September, when the stench from the costly carpets drove another restaurant in this location -- Taqueria Bautista -- out of business. Well, at least out 4116 Broadway.

 



And this storefront doesn't have the greatest track record for restaurants anyway: Restaurateur David Rabinowitz tried a short-lived hot-dog concept, Relish, in the space. (Rabinowitz is now working as a manager for the Raphael Hotel's Chaz on the Plaza.) And over the years, other culinary failures have included, among others, a fried-fish restaurant, a Russian bistro and a Cuban cafe.

But Noure Kamal's Marrakech Cafe deserves a chance at the sweet smell of success. This isn't a quick-service Middle Eastern hummus-and-pita joint but a sit-down restaurant with heavy white tablecloths and napkins, fresh flowers, and the little niceties that are becoming increasingly extinct in casual-dining restaurants, like using plates under soup bowls, automatically bringing side plates out with appetizers, deftly clearing plates before delivering the next course.

Don't get me wrong. There are eccentricities here (not everyone wants to have to walk through a busy kitchen to use a bathroom that's only slightly larger than a broom closet), but this restaurant has such charm and gracious spirit that you're able to overlook all the minor irritations. Note to Kamal: Cranking up the air-conditioning would be a nice touch. And the dining room would be so much sexier if there was a different, more intimate kind of lighting. the fluorescent ceiling fixtures are so harsh that it's almost like dining in a minimum-security prison.

click to enlarge Like a shepherd's pie, but richer
  • Like a shepherd's pie, but richer


The cuisine here, which former caterer Kamal prepares himself, is superb.There are spicy tagines and delicately-seasoned couscous creations and even a Moroccan version of a dish we think of as a shepherd's pie: in this case, the tuna gratin is a combination of mushrooms, tuna, onion, and creamy bechamel sauce baked under a blanket of whipped potatoes.

Kamal plans to expand his restaurant into half of the existing carpet shop: "I'm going to construct walls with heavy insulation. You won't be able to smell another mothball."

The smell isn't so bad anymore. I didn't even notice it once we sat down, although my friend Truman wiped his eyes and insisted that there was a "1300-pound mothball in the next room." But once he dipped a wedge of puffy, freshly-grilled Moroccan bread into the zaalouk -- a delicious cooked dip made with tomatoes and pan-fried eggplant -- he never mentioned the m word again.

 


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