These would-be diners regretted not getting on board for Marrakesh.

The Sorrow and the Pita 

These would-be diners regretted not getting on board for Marrakesh.

One nice benefit of working as a restaurant reviewer is that I can take friends along with me to dinner, although there's always a caveat: I pick the restaurant, and I get to taste everyone's food. But there are nights when I get turned down flat. It happened recently when I wanted to go to the Marrakesh Café (7528 West 119th Street in Overland Park). When my so-called friends heard that this dining establishment was an inexpensive buffet -- more improbably, a Middle Eastern buffet -- located "way out" in Rosana Square, I didn't get a nibble of interest.

So I drove out there alone and circled the Rosana Square parking lot for a good five minutes before I stumbled onto the joint, which is in a storefront on the shopping center's far-south side. My heart fell when I walked through the front door. To call this culinary operation no-frills would be an understatement -- I was met with stacks of Styrofoam plates, paper napkins, bad lighting and a really uncomfortable booth. And there was an almost Rube Goldberg-style madness to the actual layout of the buffet line.

But hell, I'm always game for anything that involves the phrase "all you can eat." Besides, the food smelled wonderful, and the prices -- $7 for lunch, $9.99 for dinner, including beverages -- were alluring enough.

Marrakesh native Mustapha Alhiane owns this 14-month-old, Moroccan-style buffet, and he's so eager to please that I could happily overlook eccentricities such as seriously overcooked falafel patties, a container of cucumber-and-yogurt tsatsiki sauce that was never refilled, and a vat of brown gravy labeled "beaked salmon" that seemed to be lacking fish ... and beaks.

The hummus and baba ghanoush, though, were creamy and flavorful, the rice with curried chicken was delicious, and the beef biryani (which looked like a high school cafeteria version) tasted much better than it looked. An employee slices gyro meat for each new customer who comes through the buffet line, and servers bring warm, foil-wrapped pita to the table.

The restaurant's signature harrira soup -- a hearty vegetarian broth thick with lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, celery and cilantro -- was well worth taking seconds. And thirds. That soup, along with the hummus, Greek salad, slender stuffed grape leaves, and baklava, are daily staples, Alhiane says. Beef, fish, chicken and lamb offerings change daily.

Later, describing my dining experience to those naysaying friends, I actually saw some sorrowful looks as they realized what they'd missed. Maybe next time.

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