At Mataam Fez, meals are about more than the food. The restaurant exudes both the warm hospitality and the festive traditions of Morocco, creating a vibrant dining experience that brings a small piece of northern Africa to Denver.
Every meal is a five-course feast that begins with an opportunity for guests to wash their hands using lightly scented lemon water. After selecting an entree from the menu—which includes dishes such as honey-glazed cornish game hen with apricots and roasted almonds as well as vegetarian couscous with seasonal vegetables—tables receive orders of savory harira soup, assorted Moroccan salads, and a b’stella pastry appetizer before the main courses arrive. The palate-cleansing course of fresh fruit and mint tea then herald the end of the meal.
The spirit of Morocco isn’t constrained to the menu, however. It also heavily influences the restaurant’s decor and ambiance. Colorful cushions surround the low teak-inlaid tables, which allows diners to enjoy their meal in traditional Moroccan fashion: seated on the floor and eating with their hands instead of silverware or telekinetic powers. Although brightly colored tapestries and shining brassware adorn the walls, most eyes are drawn to the professional belly dancers who occasionally weave between the tables.
Nestled in what was once the famous turn-of-the-20th-century gentlemen’s club known as Hiawatha Gardens, Tajine Alami has replaced the fancy footwork of silver-screen legends such as Rudolph Valentino with the fluid undulations of belly dancers. Scarlet tapestries and golden curtains have transformed the historic space into a Moroccan haven where chefs and hosts Mohammed and Laila Alami welcome diners to slip off their shoes and sink their feet into thickly woven carpets. As guests lounge on cushions, they savor the medleys of saffron, cumin, coriander, and ginger that season chicken and lamb, both slow-cooked in clay pots. The tender meats join couscous, the national dish of Morocco, during six-course feasts, which patrons are encouraged to eat with their hands instead of with a pitchfork and shovel. Servers arrive with basins of warm water to wash fingers before and after the meal, as well as orange- and rose-blossom water just before guests sip steaming cups of mint tea and munch the honeyed layers of baklava. On weekend nights, the restaurant’s belly dancers not only shimmy but also cup flames in their hands and balance curved sabers on their heads.