At Casaville Restaurant, the chefs draw culinary inspiration from kitchens across the western Mediterranean and add hints of traditional Spanish and French cuisine to Moroccan staples. Time Out New York praised the dishes for their authenticity, noting that “to find better homespun North African cooking, you’d have to travel to Paris or Casablanca—or at least the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens." Spiced merguez and pillowy couscous help to build upon that reputation, and trays of tapas drift around murmuring groups.
The dining room's yellow stucco walls brim with a number of Moorish-inspired accents, including tiled recesses. Navigating between the tables inside or on the outdoor patio, belly dancers occasionally swirl their hips, jingling pendant-laden belts. Servers dodge past to fill glasses with wine, selected from the restaurant's extensive list to pair with meals or work with the rhyme scheme of an extremely detailed autobiography.
Meats are typically fired on a grill in customary Moroccan cuisine. But, despite an otherwise steadfast commitment to authentic, Moroccan food, Zerza owner Radouane ElJaouhari knows that, sometimes, a restaurant benefits from a little unconventional thinking. So when Zerza moved to a new location, ElJaouhari told his contractors to leave the existing clay oven in the kitchen. As a result, the distinctively Moroccan meats—ginger-marinated chicken-breast kebabs, spiced ground beef, lamb and chicken tagines—emerge juicier and with a more full-bodied flavor than their more “authentic” counterparts.
Though the cooking style may cross cultural boundaries, the ambiance at Zerza’s is positively Moroccan. Punctured-brass lanterns spray the walls with golden rays, casting gentle light on clay pots and guests nestled in chairs adorned with burgundy upholstery. On Saturday nights, belly dancers sashay to North African pop tunes or the rhythmic clatter of pots and pans.
For chef and owner Philipos Mengistu, cooking is a family business. He spent much of his childhood in the kitchen of his parents’ restaurant in Addis Ababa, learning recipes that had been passed down for generations. Today, Mengistu pays tribute to that tradition with a menu that includes authentic Ethiopian honey wine, coffee from the plant’s country of origin, and his mother’s own fiery berbere sauce. Plenty of tongue-toasting options abound, from the stewed lamb of the yebeg wot to the zilzil tibs—beef marinated in awaze and red wine. Whether guests prefer their dishes spicy or subtle, they can scoop, share, or not share with savory injera, a sourdough flatbread used as a utensil.
Behind a Brazilian mango wood-slab bar stands Ariel Lacayo, Grata's manager and house sommelier. His practiced pours grace grails with New- and Old-World vintages that pair perfectly with Chef Meny Vaknin's menu of fresh Mediterranean cuisine. By incorporating Italian flavors and bold spices into traditional recipes, Chef Vaknin's dishes bear a distinctively modern touch without relying on garnishes of cybernetic lettuce. All the while, a gauzy glow of subdued lighting glimmers off wood accents and exposed brick walls within the elegant eatery.
At La Vie Restaurant & Lounge, light from moroccan lamps takes on bright colors and effuses across clouds of sweet hookah smoke between DJs and belly dancers. Patrons carrying plates laden with skewers and pizzas that blend French and Moroccan culinary traditions zigzag between canopied and candlelit booths strewn with crimson and gold throw pillows. Plush red benches and stools, sprawling underneath mirrors set in gilded frames, grant ample views of a hardwood dance floor and a chance for ground-floor investment in new dance moves. Live bands play music until as late as 4 a.m., with themed evenings focusing on specific genres. Glasses overflowing with fruit-infused cocktails chase off lingering spices and clink together in gleeful toasts between walls with textural accents of stone and beaten copper.