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.
Kif pleases palates with a selection of tasty tapas and traditional homemade Moroccan entrees. Enliven a night out with friends or accentuate a surprise party for your pet tongue with a small plate such as falafel on Dekalb, a charming conglomeration of crushed chickpeas and Moroccan spices with harissa aioli ($6), or merguez, a savory selection of spicy lamb sausage lounging on a bed of marinated tomatoes ($6). For entrees, quell carnivorous cravings with steak frites, a prime skirt-steak plate paired with french fries on a bed of avocado sprinkled in red onion vinaigrette ($18), or relish the lamb shank tagine, an organic meatsperience confettied in tagine spices and green peas with a side of couscous ($23).
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.
For Yassir Z. Raouli, it all started with a food truck. The Moroccan-born chef launched Bistro Truck as a way to bring his creative take on Moroccan street food to the masses, and it quickly became a fixture in Union Square. Today, Raouli brings that same North African flavor to Bistro Shopp. Here, Moroccan tagines, couscous, and merguez sausage pair with inventive takes on American classics, such as the lamb burger or fries splashed with harissa aioli.
Sheer red fabric flows from the belly dancer?s mid section as she swivels her hips. But all the attention is on her head, where a candelabra with candles aflame balances. The feat may be amazing to many, but it?s just another night at Jarfi's Restaurant & Bar. The dancing complements the menu of Moroccan treats, including shareable plates of creamy hummus, Moroccan eggplant dip, and tabbouleh salad. For heartier appetites, chefs whip up entree-sized seafood pastilles and chicken marinated overnight in a lemon sauce with saffron and cilantro. Beef and chicken kebabs are served right on the plate or tucked into a sandwich. Hookah is also available, and on select nights, musicians take the stage in one corner of the restaurant to play a continuous loop of ?Hot Cross Buns.?
Owner and chef Alain Bennouna uses traditional Moroccan spices and cooking techniques to create a menu of bold cuisine, which Westchester Magazine described as "incredible, hauntingly spiced food" when placing Zitoune on its The Year's 10 Best Restaurants list in 2008. Entrees of braised lamb and grilled chicken flood the senses with comforting aromas of saffron, honey, and ginger—ingredients that Alain regularly savored while growing up in Marrakesh.
Although Alain draws inspiration from French and American recipes, Moroccan influences definitely take the lead. In addition to serving slow-cooked meat and lentil stews in clay tagine pots, Chef Bennouna embraces the family-style aspect of his childhood cuisine by cooking entire 18- to 20-pound lambs for larger parties if given five days advance notice. The New York Times praised the chef's commitment to these homestyle touches in 2007, claiming, "Mr. Bennouna is in love with his native cuisine, and he wants you to love it too."
The food's vibrant eclecticism echoes the dining room's highly sensory decor. Copper-topped tables, arabesque tiles, and handcrafted textiles from Marrakesh marketplaces fill the sunset-orange space. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the restaurant invites belly dancers to perform, allowing them to sweep throughout the dining room and enthrall diners with their ability to recite the Gettysburg Address backwards.