Influenced by both the Mediterranean and North Africa, Moroccan cuisine is marked by a heavy use of lamb, fragrant spices, and the French tenacity for complex cooking methods. Moroccan-born Yassir Raouli shares his take on his home country’s cooking through both a mobile bistro truck and a sedentary restaurant. He infuses his own creative aesthetic into dishes, adding duck bacon to the lamb burger and filling popovers with melty gruyere cheese. This playfulness is seen across the brunch, lunch, and dinner menus, along with an unwavering dedication to wholesome, organic ingredients obtained from small-scale farmers. The restaurant suggests all dishes be shared.
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).
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.
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.
Aromas of roasted lamb, spicy merguez, and subtly sweet shisha waft across Le Souk's three stories of space, surrounding patrons with the scents of Moroccan cuisine. In the kitchen, the chefs stuff housemade lamb sausage and sprinkle strands of saffron into their fragrant sauces. Platters of couscous and tagines with duck confit, red snapper, or lobster help to lend distinctly North African flavors to the menu.
Moorish archways link the restaurant's orange-walled rooms, which are lit by dangling lanterns and smoldering coals atop hookahs filled with fruit-flavored shisha. Guests can practice their smoke rings or smoke dodecahedrons while live dancers and occasional DJ performances entertain them throughout the night.