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.
A stairway strewn with rose petals and flickering candles entices couples down into Shalel Lounge’s dimly lit romantic grotto, where they occupy marble tables in intimate corners of cave-like rooms. Moroccan snacks match the exotic décor of throw pillows and tapestries set aglow by warm candlelight.
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.
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.
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.