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.
The Fez provides an enticing menu of Moroccan and Mediterranean-inspired dishes in a sleek setting meant to enliven adventurous appetites. Embark on a culinary cruise with a shareable snack of crisped chickpeas and okra ($6) or caramelized cauliflower, golden raisins, and toasted pine nuts ($6). Communal consumers can divide and conquer a series of small plates, such as a quartet of chicken, turkey, kafta, and shrimp kebabs ($14), roasted-beet salad with grapefruit and feta ($10), or grilled scallops served alongside whipped hummus ($16).
Rose petals speckle the candlelit stairway that descends into Shalel Lounge, establishing a romantic vibe that permeates the entire space. As vanilla smoke curls from a smoldering incense stick, guests canoodle in shadowy corners or private cavernous rooms. Here and there, lanterns and sequined throw pillows channel a Moroccan aesthetic that extends to the menu, which includes marinated olives, bruschetta, and lamb cigars. Each small dish occupies a square ceramic, supplying three or four heavily spiced bites. According to Serious Eats, Shalel Lounge is best suited for "a sexytime date."