Tip of the fez to this treat

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

It’s a spread rich in luxurious, deeply satisfying delights

Mark Laba

Chef de cuisine Jason Toth and executive chef and owner Abdel Elatouabi with prawn and chickpea fritters and Couscous Royale. Photograph by : Gerry Kahrmann, The Province


Le Marrakech

Where: 52 Alexander St.

Payment/reservations: Major credit cards, 604-688-3714

Drinks: Fully licensed

Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 5 p.m.midnight, closed Sundays

W hat do organ grinder monkeys, Shriners and Moroccans have in common? They all look good in a fez of course. The Shriners and the monkeys also fit well into teeny-weeny cars although how the Shriners do it still remains one of the great mysteries of life. And, for the record, the monkeys are terrible drivers.

But that’s beside the point. It’s my long-harboured envy of their fez-wearing abilities that laid the cornerstone for my latest dining adventure. For I too have a fez, dusty and forgotten in the back of my closet, a souvenir from a more frivolous time when it adorned my melon-shaped noggin occasionally during a drunken soiree. But age and responsibility along with my wife have banished my fez from human sight. Well no more, I declared as Peaches and I were on our way to this Moroccan bistro on the edge of Gastown. I would wear it proudly and jauntily at this restaurant where it would truly be appreciated. Peaches nonchalantly knocked it off my well-coiffed comb-over and simply said, “Over my dead body.”

So fez-less I stepped into this den of all things Moroccan, a veritable casbah of North African ornamentation with rich brocaded textiles and pillows, traditional hand-craved Moroccan seats, which are really fancy, low-sitting stools with no backs (the only unfortunate part), equally ornate tiled tables, metal wall sconces casting shadows of intrigue and a reddish-gold glow infused throughout the place. It really is a world away from the everyday supported by some exotically-named martinis.

And the food is just as transporting as the atmosphere thanks to owners Leo Fouad and Abdel Elatouabi. Elatouabi was once the executive chef at a five-star hotel in Rabat and most recently ran the now-vanished Bravo Bistro, a Coal Harbour spot I was quite fond of.

Peaches and I began our edible caravan with a bunch of small plates from the mezze listings. Lamb meatballs lolling in a spicy tomato sauce with a sunny-side-up egg hovering on top ($9), which our waiter called “the Moroccan breakfast” was excellent. Meatballs as tender as a lamb bleating for its mother and a sauce with the brooding temperament of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. An order of humus ($7) soothed the spice with a whisper of its lemon and garlic tinged breath.

Next up was Dungeness kebe ($11), a bulgur wheat and potato croquette construction stuffed with chermoula-spiked crabmeat. Chermoula is a Moroccan herb and spice mix but with a fresh infusion of flavour from ingredients like coriander and parsley. A very pleasing dish, subtle and rich and the side salad of pea shoots with lemon pistachio vinaigrette was a nice, light touch.

My only complaint would be the cost considering there are only two, small croquettes but that’s perhaps the price you pay when you want to play with the heavily armoured crustaceans.

We finished with mussels in a spicy chermoula sauce ($16) and a main dish of braised short ribs atop saffron couscous ($24). The generous portion of bivalves were as big and plump as the biceps on Spongebob Squarepants and my only thought was the sauce could’ve used a bit more punch. I ordered some house cut fries ($5) and these thin-cut ‘taters were excellent sprinkled with sparkling nuggets of sea salt.

The braised short rib wore a luxurious coat of caramelized onion and raisins with hints of spicing harmonizing sweet with savoury and the beef was a textbook example of perfect braising. Winter veggies in all their root-like glory created a tasty and textural perimeter around the dune of couscous. Mint tea concluded the ceremonies.

It’s a menu that’s steeped in exoticness from the lamb shank tagine to golden beet salad tossed in rose water and pomegranate vinaigrette and though I may remain fez-less in Vancouver I was certainly well on the road to Morocco minus Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and the surly camel.


A sultan’s feast complete with weekend belly-dancing.

RATINGS: Food: A- Service: A Atmosphere: A

In my exuberance to play political pundit last week, I included the Jolly Alderman in my Top Five list of places to ponder the civic election results. But as reader Iris Ivanoff pointed out, the place has been closed for over a year and, in her words “is nothing but an empty hole.” Now I know why it was so cold and dank and the service was so bad when I went there for a drink a few weeks back.


Selling Point: A veritable pork-a-rama of ramen soup goodness and flavour in this stylishly sparse and tiny noodle shop.

What To Eat: Try the Nagahama Ramen, named for a street full of ramen stalls in the Nagahama district of Fukuoka, the capital city of Kyushu Island where pork-based tonkotsu broth has its origins. Don’t forget to order a seasoned boiled egg added to the mix. Also check out the home-made pan-fried pork and vegetable gyoza, a great deal at $4.80 for eight. There’s also the Nagasaki Chanpon, a ramen concoction with mixed veggies, meat and seafood or you can order the Ramen Noodle Set that gets you ramen, gyoza and Takikomi rice ball cooked with kelp, veggies and deep-fried tofu.

401 W. Broadway, 604-873-3277

Panne Rizo Cafe

Lowdown: There are those who walk among us who take the no- gluten, no-wheat route when it comes to their food. I personally shuddered at the thought until I tasted the stuff at this bakery/deli/café. I’m not exactly a convert but these rice-based breads ain’t too bad.

What To Eat: Try the turkey and cheese grilled panini on rosemary and scallion focaccia — the focaccia is amazingly dairy and wheat-free and yet still tasty. Go figure. There’s also a very nice tuna and sun-dried tomato sandwich with cheese and spinach, a very savoury chicken pie or macaroni with extra old cheddar and parmesan cheese. Plus a choice of two daily homemade soups and some spiffy desserts that may be wheat free but certainly don’t lack for sugar.

1939 Cornwall Ave., Vancouver, 604-736-0885

© The Vancouver Province 2008

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