PARSIPPANY — On yet another frigid February evening I continued my tour of great, locally found, international cuisines with a short trip to Morocco. Well, maybe not the actual North African Country of Morocco, but odds have it that this will be the closest I will ever come to experience the authentic taste of this incredible cuisine without walking along the ancient, winding, alleyways, and cobblestone streets in the Medina of Marakesh itself.
Marakesh Restaurant is a cool, exotic-looking Middle Eastern/Mediterranean eatery, that can be readily found on Route 46 East, in our very own gastronomically rich and diverse community. I recently learned that Moroccan cooking, a melting pot of diverse cultural flavors, is primarily influenced by the tastes of not only its European and Mediterranean neighbors but African, Middle Eastern, and South American recipes as well. Interestingly, Moroccan cuisine, because of its blend of spices and variety of flavors is now considered one of the top worldwide food trends. I was anxious to give it a try as this was my first experience dining in Moroccan style.
On arrival at the ample parking lot, you are immediately impressed with the unique Moroccan architectural style that defines the exterior facade of Marakesh. Appears the building was transported directly from a Moroccan square and placed in the middle of a shopping plaza alongside Route 46.
All that was missing were the snake charmers, folk dancers, and street food vendors. Once inside, in sharp contrast to the harsh weather outside, we entered a warm, cozy, welcoming, and amazingly ornate dining room, where you are immediately transported to land halfway across the world. Marakesh was noted for belly dancing entertainment prior to the pandemic, but that has obviously been put on hold.
As soon as you walk through the doors of Marakesh you must stop, take a moment, and take in the visuals of the extraordinarily beautiful décor that awaits within. This is one of the most beautifully decorated ethnic restaurants that I have ever been to. From the colorful, comfortable-looking overstuffed couches that serve as your seating (no hardwood chairs here), shiny brass trays perched on pedestals that serve as tables, imported artifacts (ceramics, pottery, artwork) tastefully placed throughout, arched Moroccan style doorways, subdued lighting, and soft Moroccan music playing in the background; Marakesh exudes warmth, comfort, and hospitality.
Obviously, I was extremely impressed. And, as must be said, Marakesh certainly ensures that all current health-related requirements are carefully adhered to.
We were welcomed by our hostess, Mimi, who was not only very pleasant, friendly, and helpful throughout the evening, and as I found out is also the wife of the Chef/Owner Abdelfettah El Akkari. We were led to a nice corner seating location where I immediately found that the elaborate sofas were amazingly comfortable, and where I was able to continue to enjoy the ambiance of the entire restaurant. It takes a while to take it all in!
Marakesh is a BYOB, and Mini immediately brought out our wine glasses so we could sit back, relax, and enjoy sipping some vino while looking over the menu.
Chef Akkari, a very likable, friendly, and respectful restauranteur, came out to personally welcome us and join us in some conversation. Chef Akkari was born in Morocco and emigrated to the U.S. in 1985, went to culinary school, and opened his first restaurant, Casablanca, in Paterson, which he continued to operate when first opening Marakesh in 1996. Once Marakesh started to become busy and more demanding he decided to close his prior restaurant to provide time to focus primarily on his new venue. Chef Akkari, who returns every year to Morocco to visit family and friends, told me that the interior of the restaurant was designed by himself and that he is personally hand-picked, and had imported, every piece of décor in Marakesh to specifically add to the authenticity of the restaurant. The Chef went on that his clientele is comprised of many culturally diverse people who often come from locations far and wide to visit his restaurant. He feels it is special to have been able to have met and serve so many people over the past 25 years and considers all his customers his friends. He was obviously sincere in mentioning that he has enjoyed every minute of his past 25 years here at his Parsippany location. Chef Akkari noted that Morocco is noted for its hospitality and that the sharing of a meal with family and friends is a special event, and that is what he clearly has created, and what he brings to his restaurant. Shokran (thank you) to Chef Akkari for that.
Our meal started with a typical but refreshing and tasty salad, accompanied with a basket of freshly grilled pita bread for dipping into the appetizers which followed. We started by sharing the Sampler appetizer, which was plenty for two, consisting of Hummus, Zaalouk, Baba Ghanoush, and Pickled Vegetables. I also ordered the Moroccan Cigars Beef (it just sounded too interesting to pass by). The thick yet smooth, nutty, creamy hummus was perfectly textured, and the taste of the sesame seed-based tahini made it stand out. Zaalouk, basically an eggplant salad with just the right mix of sweet onions and fruity tomatoes, was full of flavor. The Baba Ghanoush, also an eggplant dish, was nice, thick, and voluptuous. A delectable combination of dipping-type appetizers that was fully enjoyed while waiting for our entrees to arrive. Service was spot on, no one rushes you here, very relaxing environment. Let us not forget the Moroccan Cigars Beef; sweet and savory spiced meat filling, rolled up in phyllo sheets and fried until crisp and golden. A perfect accompaniment to all the other appetizers. I never had them before, but I would not hesitate to order them again.
For my entrée I decided, since I never had it before, to try a traditionally iconic Tagine dish. Tagine is ceramic clay, a cooking vessel, that has a shallow base and tall, cone-shaped lid traditionally used in Morocco and meant to steam food or cook it low and slow, and usually used to make a stew type dish. Out of the several to choose from I ordered the Tunisian Chicken in Harissa Sauce. Harissa is a unique spice blend of chili peppers and seasonings. The dish was perfectly cooked with just the right balance of spices (sumac, caraway, fennel, cumin, coriander, garlic, and peppermint) and the Harissa sauce provided a sweet, smoky, earthy bite with just the right amount of a kick that blended in well with the rest of the dish while enhancing its sweet-and-savory flavor profile. The chicken, which fell off the bone at the touch of my fork, and accompanying vegetables came out soft, moist, tender, and infused with bold flavor.
My friend ordered the Baby Lamb Tagine, which came with Saffron sauce and toasted almonds, and his comments basically mirrored mine. Both entrees were perfectly prepared and presented and we thoroughly enjoyed our choices. By this time Chef Akkari, at my request, had joined us at our table and brought along some complimentary Moroccan Mint Tea. I also ordered the house specialty dessert, Orange Blossom Sweet Besteeya (layers of crisp, flaky pastry topped with Marakesh’s own sweet orange blossom cream and groundnuts) to go with the tea which I understood is Morocco’s number one drink. The tea was amazing and was a truly satisfying, post-meal treat.
It could have been a dessert in itself. The surprising, intense, sugary, herb-charged tea is a must-have when visiting Marakesh. I can easily see why it is a daily ritual in some parts of the world. And do have it with that Orange Blossom Sweet Besteeya dessert which also knocks it out of the park with its complex layers of taste that are sweet, spicy, rich, and earthy. All in all, we had a great dining adventure with our visit to Marakesh, the restaurant that is. I would highly recommend you stop in, individually or with a group, and give this place a try. I believe you will be happy you did. Bessha!
And as always, please try to come out and help support all our local, small independent businesses in any way you can.
Dine-In, Take Out, Ample Parking, Vegetarian Friendly, Vegan, Halal, Curbside Pickup.
Food is one of the last bastions on Earth that brings people together! It appeals to every sense and it speaks without words, invokes memories!
Marakesh Restaurant, 321 Route 46 East, Parsippany, NJ 07054; (973) 808-0062; Click here for website.
Reprinted from Parsippany Focus Magazine, April 2021