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The talented belly dancers alone are worth a visit and give the exotic stamp to a romantic ambiance suitable for date night, yet also for bringing business associates to a different dining experience
By Jana Soeldner Danger
The dancer glides sensuously through the room, hips swaying, arms snaking gracefully. As the beat of the Middle Eastern-style music speeds up, she approaches different tables, inviting diners to join her on the floor. Several of them do, and soon the small dance floor is crowded with people who appear to be having lots of fun.
Professional belly dancers are just one of the attractions at Moroccan Nights in Surfside. Entering the 100-seat main dining room is a bit like walking into a sheik’s tent: fabrics in deep, rich maroon and gold drape the walls and ceiling, and similarly upholstered soft chairs flank closely spaced tables. Lighting is low and romantic, with candles casting a flickering glow. Each table holds a traditional Middle Eastern brass bread server, and waiters dress in traditional Moroccan costumes.
A small bar lit romantically with candles at one end of the room has seating for 10. There’s also a second-floor dining room, used for overflow, private parties, and special events such as tarot card readings. On a recent evening, nearly all the main-floor tables were filled. The majority of guests seemed to be young professionals, although there was a mix of ages.
The new owner, David Sultan, has kept the restaurant’s ethnicity, yet added selections and features to make it more eclectic. Although most of the dishes prepared by Chef Feirouz el Ouazzani are traditional to her Moroccan heritage, there’s also an international menu section that includes grilled salmon, spaghetti Bolognese, New York strip steak, and grilled chicken.
Ms. El Ouazzani’s food is straightforward and not overly complex.
Although I have never been to Morocco, the fare here is what I would imagine Moroccan moms might make in their home kitchens for special family meals. This fits with the owner’s goal of making the restaurant neighborhood-friendly, a draw for repeat visits from locals rather than just a special-occasion spot.
While there are plenty of meat dishes available, Moroccan Nights is vegetarian-friendly, with about 10 suitable appetizers such as baked eggplant ($5.95); roasted bell peppers with fresh tomatoes ($7.95); and, of course, house-made hummus ($4.95).
Sultan is in the process of developing a wine list. Currently, the restaurant offers a limited selection of Chilean and Moroccan-produced vintages. The restaurant also has full liquor service. A meal begins with a basket of crusty bread served with a dish of very spicy olives -- the peppery oil underneath is nice for dipping.
Several of the starters consist of flaky phyllo pastry stuffed with a variety of fillings. Moroccan cigars were long tubes of phyllo filled with spicy ground beef and onions, seasoned with cumin, white pepper, paprika, and garlic. Spinach bastilla was a flavorful mix of fresh spinach and feta cheese seasoned with white pepper. Fresh lemon added zing to the tahini (sesame seed paste) sauce served with both.
Rice-stuffed grape leaves were moist, tender and tasty, made with a flavorful olive oil. ($10.95). An interesting way to try a variety of appetizers is to order one – or both -- of the two sampling platters ($15.95 each) that are available.
We tried a mixed grill ($25) that offered several of the meats available as single entrees. The platter is a good choice for someone who wants to experiment with Moroccan preparations and seasonings. The best item on the plate was the beef kebob, made with tender filet mignon and seasoned with sage, parsley, lemon, and olive oil. The menu also offers kebobs (all $20.95) made with salmon, chicken, or kefta (minced beef).
A thin-cut lamb chop ($24.95 as a single entrée) accented with onions and seasoned with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, sage, and parsley was spicy and tasty. Merguez ($14.95 for an entree), Moroccan beef sausages seasoned with cumin, garlic, and paprika, were very good, filling our mouths with spicy flavor . The entrée version ($14.95) is served with French fries, another of Sultan’s American-style additions to the menu.
Tagine ($21.95) or stew, with vegetables and lamb was hearty and flavorful. A mix of carrots, onions, zucchini, chick peas, squash and celery accompanied a tender, slow-cooked lamb shank, all seasoned with garlic, cumin, thyme, and olive oil. It was a dish I’d order again. Tagines also offer the options of pairing beef or lamb with prunes; beef or chicken with vegetables; chicken with olives and lemon; or salmon with olive oil and vegetables.
Lamb with vegetable couscous ($20.95) was the only disappoinA?`i?ø?????????Òtment – instead of the juicy moistness of the meat in the tagine, the shank was somewhat dry and tough, and lacked the spicy zing of the other meats we tried. The accompanying couscous was tender and nicely cooked, however. Couscous is also served with beef, chicken or merguez (all $20.95). In addition, there’s a combination platter $25.95) with chicken, lamb, kefta, merguez, and vegetables.
Sweet of fez ($6.95) is a plate of tasty, traditional Moroccan pastries made on the premises: chebakia, flavored with sesame and honey; montekao, made with almond, sugar, and cinnamon; walnut “cigars” sweetened with both honey and sugar and seasoned with cinnamon and Muscat wine, and baklava, filled with walnuts and pistachios and sweetened with honey and sugar.
A torte ($6.95), layers of creamy chocolate mousse alternating with praline fondant, is also very good.
Moroccan Nights has a romantic ambiance suitable for date night, yet it could also be a nice place to bring business associates for an unusual dining experience. The talented belly dancers alone are worth a visit. While the menu now offers several American-style entrees, be adventurous and sample some of the authentic Moroccan cuisine.