A quick geography refresher: Marrakesh, the city, is located in the North African country of Morocco; MARRAKESH, the restaurant, is located on a busy strip of North Division between two furniture stores. After 18 years on Northwest Boulevard, owner Mamdouh Zayed opened in the new space in October. “It’s a better location with more exposure,” he says. Zayed is hoping to draw customers from Gonzaga and the surrounding commercial area, and for the first time he’s open for lunch.
Dining at Marrakesh is as much about the experience as it is about the food. The menu (same at lunch and dinner) is a set $20 for a five-course traditional Moroccan meal with your choice of entrees. Allow at least an hour for a leisurely meal — longer if you want to relax between courses and linger over the floral-scented herbal tea.
Entering Marrakesh is like stepping into a Berber tent. Carpets adorn the floor and lanterns hang overhead. Sit on a cushion on the floor, or on the slightly more comfortable ornate banquettes along the wall. You can’t see the traffic on Division, and the Arabic music almost makes you forget it’s there at all.
Be prepared to roll up your sleeves. Moroccan food is traditionally eaten with your hands. (I’ll admit: I used a fork for the couscous.) When you arrive, you’ll start with a ceremonial hand washing and receive a towel to protect your lap.
From the pleasantly spicy lentil soup to the refreshing Moroccan vegetable salad and flaky, savory-sweet chicken-filled bastila appetizer, each course is flavorful and just the right size.
Entrees include several chicken and lamb dishes, a vegetarian couscous and a daily special. The lamb shish kebab, tender chunks of char-grilled meat, comes served over vegetable couscous. And the meal ends with the honey-drenched walnut baklava: dense, rich and satisfyingly sweet.
Step into Marrakesh and you’ll be temporarily transported to another culture. Not bad for just 20 bucks.
Marrakesh • 1227 N. Division • Lunch Mon-Fri, 11 am-2 pm; Dinner Mon-Sun, 5pm-10pm • 328-9733
Out of the Frying Pan
Two fires, 40 years apart, have tried to bring down CHEF IN THE FOREST, a dining tradition in Hauser, Idaho. But has that extinguished its owners’ flame?
According to Debbie Mustered, who co-owns the restaurant with her mother, Jo Davis, a 1969 fire prompted the original owner to relocate several smaller cabins from the old Woodland Beach Resort into what would eventually become the current restaurant. When another fire struck, in 2009, relocation — and giving up — was out of the question.
Instead, the mother-daughter duo rebuilt the place, preserving as much of the original charm as possible. The formerly choppy dining space is now one central room with lake views from all tables. They kept the cabin-like color scheme: forest green wall, wood floors and walls throughout, an open-beam ceiling. And they modernized the cozy bar near the kitchen.
Warm up next to the handsome stone fireplace or with a drink from the full bar while you await appetizers like escargot ($8) and Oysters Rockefeller ($9). My Southern-fried crab cakes ($8), on a lightly dressed slaw of red cabbage, had a tangy remoulade and paired perfectly with a glass of merlot ($5 to $7).
Entrees include chicken, fish and beef. An eight-ounce filet mignon ($26) is transformed la Oscar with crab, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce ($28). The cioppino with crab, lobster, shrimp, scallops and mussels is popular ($28), as is sauerbraten: a Bavarian pot roast with ginger sauce, potato pancakes and braised red cabbage ($21).
Save room for dessert if you can. Entrees are served with a choice of soup or salad and sides of rice pilaf, baked potato and fresh vegetables. While you wait, nibble on the pté tray and sourdough bread made from scratch by Davis — who turned 75 recently. She also makes all their dressings and desserts.
Davis and Mustered aren’t the only family members at Chef in the Forest. Mustered’s son is head chef. Her other son works part-time in the dining room. Combined, that’s a lot of history — which is perfect for this landmark restaurant.
Chef in the Forest • 12008 N. Woodland Beach Dr., Hauser, Idaho • Wed-Sat from 5:30–8:30 pm, Sun 5 -8:30 pm • chefintheforest.net • Reservations required • (208) 773-3654