I have long been a fan of Tara Kitchen in Schenectady, and was excited when they opened a second location in Troy. But despite how delicious the food is there, I’ve been told by more than one reputable source that it’s not truly authentic Moroccan. So when I heard that a new Moroccan place was opening (in Clifton Park, of all unlikely places), I was cautiously optimistic that this might be the authentic gem we’ve been waiting for.
The location of Marrakesh in a strip mall in Clifton Park leaves something to be desired, but as soon as you enter the restaurant, there’s an undeniable charm to the setup. Table options are split between more traditional Moroccan seating with low seats and round tables, or traditional American booths. Wait staff was impeccably attentive and friendly, and immediately served up small glasses of hot mint tea with a bit of flourish. I started feeling more and more optimistic about this dining experience.
However, the food ended up being somewhat of a mixed bag. We opted to try the chicken bastilla appetizer ($15), which came highly recommended from a few friends who had already tried this place out. A round, flaky phyllo dough shell encased an interesting mix of shredded chicken, almonds, egg, and spices. The outside was dusted with cinnamon and sugar, which almost gave it more of a dessert vibe. The flavors and textures were really interesting in this dish, but it was served at a lukewarm room temperature, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would be better warmed up. Either way, this was a good start to the meal, and a pretty hearty plate on its own.
For entrees, the menu has a nice mix of options that include more traditional meat kebabs over couscous with grilled vegetables, salads, and tagines (slow cooked preparations of meat and vegetables, which are similar to what you might have seen at Tara Kitchen). We decided to try two different tagines: the Marrakshee (seasoned meatballs and a sunny side up egg served in a tomato sauce), and the Caswe (chicken with raisins, caramelized onions, honey, cinnamon, and almonds). Both dishes came with the option of bread or rice, so we tried one of each.
The most disappointing part of our meal was the bread that came with one of the tagines. Although previously noted on the menu as “homemade” bread, part of the description was blacked out so it now only read “bread” – not a promising sign. I was expecting something closer to a flatbread or naan, but instead it was simply a generic loaf of sliced Italian bread. This felt like a real missed opportunity for something authentic and delicious. The rice was similarly non-exciting – just a yellow jasmine rice sprinkled with a few bits of parsley.
In terms of the tagines themselves, the Marrakshee Tagine ($24) was good, but not spectacular, and on the small side for the price. The meatballs were nicely seasoned and had a perfect texture (not too dense), but the promised sunny side up egg was pretty much cooked all the way through. A runny yolk would have added some much needed richness to the sauce.
The Caswe Tagine, on the other hand, ended up being the highlight of the meal. I was worried it would be too sweet, especially after we felt like the appetizer course veered too far into that territory, but the sauce was actually quite well balanced. The caramelized onions added a savory touch, and the dark meat chicken was cooked to a lovely, falling off the bone tenderness. The sprinkling of sliced almonds on top of everything added a welcome bit of crunch to it all.
Final Rating: 7/10. Can I say for sure that Marrakesh is the most genuine Moroccan option in the Capital District? Not with any real authority, but the menu was different than that of Tara Kitchen and had lots of interesting options. And while I was encouraged by the quality of the chicken tagine, as well as the phyllo pastry appetizer, a few other meal components felt like they were lacking.
In particular, I was discouraged to see that the restaurant is not offering a homemade bread, or something that seems more appropriate for the style of cuisine. Before visiting, friends had told me that the dessert menu included a sampler of authentic Moroccan cookies, but at our visit we were told that the supplier was no longer available (and they only had baklava). So something is going on with the baked offerings at this place that makes it feel like they are falling short or offering an incomplete experience.
Despite a few shortcomings with the food, the ambiance and experience at Marrakesh are still worth a visit, especially when you consider that they are taking a stab at something ethnic and unique in the suburban oasis of Clifton Park. I’m hoping that over time they will work out a few of the kinks in their menu, and figure out how to become a fixture in this neighborhood.