Moroccan Madness

Perhaps it’s a birthday, a stag/hen night, an anniversary, even a wedding. You’re in a large room dimly lit with fantastical gobo lights and tapping your feet to pulsating Moroccan music. A belly dancer expertly swings a scimitar about her head in a dazzling and terrifying display.

Marrakesh is one of those strange restaurant experiences that is always, always the same. A night there never deviates from the night you spent a year or two or several there before. Only the characters change. This makes the whole experience rather disconcerting, like eating deja vu.

After knocking to gain admittance (I’ve always wished they would camp it up even more and add a password) we waited in the fountained antechamber for the rest of our group. Over half an hour later, thanks to our notorious latecomers, we were shown to our tables. As it was a birthday, we were seated in the large back room with all the other birthdays and various ages of “girls night out” (what is with the Mardi Gras beads for bachelorette parties these days?). It begins with ritualized handwashing and an explanation of the fixed seven-course dinner to follow. As all eating is communal and most is with your hands, watching your other diners like a hawk as they participate in said handwashing is essential, before you all turn into vultures over the food.

I have to say I’ve never been able to get through a meal at Marrakesh completely. Seven courses is quite a lot and I think they could stand to trim it down and focus more on quality. The chicken with lemon and olives is the consistent standout, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. By the time I get to the second meat course I’m pretty much vanquished, as were most of my fellow diners. Of course, this is the moment when the belly-dancing starts and you forget the food anyway. The dancing is usually very good and this particular night featured a vibrant dancer and her previously mentioned exhilarating scimitar-waving.

At some point after drinking mint tea in a vain attempt to calm your embattled stomach, you lurch out into the night air, feeling rather like a Roman emperor in serious need of purging.

Though the kitsch factor is quite high at Marrakesh (especially the moment when the lights go down and they boom the “Happy Birthday” music while carrying sparklers to the birthday tables), gathering from the crowds we saw it still remains Washington’s “group special occasion” dining experience. And I have a feeling that won’t be the last time I head there for someone’s decadent birthday…

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