Located at 1201 NW 21st Ave Portland, OR 97209, Marrakesh brings the flavors and culture of Morocco to the Alphabet District of Northwest Portland. Walking into this brightly colored, dimly lit cozy restaurant (light curtains and bright colored blankets line the ceiling and walls), past tasteful belly dancers, past waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional garb, my wife and our party were seated. There were no seats— just some cute ottoman type cushions surrounding a table. Within two minutes of arriving, I knew this would be a totally new experience.
For everyone in our party, this was our first visit but if the reviews and décor were any indication, we knew this would be an authentic and delicious culinary experience. I recognized nothing, and could pronounce very little, on the menu and, since no one else could either, we ordered the five course family style feast. Shortly before our meal came, our waitress, dressed in brightly colored garb and speaking in a mild accent, came and gently poured water on our hands. She was not being rude; she was merely inviting us to take part in the Moroccan pre-meal hand washing ritual. I noticed there was no silverware. When I inquired about this, the waitress laughed and smiled.
“First time here?” She said.
“Here,” she said, “You use your fingers to eat.”
I was skeptical. Here I was, dressed in my Sunday best, basically sitting on the floor of an exquisitely designed restaurant and I was going to be eating with my fingers…like a child. I nearly protested. Sensing this, my wife interjected.
“Just go with it, honey. It’ll be fun,” she said.
I shrugged and went with it. She was usually right about almost everything. I’d learned this in all our years of marriage. So, I just took in the vibe, and the scandalous aroma wafting through the restaurant. My stomach began to rumble and I no longer cared if I had to eat with my fingers, my feet or a shovel… I was ready to dig in. The bread that had recently arrived was quickly consumed with voraciousness.
When the meal arrived, I was happy to discover that the heavenly aroma emanating from the kitchen matched the culinary dance playing on my tongue. The meal was devoured and a conversational hiatus took place during the consumption. The lamb was braised and seasoned to perfection; the couscous was just the right texture and was a wonderful accompaniment with everything; the tea, the vegetables… everything was delicious and I found myself licking the fingers I once was ashamed of using. When we were done, the wine bottle empty and the tea cold, we sat in digestive bliss… pleased with our culinary experience.
Soft music played and the belly dancer continued with her artful dance. Truly the Marrakesh is an experience I would like to share again and again.
As we left and made our way home through the Alphabet District, I marveled at how the city of Portland continues to surprise and delight me. Thank you, Marrakesh and Portland, Oregon for yet another unforgettable experience.