By Grace Edquist
It took Youssef Amraoui only one trip to Madison to visit a friend to realize that this is where he wanted to be. "And of course I came in the summer, and went to the Terrace, and had a beer," the Morocco native and Marrakesh Restaurant owner admits.
But the euphoria didn't wear off, and Amraoui returned to Memphis, where he had been working at the historic Peabody Hotel as a chef, gave his two weeks' notice, and headed back north. Now, eleven years and two Madison restaurant jobs later, Amraoui owns his own place on University Avenue to honor the cuisine of his homeland. Marrakesh Restaurant serves traditional Moroccan food, like tagine, couscous and bastilles (a phyllo dough pie), alongside more familiar Middle Eastern staples, such as kebobs, hummus and shawarma sandwiches.
Amraoui purposefully mixed the Moroccan dishes—which he says are not as familiar to most people—with foods they are used to. But if Amraoui had to pick the one dish he recommends, the one that speaks to the stuff of Morocco? It's the tagine: a savory stew-like dish with choice of beef, lamb, chicken, seafood or vegetables cooked in a clay pot with a cone-shaped lid and served with saffron rice. Also worth noting is the harira, a traditional soup with tomato, chickpeas and lentils, and the mohamara spread, which is hummus-like in texture but packs more punch with the flavors of walnuts, artichoke hearts and red pepper topped with spices. And—trust us—get the tea. Poured high from a traditional teapot, which Amraoui collected on a "shopping trip" to Morocco to outfit his restaurant, the green tea base has a complex profile with hints of mint, rosemary and thyme. It's a drink to calm the senses and prolong the meal.
5510 University Ave.
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Photos by Nicole Peaslee.