Drink first, then eat, at Marrakech
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011
You've come for the bisteeya and the Couscous Royal, but the first words out of your mouth at the new Marrakech
Lounge should be, "I'll have a drink."
A glance at the bowl on the counter, heaped with fresh pineapple, grapefruit, oranges and ginger - and the sight of bartender Heriberto Casasanero taking his time with cocktails classic and otherwise - are nudge enough to start the evening in Adams Morgan by wetting your whistle. (You might have enjoyed Casasanero's Manhattans or Sazeracs before; he has shaken and stirred at a number of area bars, including Cuba Libre, Smith Commons and Urbana.)
Marrakech Lounge is a maiden voyage for first-time restaurant owner Ahmed Ouihman, a former manager at the nearby Napoleon restaurant and onetime waiter at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. His new roost brings together a modest upstairs lounge arranged with low sofas and a ground-floor dining room that is so narrow, only tall, small cocktail tables can hug the walls.
The menu is brief but embraces the Moroccan standards. Shredded chicken and almonds tucked inside a flaky, sugar-dusted crust makes a respectable bisteeya. Eggplant mashed with garlic, tomato and olive oil (served cold) is a keeper, as are white beans, onion and garlic tinted red with tomato paste (served warm). A stew of lamb with prunes is too sweet for my taste, but that fluffy Couscous Royal arranged with lamb, chicken and zippy lamb sausage is a crowd-pleaser built for two.
You do not go to Marrakech Lounge for polished service. Unless you ask for it, water never arrives. Your drink orders might get mixed up, and the server lets you rearrange things on the tiny tables in order to accommodate your order.
Even so, I have to applaud the staff member who encouraged me to sign up for the restaurant's Groupon deal before she brought out my check - and saved my employer $50. Sold!