On Monday after having our selves tarted up at Dessange we went to the Mega Mall. What an experience. It has an ice-skating rink and a bowling alley. Shops for clothes and jewels that would fit on 5th Avenue or Knightsbridge. While it was lovely, and blessedly cool it felt just a little off. I think anyone who has visited Dubai, Acapulco, Kuwait City or like kind will know what I mean when I say it is confined excess. This is a poor country. It is a lovely country, full of wonderful history and magnificent people, but it is economically in bad straits with an unemployment rate reported at 20%, and more likely at 45+%.
I think Q said it best when she was in the hamman at Moving having her 1001 Nights treatment. She was speaking with the ladies in Darjia and they ask what she thought of Morocco. “Morocco is great if you have money, and not so great if you don’t.” They were amused as well as impressed, and told her that was the most honest answer they had ever heard.
If you stand inside the mall and close your mind to the rest of Morocco it is perfectly normal, but if you look around you at the luxury goods and think of the state of the rest of the country, even the city – it is unsettling at bit.
We had lunch at XO International Restaurant, or rather we tried.. It is a lovely restaurant decorated with lots of cedar, fountains, and marble. The seating was comfortable in a cushioned booth. The waiter was very personable. I fear it was all terribly downhill after that. To begin I could not get him to bring me my Oul Mes (bubbly water). Then we ordered appetizers. He took the order and returned, without my water, “We have no avocado [Avocat aux crevettes.” Fine, we ordered something else.
He returns, “We have no veal [Filet de veau].” At this point we have become wary and decide we shall only order appetizers (if we can find some food they actually have), and hold off on the main course until we see how they taste. Finally we found something they had in the kitchen Assiette Chevre Chaude for Q, and Salade Pecheur for me. Sounds good eh? Warm toasted cheese for Q basically and a seafood salad for me; we are after all on the ocean.
Finally the water arrives. No bread. No butter. At this point we are saying, “I miss Palais de Fez.” Not a good sign.
The food arrived. The food was inedible. I had one forkful and could eat no more. Q had about a third of her dish. When I had him bring the tab there was no mention or notice by him of the fact almost all the food he had served REMAINED. I paid the 98 dirhams for the food and left a ten percent tip – he was nice; and we left – hungry. Now for me dining is fifty percent about the experience, the ambiance. Q is a total food person. We both were unhappy. Very unhappy. XO International Restaurant is on the first floor of the Mega Mall in Souissi.
Yesterday we had lunch at Le Comptoir. The food was so good Q wrote the following.
sliced baguette and olive bread with black olive tapenade and butter
café au lait
Le Comptoir (The Bar) has an old-school French appearance. And it tastes old-school French, too. No surprises here, but surprisingly well-prepared fish, good service, and a Casablanca -esque atmosphere. They'll even grill you a salmon filet well done without complaint. Not that that's necessary a culinary blessing, but it is good service.
The meal began with bread, butter, and bitter black olive tapenade. Instead of a breadbasket, someone had apparently deemed it infinitely more chic to replace the bread every three--thin!--slices of baguette by a white-gloved waiter bearing silver tongs and the "master" breadbasket. The bread was unremarkable but fresh, and the Moroccan black olive tapendade went well with the salty yellow butter.
Our appetizers arrived in short order. The gazpacho looked a little more like chilled Campbell's tomato soup than something painstakingly chopped and chilled, but it was tasty enough, if not particularly authentic. My swordfish tartare was very good, and hit all the right notes with a bit of creamy binding, parsley, and lemon to hold the pile of minced meat together. No surprises, and nothing to life the dish from "good" to "excellent," but a simple dish done well.
The main courses were a study in the amazing ability of browned garlic butter to improve absolutely everything savory it touches. The swordfish steak was tasty and firm, not too dry despite being cooked "a bit more than medium" at Lady MacLeod's request. The langoustines were juicy and sweet, although the lack of the proper shellfish-eating equipment presented a problem (I was given a shell cracker but no meat pick, and elected to give in and leave the claws in a little pile on my plate.
Both dishes were accompanied by a small vegetable sauté with toasted almonds, and a cauliflower gratin. Both were liberally drizzled with the aforementioned garlic butter. This also rode in a little side bowl, ready to anoint anything which might need further buttery goodness. A final quaint touch was the addition of a steel finger bowl filled with warm water, mint, and some lemon.
Our allowed 3 slices of baguette continued to be replenished throughout the mains, and by the time we both finished, there was no real question of dessert. Coffee was all either of us could manage. The café au lait was highly decent by Moroccan standards, which is to say overly bitter and requiring most of a packet of sugar to be drinkable, but the foam was excellent and the mugs cute enough to want to take back home.
Back to me: I found the service excellent and the surroundings delightful. The food was delicious and artistically presented. The bathroom was small but well acquitted. My only complaint was the smell in the bathroom; while not offensive it was not pleasant. There is a wood bar downstairs, you can have drinks and order them with lunch or dinner. The divided wood staircase that leads to the bathrooms makes for a grand entrance back to the table. The cost was 514 dirhams plus 52 dirhams for tip. It was well worth every dirham. We will be back. Actually I have penciled Grand Comptoir in for lunch every Tuesday. They are located at 279, avenue Mohamed V (212 0 37 20 15 14).