By Jeff Koehler
Photography By Alan Keohane
Growing rapidly in clout and resources, with a new port and marina under construction as part of a major facelift, this city of roughly 1 million finds itself back in vogue with the fashionable and creative and has a flourishing culinary scene to match. Here are five favorite restaurants for lunch or dinner on your day in port.
Set in a former pasha’s palace, the city’s most up-market riad (guesthouse) opens its restaurant to the public, as well as its rooftop café overlooking the medina, ancient port, and wide, curling sweep of city beach. The dining area consists of a handful of intimate rooms in the centuries-old building, lovingly restored and given a few tasteful modern accents.
The menu might appear unadventurous, consisting of Moroccan staples found in restaurants and roadhouse eateries around the country, such as the tomato-based soup harira, marinated and fried sardines, chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives, or tagine of lamb with prunes and almonds. But you’ll find superb renditions of these traditional recipes here (as you should, but rarely do, in most restaurants). Start with the trio of salads – lentils, roasted eggplant zaalouk, and cucumber and tomatoes – and go from there for a classic Moroccan feast.
2. El Morocco Club
In the small square just inside the arched Kasbah Gate, El Morocco Club opened a couple of years ago with a stylish, midcentury vibe and an eclectic range of dishes that Belgian-born co-owner Vincent Coppée calls “a cocktail.”
Head here for a decisively contemporary take on Moroccan flavors. Among the enchanting, interesting items: coddled eggs with argan-oil-flavored cream of Jerusalem artichoke, and khlii, the legendary seasoned and dried Moroccan meat. But I’ll never leave without ordering its fresh foie gras on a nest of local pasta – sublime.
The lively ground-floor piano bar serves great cocktails and oysters too. You’re in luck if you’re here on a Thursday, when the club receives a shipment of small oysters seeded from Japanese stock and grown in Dakhla’s clean waters off the southern Sahara.
3. Restaurant Ô Saveur
In the upscale residential California neighborhood, a forty-something French husband and wife offer exquisite dining in their intimate home (their three small kids may wander down in pajamas during dinner service to say good night). In place of home-style cooking, expect Tangier’s finest French cuisine without fussy trappings. From assiette tout canard – a trio of duck delicacies – to such straightforward items as mixed salad with confit tomatoes or grilled beef tenderloin, even the simplest dishes taste of refined perfection. 15 rue Boubana, California; 212-5399/49-660.
4. Casa D’Italia
Huddled against sultan Moulay Hafid’s old palace is a private club whose restaurant opened in 1950 and cheerfully welcomes the public for meals. The airy dining rooms of this old-school trattoria remain an important thread in the city’s international fabric. Low-key, family-friendly, and frequented by a broad swath of expats and locals who all know each other, Casa d’Italia serves hearty home-style Italian cooking – wonderful fresh tagliatelle and spinach-stuffed cannelloni, as well as house specialties such as bresaola with olive oil and Parmesan. Its thin-crust, wood-fired pizzas have reached mythic status over the years, but take note: They only serve them at dinner. Palais des Institutions Italiennes (Palais Moulay Hafid); 212-5399/36-348.
Twenty minutes by taxi from the city center, waterfront L’Ocean faces the wide-open Atlantic’s rolling surf along wild Sidi Kacem beach. It’s infused with the bright, salty light that drew Delacroix, Matisse, and a host of other artists to Tangier.
Start with, perhaps, L’Ocean’s rich fish soup (particularly fitting on chilly days when a wood fire burns inside) or roasted tomato-and-onion tart with freshly marinated anchovies, followed by simply prepared seafood such as an excellent grilled John Dory. Keep an eye out for the Moroccan king, who’s been known to stroll down the golden sand from his villa just up the beach.
A Taste of Tangier
Two shore excursions that are sure to please your palate.
GO Regent Seven Seas
and Star Clippers Cruises, SeaDream, and Travel Dynamics International call on Tangier during select western Mediterranean and African voyages. Of special note: Oceania Cruises’ ten-day sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon aboard the 1,250-passenger Marina. Shop
the city’s central market for spices and ceramic tagines with the master chef from the ship’s Bon Appétit Culinary Center. The outing includes tea at a sidewalk café and lunch at a traditional restaurant, where the ship’s chef will explain the spices and techniques used in each dish, followed by a hands-on Moroccan cooking class back on board.
Virtuoso’s on-site connection in Tangier designs custom shore excursions to fit your interests. For example, days focused on food and culinary history start with a quick tour of city highlights, such as seventeenth-century palace Dar el-Makhzen and the medina’s fortified Kasbah overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, and continue with market visits before a private cooking lesson in either a restaurant or a local’s home. After lunch, learn to prepare and serve Moroccan mint tea, tour the Tangier American Legation Museum or the Caves of Hercules, then grab coffee and a late-afternoon snack at historic Café Hafa. Later departures can add dinner reservations at one of the restaurants in this article.
Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, January 2015.
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