Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Royal Couscous

Tonight we were Moroccan princes -- or at least feasted like ones.

On the recommendation of the kind folk at George V, we venture a short distance from the Arc de Triomphe (Charles de Gaulle Etoile) into the 17th arrondissement to the restaurant Timgad. We enter into an ornate interior with stark white lattice-work walls, a fountain surrounded by a profusion of plants and flowers, and regal red carpets. The tuxedoed staff are charged with a sense of occasion and urgency.

We begin with an arrangement of spicy and pickled Moroccan mezze -- carrots scented with cumin, lemon, coriander; piquante green olives; oil-cured black olives; pickled cauliflower, carrots, peppers; and toasted hazelnuts. This was served with a round load of whole wheat bread.

The menu consists of a variety of couscous, tagines and grilled meats. We opt for Couscous Merguez and Tagine de poulet fermier aux olives et citrons confits.

Timgad's presentation of couscous is something of a spectacle. First the couscous is served from a large decorative platter into individual serving bowls. The server takes the backside of the oversized serving spoon to form a deep depression in the couscous mound. Then they arrive with a large terracotta pot of stewed zucchini, carrots, turnips and scoop them into the well, making sure to provide ample sauce. Next come the garnishes: chickpeas in a sauce, plump golden raisins and Harissa sauce. The couscous itself is incredibly light, fluffy and perfectly salted; the vegetables cut in large portions are plumped with flavor from the broth.

The merguez is served on the side. We realize up until this point, we have only eaten charred, overcooked merguez. Timgad's is a completely different -- cooked with dry heat in a wood-burning oven, it remains tender and juicy, bringing life the lamb sausage's delicate spices and mint. The food is simple, but a revelation.

Our tagine took on an intense yellow color from the spices -- matching the vivid level of flavor. A dreamy succulent chicken topped with onions, black olives and half of a preserved lemon.

We should note, this is an enormous amount of food for two people, so dessert was out of the question. Though we couldn't refuse a service of famous Moroccan mint tea.

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