2501 Meredith Street
(215) 978-8440
(Cash only strictly enforced; BYOB)

When an attorney turns 60, as I did in September 2002, his or her mind begins to wander and wonder. "No parties, please," I beg my wife, "I don't want anyone to know. Let's wander off somewhere... alone."

Annie's present to me for my birthday is a wonder, a trip to Hotel La Mamounia in Marrakech. We revel in Moroccan luxury: a lavish garden-level suite opening to thousands of scented rosebushes, grandly tall date-palms and thick fig trees whose fruits when split, are as red as seedless watermelon. The venerable and lucullan La Mamounia hosts the International French Film Festival. My wife had known this. "It's why we're here," she confides at lunch near the sparkling emerald pool. We sit beside Catherine Deneuve, Jeanne Moreau and Francis Ford Coppola.

I comment with excited bursts of breathless ardour, "Catherine is gorgeous, Jeanne's skin is marmoreal, and Coppola has a sultan's tan and physique. THEY LOOK SO YOUNG!"

My wife wisely notes, "They are all much older than you, my dearest; in their late sixties, seventies and early eighties. To say it soukcinctly," she puns, "you're my Berber baby."

Upon returning to Philadelphia, I seek out Moroccan restaurants to celebrate my youth. No oasis is more tantalizingly toothsome and refreshing than Figs.

One enters into a tiny vestibule protected by a floor-to-ceiling curtain. Through the crease in the latter can be seen copper incarnadine walls, glowing as if the sun is setting on the Sahara. Waitpersons scurry around twenty tables emulating merchants in a medina. Close your eyes; the smells are redolent of cumin and humus, almonds and raisins. You expect muezzins to sound resonating calls to prayer. I almost feel the urge to bargain for the price of my dinner.

After having been served hunks of olive bread and white bean tapinade as a gift, start with Harissa-Marinated Octopus and Calamari, grilled and served with roasted tomato and polenta. Harissa is a Moorish marinade that clears nasal passages; the kind of sauce that would make a camel stop in its tracks for humps of water. Yet with placating polenta, grilled to a cross-hatch, and rumpled tomatoes soothing the tongue, the blasphemous aftertaste softens to a congruous benediction upon one's lips.

If you miss the Parmesan Crusted Flounder, with almond rice and sautéed spinach, surrounded by a caper-lemon beurrre blanc sauce, you'll kick yourself. The fish is crisp with a nosegay of cheese. Its flesh is brilliantly white and so fresh it seems a phantasm at first bite. The spinach is of the infant baby variety, verdant and garlicky. The sauce cuts bait, bedizened with a tang of citrus over butter.

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Moroccan Spiced Beef Stew is a velvety package containing marvelous chunks of meat in a bevy of North African vegetables and spices. The squash is roasted to a sugary, golden sweetness, thick and delectable. To make this entrée perfect, ask for a side of Macadamia nut risotto. Allow your senses to bathe. Place a large forkful of the risotto gently inside your cheeks. Hold your breath to allow your palate to become engorged and turgid. Then swallow slowly so that your esophagus is not startled. Figs' creamy, nutty concoction is without peer. It's stirring.

Nor can you be led astray by ordering a perfectly grilled Filet Mignon in a red wine-wild mushroom demi-glace, or Char-Grilled Swordfish in a black olive tapenade. Each uses top quality ingredients in more than ample portions.

As I sit back to drink my dessert, Moroccan Almond Tea with Fresh Mint, although you may perceive the Middle Eastern Cookie Plate as a top choice, I reflect upon my last day in Marrakech. It was my birthday, September 16, falling on Yom Kippur. We went to the synagogue in the Melach (Jewish section) of the Old City where thousands of Jewish merchants had busied themselves for hundreds of years.

We heard quiet singing and chanting inside as we knocked on the door of an old battered building in a very narrow street identified to us by a policeman guarding it, as the synagogue.

The rabbi answered the door and asked in broken English if we were Jewish. I replied that we were, and that we'd appreciate being able to join the congregation for the day's services. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled waving us in. He turned and pointed to the sparsely populated well-dressed participants, all holding worn blue books, all in prayer shawls. The women were above us in an alcove, attentively reciting from the same books.

"We were thousands...," he shrugged his shoulders again, "and now we're only sixty."

"So am I," I reverently replied.


Copyright 2004 Richard Max Bockol, Esq. Back