Chewing the Fat
A Chat with Ridha Bouajila of Mediterranean Café
The former owner of Marrakech brings Moroccan and Tunisian food back to Albuquerque
By Gwyneth Doland
Your restaurant Marrakech was the only place in Albuquerque to get North African food and then it closed a few years ago. Now you're opening a new restaurant but this time you're offering Greek dishes and Moroccan food. What made you decide to do both?
Moroccan is our specialty; Greek is due to popular demand. They're both from the Mediterranean. Obviously we couldn't do all the foods of the Mediterranean. ...
Are there things on this menu that fans of Marrakech will recognize.
They'll recognize the lemon chicken—it's cooked with lemons we preserve ourselves—and the couscous. King's Bastilla is a dish we had a lot of customer requests for. It's like dinner and an entrée all at once; it's chicken with almonds, sugar and cinnamon.
Are there a lot of Moroccan dishes that are sweet and salty at the same time?
They use a lot of dried and fresh fruit to cook with. Here all I can find are prunes, apricots and raisins so I use those. Preserved lemons, you can't find those here so I have to make them. And saffron, it's very expensive and very hard to get here.
So the menu at Mediterranean Café, with the addition of the Greek items, will be a lot like Marrakech?
Yes, I copied it, except I took out the Mediterranean lamb because I used harissa and it was too hot.
Too hot? Even here where people can't get enough green chile?
I don't know if it was too hot or maybe it was the spice mixture [that people objected to]. Harissa is made with different spices not just chile, so you taste garlic, cumin, coriander ...
I noticed that you have a few Tunisian dishes on the menu.
Yes, I'm Tunisian. The food is very similar. Tunisian couscous dishes are hotter than Moroccan food which is spicy but not as hot.
You moved into the space that used to house Annapurna Chai House. How did that come about?
I know the landlord and he knew that I was looking for a space. I was looking for something in the Northeast because most of my [previous restaurant's] business was for dinner and there wasn't enough parking there. Here we have plenty of space. ... It's hard, though, this is a little house and all the doorways are sized to fit home equipment. We couldn't move any restaurant equipment in.
Will you be open for lunch and dinner?
With Marrakech I made the mistake of closing between lunch and dinner. I didn't understand that people want to eat all day. I'll be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The menu will be the same but we'll try and do some lunch specials. People want to eat fast and they don't want to spend $15 at lunch. We'll also have belly dancers Friday and Saturday. I have a daughter who is 9 years old; she really really wants to be a belly dancer. She's taking lessons and she says wants to be my house belly dancer. I tell her, "No, you're only 9 years old. I'll get in trouble for child labor!" But I think I might let her come in with one of the other belly dancers for a little bit every once in a while.
Is she good?
She's very good!
Mediterranean Café is at 513 Central NE (at Copper). Call 255-5244 for more information.
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