Andalous Moroccan Restaurant
In the movie “Casablanca,” Humphrey Bogart told Sam, “Play it again, Sam.” He should have asked Sam about the heavenly aroma coming from the kitchen and who was cooking such delicious food. No, he wanted a tune tinkered on the piano — how sad. Then again, actors and actresses do not appreciate good food, considering they have to remain rail thin for tabloid-hungry reporters and people with abyssmal self-esteem who aspire to be like them.
For a muggy Friday night jaunt, a food-adventuring friend who was a community activist with me during my Chicago South Side days and I went to Andalous Moroccan restaurant at 3307 North Clark Street in Chicago’s Lakeview. No matter what language you speak, the word “yum” sums up the sentiment that we felt after we had finished our two-hour stay at the restaurant. The next time we go back, we will get a kitchen table seat. Now, I have to get to cracking getting a job with some major magazine as an official photographer and food critic. They may torture me by stuffing me completely if they find out I am just a food addict, not a food critic. Believe me when I say that I will not whine about that.
Instead of a customary server taking our orders, the owner was the one who placed our orders. Not only did we get excellent recommendations, but we also got lessons and history behind some of the dishes, when people eat the dishes and your socio-economic status if you eat certain dishes. He guessed ours after we finished rattling off the dishes we wanted.
We started with complementary garbanzo beans and pita bread that the servers kept bringing out seemingly every ten minutes. At the owner’s recommendation, he had us sample a vegetarian dish, a medley of doctored-up vegetables. We had the zaalook, which were fresh eggplant grilled and mashed with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic and fine Moroccan spices. We stuffed our jaws with taktouka; grilled, peeled and diced bell peppers and tomatoes sautéed with Moroccan virgin Atlas olive oil and Kasbah spices. There was no way we were going to refuse the carrots ala charmoula, so we order that as well. These were blanched carrot sticks tossed with Moroccan green olives, garlic, paprika, cumin, and lemon juice. We rounded out the vegetarian dish with bakoula, which was chopped fresh spinach sautéed with Moroccan herbal blend and lemon confi. Our parents would have been proud of us, seeing us eat our vegetables without complaint. All of this went down with a pot of Moroccan mint tea. I have to see if my favorite tea spot, Argo Tea, sells it. They boil rose water and add some spices — that did not kill us, by the way — and topped it off with mint leaves.
Here is where the manager truly shined with his suggestions. Per his recommendation, we had a vegetarian couscous dish. This dish was couscous topped with a mouth-watering combination of garden vegetables and garbanzo beans. We also had a tangier tagine — fresh whitefish fillet baked tagine style with tomatoes, green bell peppers and carrots in a Moroccan garlic sauce. Our third entrée was a pastilla. This dish consisted of layers of chicken carefully seasoned with fine Moroccan spices rolled in phyllo dough and then baked until crispy and delectable. The chicken dish is where we got one of our lessons. The pastilla is a dish mostly eaten by those who “have” plenty in Morocco. It is a dish mostly served at very special occasions. I now know that as a tourist, I will never ask for this dish for fear of having someone run screaming through the streets, “There is a rich tourist among us and he is going to buy us all a pastilla.” Well, all of the entrées went down with another pot of Moroccan mint tea.
By now, we had more than our share of good eating. However, we could not let on that we were almost defeated. We ordered a dessert and figured we would settle on dessert that came in small quantity. Did we not get a surprise? The dessert, all of four different dessert samples, was so rich that we could not believe such bite size goodies could end up so filling. The baklava stick, the caramelized praline, the rolled nuts, and the coffee cookie were out of this world. Oh, and we washed it all down with a pot of Moroccan mint tea.
This was the second time my friend and I have been to Andalous. That says something about how much we like the food. With us also getting history, conversation, and good recommendations from the manager, that was even more reason to go again. As for prices, who cares? The tab came out cheaper than one would expect for all the food that we ate and we had eaten a lot. So, load up the car, catch the el or the bus, or order the taxi driver to run traffic lights to get you to Andalous. I would recommend that you get there early. People will crowd a restaurant for good food and Andalous does not disappoint. Just ask my smiling tummy.