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When Marrakesh's novelty wears off, its Moroccan flavors will endure

Couscous, which besides Casablanca is the main thing most Westerners know about Morocco, is here a bed of fluffy semolina grains, topped with an architectural arrangement of stewed vegetables--huge carrot chunks, slippery cooked onion, and big thick slices of turnip, zucchini, and a scattering of nut-flavored garbanzo beans over a piece of tender chicken with harissa, the fiery Moroccan pepper paste, served on the side.

The mixed kabob plate was more what we expect from Middle Eastern food, with the near-starkness of charcoal cooking, the flatly fresh, nearly bare presentation of chunks of charcoaled chicken grilled to slight bitterness. The beef was nearly raw--soft and bloody inside the dark sear; and the kufta--that lean, almost leathery-textured Arab sausage--also was cooked just until medium rare. It was served with squares of grilled red and green pepper and Moroccan saffron rice--the long grain mixed with peas, carrots, and onion so that it was almost a main dish in itself. Lamb chops--the thin, fat-rimmed rounds of meat on long bones rich and shiny--were presented with the same sides.

It wasn't just the marvelous food that made Marrakesh appealing; part of the delight of eating at Marrakesh was the ceremony of the meal. Your dinner arrives hidden under the high garlic-shaped dome of a beautiful ceramic tagine so that the perfume hits your face immediately when the waiter lifts the dome to reveal your meal arranged on a plate that rests on the tagine's base. Service was smooth--unfailingly polite and accommodating--on both our visits, even when the kitchen was slow. Your glass of green mint tea, the national Moroccan after-dinner refresher, is poured from on high in the traditional manner; and--the loveliest touch of all--when we'd finished our meal, a server sprinkled our hands with rose water poured from a long-throated pitcher.

You can tell by now that I love Marrakesh. The blend of service, atmosphere, and food is as perfectly balanced and complementary as the ingredients in the tagine. And though it's my job to be fickle when it comes to restaurants, I think I'll go to this one even after I've become familiar with every special stew on the menu. I expect I'll remain a faithful fan of Marrakesh, at least until branches open in Addison and Plano.

Marrakesh, 5207 W. Lovers Lane, (214) 357-4104. Open for dinner Sunday-Thursday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30 p.m.-midnight.

Pastilla $6.95
Harrira $2.95
Shekshouka $4.95
Tagine Royale $13.95
Couscous $12.95

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