Monday, December 22, 2008

Mataam Fez (Denver, CO)

I haven't had this blog -very- long, or rather, I haven't posted in it regularly for very long. I never planned to do many, if any, food reviews. As much fun as I have doing food reviews (I did a few for my college newspaper, The District, as well as some recipes) that's not what this blog is for. If I decide to do more of them (aka, eat out more and take photos while I do it, which isn't a bad idea...) then I'll create another blog. But, Foodival -is- a carnival of food. This is the stuff that I'm eating, and such, when this trip to Colorado is all done I'll probably post a large post of the carousel of dishes I've eaten here.

That said. I'm gonna do a restaurant review. Perhaps not as much as a review but as an explanation, a gleeful retelling. I am including pictures, but I warn in advance that the lighting in the restaurant was very, very dim, and every lamp was not only wonderful yellow bulb, but had a yellow shade. Thus, my pictures are dark and yellow. Colour corrected they're blueish. Make believe these pictures are perfect and you can perfectly see the food that is way, way delicious. My camera nor I are equipped for these conditions (and I'm going to try to find a way around them in the future, but I don't want to not share these). Yeah, these are all taken with the white balance set and with color correction. You can not imagine how very yellow these were. It was like looking at... at... kraft macaroni and cheese. Except that was white. But alas!

Mataam Fez is a Moroccan restaurant, there were three of them -- one in Colorado Springs, one in Denver, and one in Boulder. The Colorado Springs one was originally owned by a really nice man who sold it then went to open Tajine Alami, also in Colorado Springs. That place has some excellent Tajine and still has a lot of the same atmosphere of Mataam Fez. The new management of Mataam Fez has kept a lot of the same feeling, and though the Boulder branch closed, the other two keep trucking along.

I've been eating at Mataam Fez well into the years that I don't remember. I just remember always going. I grew up on going to a place with 5 course meals in which I sat on the floor and ate with my hands and sampled crazily spiced eggplants and potatoes and ate lamb with honey or artichokes. I realize now that's not a dining experience a lot of children have, and I'm glad I had it. I love Moroccan flavours, and I'm guessing a lot of the reason is because I've eaten and loved it since I was a child. There's something very familiar (to me), and warm and yet, still exotic about the spices they use (cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, honey, and more more more). I also have the tendency to eat with my hands too much, probably because eating at a place like this reinforced that as long as my hands were clean and I ate with my right one, all was well in the world.

At Mataam Fez they serve guests a 5 (or an optional 6) course meal. It's a great pleasure to remove your shoes and sit on giant pillows on the floor surrounding a delightfully low table. Just before the first course the server brings out a giant gold basin in which the guest places their hands in and they pour warm water over to wash the hands (I'm not sure if there's anything else in it).

The first course is a delightful Moroccan Lentil Wedding Soup. I believe it has a lamb base. I never understand the word they say when they tell me what they're making me, and so I simply can describe it as that. You get to have homemade honey wheat bread with it, which is a little thicker than honey wheat breads that you get in the English setting. It's heartier. It's the type of bread you want to dip in lentil soup and consume.

(Moroccan Weddign Soup: Lamb and Lentil Soup. No spoon, sip directly from the rim and use honey wheat bread for the remenants)

The next course they serve is a grouping of salads. All of them are delicious, with similar spicings. They also serve with it a pallate cleanser -- carrots with ginger and raisins. Slightly sweet, and a definite shock to the tongue to awake it so each salad takes fresh.

(From top going clockwise: spiced mashed potatoes, spiced garbanzo beans -- seemed to be spiked with
cumin and cardamom and a little too salty, sauteed and spiced spinach, cooling tomatoes and cucumbers,
sweet and sassy beets, pickled spiced carrots, and deliciously roasted and spiced eggplant puree.
Center is a hunk of honey wheat bread. I do not know the names or ingredients to any of these salads, but I wish I did.)

Next up is a b'stillia. This delicious pastry treat is, basically, a phyllo like dough (but thinner, crispier and flakier) stuffed with spiced egg, chicken, nuts, raisins, and... more spices. Its baked then topped with powder sugar and cinnamon, often in the shape of palm trees or the sun. This is a delightful treat, and it's AMAZING. As a kid I loved the powder sugar-- and though I sometimes feel weird with so much on it now, I cannot deny the deliciousness of this combination.

(The B'stillia, fresh and not covered with palm trees or suns, but still looking delicious)

(This is a thick pastry-- because it's stuffed with amazing. My brother is digging in.)

(The contents of the b'stillia, spilling forth.)

Finally the guest is served the main dish. We usually get lamb-- my favourite growing up was lamb rocs with honey and almonds. The lamb is just spiced, then cooked in some magic way, then served with a thin honey sauce and topped with almonds and sometimes sesame seeds. My best friend's favourite was chicken with cous cous, because the chicken was spicy and the cous cous was super savory. I believe I had someone whose favourite was the chicken with the whole artichoke. That's good too -- they make good artichoke. I've also had quite a few of the chicken dishes, as well as the rabbit. The rabbit was a bit too gamey for me. Tonight I got lamb bruchette. Basically shish-ka-bob with cous cous, topped with almonds and raisins. The lamb was succulent and excellently spiced. I don't know with what-- I was eating and I could no longer distinguish spices. Chris got the lamb with honey and almonds, this time on the bone, which is not his preferred way of eating, but still yummy in the tummy.

(The lamb bruchette. You can see the raisins and almonds, cous cous, and lamb ka bobs here.)

(Lamb with honey and almonds, as you can see it's on the bone. The sauce is thin, but quite sweet.
A half an almond can be found in this picture.)

Now at this point you're stuffed. But you're not done! They serve fresh fruit, and sometimes saffron almond cookies. They wash your hands again, and sprinkle you with delightful smelling rosewater. This is where the optional course comes in-- one we never resist. Dessert b'stillia! Unlike the first b'stillia, this one is stuffed with raisins and apricots, it's all sweet, but the apricots are just tangy enough to make it not too much. Sometimes they're stuffe with chocolate too, but not this time, which was good-- the chocolate would have been too rich tonight. But that's delicious as well.

They then serve morrocan mint tea. The server pours it from all sorts of crazy angles (on their forehead, on their foot from behind them, on their elbow), then they toss it in the air a few times and place it delicately on the table. The tea is delicious. Chris and I always get it for the entire meal, we can't resist, but the ending tea is nice too.

During the meal there is often a belly dancer. I was surprised we had one tonight, but here's a picture of her. I forgot to turn off my flash which is why she's actually coloured NORMAL-- but everyone did give me a funny look and I felt quite bad for ruining the dining experience.

All in all a great experience. If you're ever in the Denver or Colorado Springs area, make sure to check these places out-- it's worth it.

Denver Mataam Fez
4609 E Colfax Avenue
Denver, Colorad

Colorado Springs Mataam Fez
101 N Tejon, Garden Level
Colorado Springs, CO
(Possibly Closed)

Tajine Alami
10 Old Man's Trail
Manitou Springs, CO

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