Food and Wine Pairing - Flavors of Morocco
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
3:30 - 5 p.m.
$55 per person, plus tax.
Aperitif: Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay
Merguez Sausage (beef and lamb) with grilled onions
Paired with: Les Trois Domaines Guerrouane
Rouge DOG (Meknes, Morocco)
Lemon Chicken with Couscous
Paired with: Castle Rock Winery Pinot Noir (Mendocino,
Shish Kebab - grilled tenderloin of beef with vegetables
Paired with Torres Ibericos Crianza
Tempranillo (La Rioja, Spain)
Baba Ghanouj with Pita Chips, Tomato Salad, Falafel
Wines by: Republic National Distributing Company
I've been to a number of Food and Wine Pairings throughout my years of attending Epcot's annual Food and Wine Festival, but I've never been able to make it to the one held at the Morocco pavilion's Restaurant Marrakesh, due to timing. (I'm generally at the festival over a weekend, and Marrakesh usually has their events mid-week.) This year, though, I was staying until Wednesday and was able to finally schedule a Food and Wine Pairing at this location. I'm glad that I could!
I've always felt Restaurant Marrakesh -- the whole Morocco pavilion, in fact -- is an underappreciated oasis of exotic beauty in what can be a somewhat frenetic World Showcase. Sure, it gets a little loud when Mo'Rockin, the band that features Middle Eastern-inspired music and sometimes even a belly dancer, is performing, but if you meander into the pavilion's alleyways, you're treated to a much different experience -- an atmosphere that tries to replicate what you might experience in the souks of a Middle Eastern city or in a Arabic-influenced eatery.
Restaurant Marrakesh itself is worth a visit, and as I was a few minutes early for the 3:30 pairing, I took some time to look around the uninhabited seating area, while I sipped on the welcome aperitif (a glass of well-chillled, crisp Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne Chardonnay). The intricately carved woodwork and beautifully ornate tiles make this spot a treat for the eyes, as the aromas coming from the kitchen make it one for the nose.
The 25 or so of us in attendance were seated at 3:30 in a back corner of the restaurant, and were soon introduced to Chef M'barek, who told us he'd been with Walt Disney World for 23 years. He spoke at length about not only the history of Restaurant Marrakesh, but of the evolution of Moroccan food. It seems that in addition to the obvious Arabic influences, Moroccan cooking was heavily influenced by Jewish immigrants who came from Spain, and later by the French, who acted as a protecting power until 1956.
Chef M'barek's commentary was supplemented by remarks from Brian, a representative of Republic National Distributing Company, which supplied the wines for the pairing.
Our first dish was a spicy lamb and beef Merguez Sausage, served with a side of tomato, grilled peppers and onions. I loved the kick of the sausage, enhanced by just a hint of mint, and it paired beautifully with the only Moroccan wine we sampled that day, Les Trois Domaines Guerrouane Rouge. The Muslim culture of Morocco is not a wine-drinking one, so although the climate in some areas is conducive to grape-growing, the making of wines is still evolving in this region. Still, this red, a blend of several grapes (including Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and Alicante), goes quite well with food -- fruity and light, without much tannin. TIP: This sausage is featured at the Morocco International Marketplace during the Food and Wine Festival if you'd like to try it for yourself!
Our second plate was a portion of Lemon Chicken, one of Restaurant Marrakesh's specialties, which came with a complement of couscous. This falling-off-the-bone poultry was savory and went surprisingly well with our second wine, the light Castle Rock Winery Pinot Noir. Our wine rep talked at length about the winery, which is based in Mendocino County, but unfortunately we heard little about the preparation of the chicken dish.
A skewer of Shish Kebab followed the chicken, paired with my favorite wine of the afternoon -- the Spanish Torres Ibericos Crianza Tempranillo. Again, we heard more about the wine and the winery than we did about the food, which was a little disappointing, since this grilled beef with vegetables was tasty. I would love the recipe for whatever marinade the chef used!
When I saw the servers bringing out one more course, I hoped that we would be closing out the tasting with a sample of the restaurant's outrageously good bastilla -- layers of flaky phyllo pastry with vanilla cream, sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered sugar and toasted almonds. It's really a fabulous dessert -- if you ever go to Restaurant Marrakesh, I highly recommend it. Instead we were served a trio of "mezze", or small dishes that are commonly brought out as appetizers. The Baba Ghanoush (mashed, smoked eggplant) with toasted pita chips, Falafel (deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas) and a Tomato Salad were all wonderful, but I wish we could have heard the chef talk more about their place in Moroccan cuisine and how they were prepared.
Overall, I'd say the restaurant does a good job of showcasing Morocco's signature flavors and foods in this program. Obviously, they are held back a little by the limited availability of Moroccan wines, but I would be willing to bet that there are other beverages they could offer to give participants additional insight into the Moroccan culinary experience -- even if they are non-alcoholic beverages. Also, because the program is billed as "The Flavors of Morocco," I think they should have spent a little more time covering the foods themselves. Other similar pairings I've attended have not only addressed the methods for preparing the dishes we sampled, but have also shared recipes and other helpful cooking tips. I would venture to guess that many aspiring "foodies" would welcome the opportunity to learn more about Moroccan cuisine, and Middle Eastern cooking in general, in a forum such as this.
That then brings me back to the perennial question: "Was this program worth the money?" I guess in this case my answer is a qualified, "Maybe." For $55, you do get to try several generous-sized portions of very nicely prepared food, accompanied by four thoughtfully selected wines, which were thoroughly explained by the wine representative. From that standpoint, you are certainly not short-changed. If, however, you are looking to learn more about Moroccan cooking and hope for the chance to talk with a chef about this exotic cuisine, you will probably come away a little disappointed, as I did.
Did you try the Morocco Food and Wine Pairing this year? Did you feel the same? We'd love to hear your thoughts -- please leave your comments on our Food and Wine Festival Rate and Review page HERE.