It seemingly doesn’t take much to transform Maya Del Sol’s new dining room into a Moroccan restaurant: A few ornamental tagines; a soundtrack of Arab-Andalusian music; and mint green tea poured from a silver berrad appear do the trick.
But chef Younesse Alami — a Marriott catering sales manager who every other Monday takes over the Park Circle venue – doesn’t merely summon his homeland through material things. He returns to Morocco every December to press oil from his brother-in-law’s olives and buy raw spices.
“I know what I’m getting,” Alami says. “Like the ginger: You grind it, and it’s straight from there to the suitcase to the freezer.”
While in Morocco, Alami typically prepares an American meal for his family: Roast turkey and pumpkin bread are favorites. But the menu at his biweekly pop-up is thoroughly Moroccan. He remembers sadly the quasi-Moroccan meal he had at the late Le Club Fez shortly after moving here from Columbia, where he finished his hospitality degree.
“I talked to the owner, and he said he put a lot of twists, American-Southern twists,” Alami says. “So, with that in mind, I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant, but I never had the courage.”
Maya Del Sol’s owner, Raul Sanchez, proposed the residency to Alami. The two chefs were roommates when Sanchez first came to town. “We became good friends,” says Alami, who didn’t mind the company: “I like to entertain.”
Alami has tested various dishes at dinner parties, including Moroccan noodles and artichoke tagine. This week at Maya del Sol, the entrée menu included kefta; slow-cooked spinach and chickpeas; lamb couscous and a terrific chicken tagine, marinated in a mix of ginger, turmeric and saffron and brightened with preserved lemon pulp.
“Moroccan cooking is about sweet and savory,” Alami says.
Moroccan Night is taking off its next scheduled shift, which falls on May 5 – the equivalent of Valentine’s Day for a Mexican restaurant. But Alami will be back on May 12 and every other Monday thereafter. Dinner’s served from 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
“The first day we did this, the 24th of March, the dining room was filled twice,” Alami says. “People ate here and then ordered extra to go.”
While the crowds have thinned somewhat, reservations are still recommended. To secure a seat, or to learn more, call 225-3680.