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Marrakesh, Touristy Moroccan Restaurant on New York Ave. & 6th Street NW - Closed


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Where in the area would you say is the best place to find quality Moroccan food, where they pay attention to the food and not the entertainment? I'd be curious not only for what has the best food, but also which restaurant is the best value, too.

I think everyone knows the answer is not Marrakesh in DC. I go there every few years for the experience, but the food hasn't changed in the nearly 20 years I've been going there. It's currently $27/person, or at least it is on Sunday nights.

Just by coincidence I was there this evening. The salads were very nice. The chicken in the bastilla was softer than the egg (and there was more powdered sugar than anything else.) The roast chicken with olives and lemon was decent - a bit more lemon would have gone a long way, and you really can't have too many olives on that dish. The lamb shank with honey and almonds was good - tender and sweet from the honey, and the almonds were added late enough that they still had crunch. Couscous was fine, a fruit bowl is a fruit bowl, but the baklava was pretty weak.

Boy, now that I write that, why did I go? Several years from now I suppose I'll forget, and go again...

<edited to add: I'm a clam!>

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I take it they weren't doing a meshoui in the parking lot out back?  :P

No, but the valet guy was missing for about 15 minutes when we left the restaurant, and he eventually showed up in a cab (???) with a hot blonde whom he had "escorted to her car". She went back into the restaurant, and he sprinted off to get my car. I'm not sure what to think, though I saw The Aristocrats this afternoon, so I had a lot of very sick ideas.

Oh, and the wine list is beyond awful. Service is good, and it had better be, since they add 18% automatically, and take only cash. The dancer was pretty good.

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I recommended Marrakesh to a friend for her b-day. We went last night. Food was decent, etc. But the service was terrible to the extreme. We weren't exactly well-coordinated, because people had not confirmed whether or not they were coming, and folks hit a lot of traffic coming down from Baltimore to attend. So that might have been a little bit of the struggle. I accept that.

I ordered a beer at the bar. When we sat down to the table, one of the servers suddenly came rushing over to see our IDs. I had no objection to showing her my ID again, until she took my ID and another person's and ran down the aisle out of the room without telling us why. That in itself seemed really suspicious. Another server realized it and ran after her to get our IDs back. For the remainder of the night the ID-taking server was extremely rude and abrupt with us. The manager also yelled at our birthday girl.

We were not served the last dish and said so when we were given the bill. When we asked for the last dish, the server brought it out and threw it on the table with anger. Everyone figured they had probably spat on it and didn't touch it. The ID-taking server pushed the plate closer to my friend and told us, "If you don't want to eat it then take it home." Like anyone would want to take it home after that!

I've been to a lot of Chinese restaurants that are notorious for having rude servers; I don't even have very high standards though I know what good service is. But that was the worst service I have EVER received in my life. It got to the point where it was clearly malicious.

But the worst part was when the bill was being settled. There were 14 people in attendance, and the manager wanted to charge for 20 people. The reservation was made for 15 with the potential to reach 20. If they were going to charge for the number in the party or on the reservation, then that should have been a pre-stated condition when the reservation was made on the phone. They also charged for the birthday girl's rose wine and baklava, which they brought out without us asking if we wanted it. They finally got the manager to charge for the correct number of people after much yelling and arguing.

I will never go back to this place again.

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Ten of us went there last night because I received a "dinner for 10" certificate in a silent auction at a charity event last year. We were a bit skeptical of going, and even a bit more once we arrived there last night, but I would say that it turned out OK. If we had to pay for the evening, I would have been disappointed, just goes to show you how much having ten people eat for free can help out.

The outside is sketchy, but once you walk inside, it is pretty neat, a lot different than anywhere I have ever been. I am sure that it could use some updating and some cleaning, but you are there for the experience, so you just go with it.

Some dishes were great - lamb with almonds and honey and the chicken with lemons and olives - while some dishes fell flat - three salad platter with some pretty bad bread and the b'stella. The mint tea with baklava at the end of the meal was wonderful, great way to end it, but getting a bowl of grapes, oranges and apples beforehand didn't make a lot of sense. The grapes were damn good, but none of us were thinking about peeling oranges after a three hour dinner, just a weird addition to the meal.

So, the food overall was pretty good. I have no problem eating with my hands, thankfully we got spoons for the couscous, but a lot of the dishes would have been much easier to eat with utensils. The salad was served with bread, but it had the consistency of cornbread, no help in picking anything up. And, the b'stella definitely should have had forks with it, it was nearly impossible to eat with your hands.

The service, honestly, was fine. A bit of lag in between courses, but not outrageous. The issue that we had, however, was when the bill came at the end. Just a bunch of gibberish scribbled on a piece of paper and a final number. The dinner was free, but we had 5 $25 bottles of wine (the most expensive on the list). So, we expected the bill to be $125 plus any tax. Well, it was $252. After about 10 minutes of walking through everything, I think that it worked out OK, but it didn't leave us feeling comfortable at all. Without any menus and without any prices on the website and with them only taking cash, I have a pretty distinct feeling that some people get taken advantage of there. As shaggy said above, they got charged for 8 extra bottles of wine. And, with us, we were first told that the tip was not included, then after some prying, we were told that it was included. I can see a group of naive people or a group of drunk people getting a little bamboozled at Marrakesh. But, if you are a bit adventurous, this is not a bad place to try out.

A few more notes...

1. I could have done without the belly dancer. She wasn't bad, but danced for about 20 minutes and, when she was on stage, everything in the restaurant stopped.

2. A ton of famous people have eaten there - Brad Pitt, Elton John, Barbara Streisand, etc. I don't think I have seen the walls of any restaurant adorned with so many famous pictures.

3. They definitely film movies of an adult nature upstairs in the restaurant, that is a fact that I am glad we found out after we ate dinner.

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1. I could have done without the belly dancer. She wasn't bad, but danced for about 20 minutes and, when she was on stage, everything in the restaurant stopped.
What would be the point then? Not that the belly dancers that I have seen there were anything short of terrible, but still . . .
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What would be the point then? Not that the belly dancers that I have seen there were anything short of terrible, but still . . .

I guess I really don't understand your question. The belly dancer was average at best, I would have preferred there not to be a belly dancer at all, I could care less about it. I just found it odd that they would take maybe 30 minutes out of everyone's meal, it took them at least 10 minutes to setup the stage, to have a belly dancer. Couldn't she just dance around from table to table? Does the whole place have the shut down to have her dance?

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I guess I really don't understand your question. The belly dancer was average at best, I would have preferred there not to be a belly dancer at all, I could care less about it. I just found it odd that they would take maybe 30 minutes out of everyone's meal, it took them at least 10 minutes to setup the stage, to have a belly dancer. Couldn't she just dance around from table to table? Does the whole place have the shut down to have her dance?

If you're in the main room they pretty much turn off the lights. The room was already dim before to the point you can't REALLY see what you're eating. When the dancer comes on it's completely dark except for the spotlight on her. I honestly just wanted to keep eating and go home. We were there for about four or five hours (longer than the French Laundry!). I guess part of the reason they keep the room so dark is so you can't see them fleecing you.

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I guess I really don't understand your question. The belly dancer was average at best, I would have preferred there not to be a belly dancer at all, I could care less about it. I just found it odd that they would take maybe 30 minutes out of everyone's meal, it took them at least 10 minutes to setup the stage, to have a belly dancer. Couldn't she just dance around from table to table? Does the whole place have the shut down to have her dance?

I guess I always viewed the place as more of a place of entertainment (not good entertainment, but entertainment nonetheless) than a real restaurant. If viewed as an actual restaurant, then I would venture to say it might be the worst in the city; certainly the worst that I have ever been to (several times, unfortunately). (To be fair, I have had some fun times there - but, not without a realistic perspective and a lot of alcohol.)

I think that the darkness may be necessary to get you to keep eating; but, a bit dangerous if - like a coworker of mine with a nut allergy - you are served a dish with nuts while being assured that it was made without.

(As an added warning to those that want to take a group: It is cash only. Which can add up quickly. Especially if you take a group of 10-15 recruits there on the company dime, and then realize that you can't use the credit card. And, if it hasn't changed, the ATM machine in the back only dispels up to $200 at a time. Don't worry though, it lets you reswipe. I don't believe that I have ever laughed as hard as I did when making these realizations - yes, I was trashed.)

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The belly dancer was average at best, I would have preferred there not to be a belly dancer at all, I could care less about it. I just found it odd that they would take maybe 30 minutes out of everyone's meal, it took them at least 10 minutes to setup the stage, to have a belly dancer. Couldn't she just dance around from table to table? Does the whole place have the shut down to have her dance?

In accordance with the campy Arabic theme, some take it for what it is, and are able to give critical scowls a rest, like when their 6-year-old children play out of tune in a grade school concert or screw up their lines in a shitty, poorly produced, holiday play. Some don't, and measure discontent with a stopwatch.

Raqs sharqi, la moshkelah!

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I've eaten there two or three times, several years ago. The food was perfectly acceptable, the overall experience entertaining enough. Service not worth mentioning, either positively or negatively. No overcharges that I recall. The bellydancing - well, I can't speak to the quality of the current dancers. On my last visit I wasn't overly impressed. But on my first visit, sometime in the early 90s, it made sense to pretty much shut everything down while the dancer performed, because nobody was going to be paying any attention to such mundane things as food and drink while she was in the room. No, she wasn't particularly attractive. I don't know if she was a technically skilled dancer. I do know that she had amazing presence and charisma, and she knew how to grab the eyes of everyone in the room and not let go. I don't know if she was a regular dancer there, or someone brought in for a special occasion. If she performed regularly, then I can see why they would get in the habit of shutting down for half an hour. Maybe they've just keep doing it the same way in the years since she's been gone.

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In accordance with the campy Arabic theme, some take it for what it is,....

So true, it's the place you go with out of town visitors, but there are more amusing choices now...you don't go as a couple to a place like this seeking an unforgettable evening of dining....I remember the most painful dinner I ever had there was with a friend from NY who was with the woman who would become his third wife...she had a very narrow appreciation of food, having been raised on chicken breasts, spaghetti (not pasta!), and center cut pork chops. She was in tears from embarrassment by the end of the meal, having consumed, in total...one apple. I could not wait to end that evening.

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I am fairly certain that they fill empty wine bottles with Franzia and bring them out to the table, when they feel they can get away with it... as they did to a bunch of just-out-of-college kids six or seven years ago. They certainly couldn't offer an explanation as to why they started bringing out wine bottles that had already been opened.

That night at Marrakesh was enough to warn friends, acquaintances and people reading the odd message board to stay far, far away.

Chicken wasn't bad.

Alex

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never ever go here

Details?

Sorry for my lack of details. I went there this weekend for a friend's birthday. The food was not very good neither was the wine. It has sort of a darka nd dirty feel to the place and it is very cheesy. I am not an expert on Moroccan culture or food, but neither were our servers, they weren't Moroccan. The bill for two of us was $160 and they don't take credit card. Marrakesh is a gimmicky place that doesn't pull off their gimmick very well.

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Perhaps the Lebanese mafia wanted to remove the info that neither the owner or manager are Moroccan. But even the Moroccan owned places around here are not that great. Truth be told, a great deal of the Moroccan restaurants in Morocco are not that good either. The standouts, like Maison Bleu in Fez, beggar everything else.

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I'd like to say a couple positive things about Marrakesh, a restaurant which has been roundly criticized by some people in the restaurant community, even some of our own members (Hell, even me, since I currently have it ranked last in the Mount Vernon Square Section of the Dining Guide.) But we can still search for beauty everywhere, can't we?

The lovely, haunting theme song on their website. Sit back, turn on your speakers, and enjoy the easygoing instrumental version of The Flower Duet, "Viens Mallika." originally sung between Princess Lakmé and her slave girl Mallika in the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes. Now, one could quibble that none of the characters were Morroccan, and that the opera indeed took place in India, but remember also that Delibes was French, and that the French did colonize much of Morocco for 44 years, 44 also happening to be the number of John Riggins, in what might just be a clever nod to Washington, DC.

The registry of National and International Visitors that have made Marrakesh a destination. Go to the Our Visitors section, and you'll be charmed by the pictures of numerous local and foreign delegations that chose Marrakesh for their important night. At least some of these appear to be taken at the table, and then perhaps the photos are available by meal's end for purchase, and subsequently to share with family and friends via the website. You could almost argue that Marrakesh laid the groundwork for those helpful camera jockeys that greet you when you enter our country's finer amusement parks, another clever and subtle nod to our culture.

The reviews are all there in force, including this one by the Washington Post Food Critic, Joe Brown, which says, "Entering Marrakesh is like arriving at Oz. Marrakesh' unhurried attentive service plus the sheer coziness can lead to the sharing of secrets and sentimental stories, with more than a few laughs. The Marrakesh manages with ease presenting both a family atmosphere with something for every palate and entertainment that is alluring, but tasteful."

I've been to Marrakesh probably 4-5 times over the past 25 years (it was an Entertainment Book staple back in the 1980s, along with "Apple of Eve" and the "Kona Kai."). I honestly wonder if I'm about due for a repeat visit, or if I should just let my memories remain untainted. I'm pretty sure the only fat belly I want to see dancing in front of me these days is a slice of live hamachi, but my selections change daily, so who knows?

Cheers,

Rocks.

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[i'd love to move these recent posts into a new Casbah thread, but they're *so* vacuous that they merit being buried along with Marrakesh. I suspect people do know this, but a Casbah is merely an Islamic term for a fortress, common throughout North African towns. One look at the building, and you can see why it might have been renamed as such. Sincerely yours, Glumshin Killjoy.]

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