Lansdowne gets a taste of Morocco

DelcoTimes.com

Lansdowne gets a taste of Morocco
By KATHLEEN E. CAREY

LANSDOWNE — From the shores of coastal Agadir comes the culinary delight of Moroccan cuisine to the corner of Lansdowne and Baltimore avenues, thanks to Argana’s owner Zouhir Oullaf and manager Chris Arouh.

Motivated by their desire for a decent bite to eat, Arouh and Oullaf had talked about opening a restaurant for years.

“I had to drive an hour just to get good Moroccan food,” Arouh said. “We just got tired of all these places that said they’re Moroccan.”

His path to Lansdowne came through Orlando, Fla., where Arouh, who has a background in hotel and restaurant management, was hired in 1992 to work at the Marrakkesh Pavilion at the Epcot Center in Disney World.

At the same time, with his mining and engineering background, Oullaf joined Edward Powell Pump & Well Drilling in Aston to drill wells and geothermal heating systems.

At a friend’s suggestion, Arouh moved to Clifton Heights and became Oullaf’s neighbor.

He explained the allure of Delaware County.

“It’s more vibrant,” he said contrasted with the Sunshine State. “It’s alive. This is the America I was looking for when I came here.”

And, now, he wants to share some of his heritage with the place he calls home.

After testing the cuisine with 30 of their closest friends and family, Arouh and Oullaf knew Argana was ready to open its doors.

“They all tasted the food,” Arouh said. “They all gave us thumbs up and we said, ‘We’re good. Let’s go.’”

So, the restaurant opened at the beginning of April but the grand opening celebration is this weekend, featuring belly dancer Shiraz today.

Arouh recalled when he first had Shiraz at Argana as she balanced swords on her chest. “Wow!” he said he thought. “That’s unbelievable, and I’ve seen a lot of belly dancers.”

There’s also the food. The menu includes some trademarks of Moroccan cuisine, including couscous, a pasta dish with vegetables or meat, and tajine, a dish of lamb, beef, chicken or fish slow-cooked at low temperatures and served with Moroccan bread.

“The way it’s done is really up to the cook,” Arouh said about the techniques to make those meals.

Soups include lentil and harira, a tomato and chickpea soup seasoned with ginger, pepper, cinnamon, cilantro, parsley, celery and onion.

Appetizers lean toward Middle Eastern far with baba ganouj, hummus, tabouli, falafel and spinach pie.

Salads vary from Moroccan ratatouille with eggplant to carrots and beets sauteed with garlic and other spices.

For dessert, there’s Moroccan cookies or chocolate or pistachio baklava, as well as sweet Moroccan mint green tea.

Arouh’s hope is that the hospitality diners receive from their first entrance greeting follows them all throughout their meal.

“I want them to feel the warmth, the friendliness, the aroma,” he said. “We want to ease you in with the good food, good service and add a little spice to it. Then, voila!”

“Spicy doesn’t mean hot,” Oullaf added.

In any case, Arouh said he hopes Argana will become a permanent fixture in town.

“We tried to create an environment like we’re family — just like Lansdowne,” Arouh said. “The restaurant business is so tough to make it. We’d love to stay around. I’ll work 24 hours if I have to.”

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Posted on May 19, 2012, in Morocco News and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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