Monday, November 15, 2010

Atlanta Restaurant Review: Imperial Fez

Taken while Mr. AT and I were in Fez
I'd always seen Morocco as an exotic dream filled with spice scented streets hidden away in mysterious medinas. Not content to imagine it forever, Mr. AT and I packed our bags and headed to Africa. As it turns out Morocco is one of those rare countries in which the food in large part is not as good as you expect it to be. 

I had grown up enjoying the Moroccan expo at Epcot and found that many restaurants whether in glamorous Marrakesh or tiny desert villages didn't live up to my fond memories. That said there were of course some great restaurants, but the ubiquity of pastilla and fruit inflected tajines eventually wore me down (as did a rather epic bout of food poisoning thanks to Marrakesh's less than stellar food safety standards!), and it's been years since I craved Moroccan cuisine.

So with a groupon in hand, Mr. AT and I headed out to give Moroccan another try and celebrate 4 years of coupledom (a mere 2 days before our 1st wedding anniversary) at the Imperial Fez. I hadn't been there in a decade, but found it just as I remembered it - dark and seductive, with low seating and a warm glow from hanging lamps. Of course it's also jampacked with other celebrating friends and families, so it's definitely not for quiet conversation.

We kicked off our shoes as requested up front and dropped ourselves onto our low seats, which as it turns out can sometimes be more challenging than anything. For instance, it's hard to neatly get food to your mouth when your knees are in the way! Throughout the evening music starts blasting and scantily clad belly dancers head out of the kitchen to entertain the masses. These two ladies could really shake it, and I know from a brief foray into the belly girating arts via Evenings at Emory that isolating all of those muscles is no easy matter. These ladies weren't content to wow us with just run of the mill belly dancing. During later shows, they swirled flowing wings and even danced with swords.

Dinner is multi-course and prix fixe. The only selection to be made is your main entree, selected from among a list of predominantly tajines. I was hoping my favorite - pastilla would be an entree choice, but instead it was an appetizer. These bad boys, known here as b'stella are puff pastry meat pies filled with cornish hen and covered with a dusting of powdered sugar. They may sound strange given their combination of savory and sweet, but Moroccan cuisine is filled with such sweet entrees.

The pace of service is glacial, which ultimately is to be expected at a place where it's all about the experience. There is certainly more than enough performances to keep you attention even when there's a 30 minute break between courses. And some of the greatest pleasures at Imperial Fez are the ritual - such as the rosewater scented water poured over your hands and the super sweet Moroccan mint tea poured from high above your glass. So don't go in a hurry.

The main drawback of the slowness is that it gives you mind time to catch up with your stomach, and by the time my lamb tajine came out, I was full. Looking at the picture again I realize that this dish wasn't much in the looks department. I tend to prefer the look of actually serving the dish in the tajine at least. That said, what little lamb I had room for was succulent, albeit too sweet to eat in its entirety.

For someone who's been to Morocco, the Imperial Fez is more about the experience than the quality of the food. It is no doubt a very fun place to celebrate a special occasion or impress guests, and I'd be willing to bet that those not versed in Moroccan cuisine would find it pretty darned tasty. I for one had a blast with my honey and left with a greater sense of appreciation for the food I ate in Morocco. Perhaps the pastillas really were a bit flakier and the tajine a bit less cloyingly sweet, or perhaps absence just makes the heart grow fonder.

Imperial Fez
2285 Peachtree Rd 
Atlanta, GA 30309

Imperial Fez on Urbanspoon



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