Marrakech Success

In the Montrose, a taste of Morocco nestles amidst the trees

For a study in contrasts, go with a friend and share the lamb mrouzia and the tagine souiri, a saffron-based, whole cornish hen that provides a piquant yin to the lamb's dulcet yang. Wedges of hard-boiled egg perch in the joints of this superbly cooked bird, whose limbs disembody themselves from the carcass with disarming ease when given a gentle tug. The hen's pale celadon gravy of saffron and turmeric continually reminded me of a tomatillo verde sauce. Again, a handful of whole, golden almonds graced the serving platter.

And what would a North African meal be without couscous? The couscous (with various additions) is offered as an entree, rather than being a regular element of each five-course meal, but it's not to be missed. It's almost as standard to the Moroccan dining experience as rice is to a Chinese meal. It's surprising to find myself waxing so ecstatic about a mound of pebbleized pasta, but the proper cooking of couscous is a complicated operation, one involving twice steaming the stuff and twice letting it rest. Such care in preparation deserves accolades when the result, as it is here, is such a delectably dewy, airy cloud.

A caveat: part of what made my second visit to Marrakech so enchanting was the near-solitude in which my party dined. We were one of only two groups in the restaurant's entire upstairs section. I have little doubt that Marrakech -- whose owners are choosing not to advertise or stage a grand opening brouhaha until they've been up and running long enough to grow into any resulting upsurge in business -- will handle a restaurant full of patrons as gracefully as it caters to a few. But I must admit that when word leaks out about this exotic new addition to Houston's culinary scene, and when the crowds start coming, as they surely will, a small part of me will lament the lost romance of dining in quiet seclusion amidst the tree branches.

Marrakech Restaurant, 500 Westheimer, 942-0800.

Marrakech Restaurant:
lamb mrouzia (includes five-course meal), $19.50;
couscous with beef (includes five-course meal), $19.95.

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