Sunday, June 3, 2012

I just got back from my first trip to Morocco. My boy Mehdi offered to take me there and show me his homeland. It was amazing. My girl Sarra and another friend from Paris, William also came along and the four of us had a wonderful adventure. We all felt so fortunate to get the local experience. We didn’t care about going to all the typical sites but rather I wanted to experience the real Morocco, family style.

We spent most of our time in Asilah, a northern city about 15 minutes south of Tanger. We stayed with Mehdi’s uncle and family. He’s a wonderful painter and sculptor and it was very inspiring to say the least. We were very warmly welcomed and feel a part of their wonderful family now. Their kids were fantastic and his wife made us the most amazing home cooked food. We spend the evening drinking wine, playing music, and hanging out his atelier, which is located next to their beautiful house.

There’s way too much to write about in detail but in short we experienced a very special Morocco. And although I only got a taste of it in the short four days we were there, I loved it and I want more. I plan to go back again as soon as possible.

Merci Mehdi.

The Pearl of Asilah

Imagine fine French dining in a small Moroccan beach town. This hidden gem, La Perle, is the newest restaurant in Asilah... and everyone is talking about it. Word is getting around and it won’t be long before the rest of Europe starts to hear about it too. The patron, a local Moroccan who has been living abroad in Ireland has returned with his partner (who is Irish) to open up La Perle. The food was amazing and the service impeccable. We were really impressed. It was one of the most memorable meals I had on my trip, including Paris.

The appetizers really stood out for me. The avocodo and shrimp salad I was told was very fresh. (I am sadly allergic to avocado) William had a pesto pasta starter which literarly melted our faces off. It's hard to explain but it was so smooth and creamy (without being milky or heavy) and literally all we could say was that our faces were falling off. I ordered a fish soup, which blew my mind. It had a very intense and wonderful flavour, made with local fish and spices. Most importantly it was the perfect temperature. I mean perfect. The kind of warm that is not too hot to the touch or to ingest but warms you intensely in the inside. It was fantastic. A very traditional French roué (like aoli), cheese and small toasts accompanied the soup.

The mains where also very good. Sarra and Mehdi had the special bonito tuna dish, which was very unique and dense in texture. William had the bird dish, I’m not sure if any of us knew exactly what bird but it was small not unlike a Cornish hen. It was very tender and juicy as in swam in a lovely brown sauce. I had the John Dory fish dish, which was very interesting. The fish itself was nice and simple, again a meatier texture than most white fish that I’ve tried, but the sauce was decadent to say the least. It was in a creamy and very French sauce, which really brought the dish to life. The flavour was intense and rich but it didn’t push me over the edge. Very good. We finished off with a few decadent mini macarons that were house made by the chef. Watch out Ladurée, these babies were bad!

The prices are very reasonable. You could never get this level of food in Paris or New York at those prices. It was really impressive. We had a wonderful lunch, no cell phones, no interruptions, just great conversation over wonderful food. 

La Perle
Rue Allal Ben Abd Allah
Asilah, Morocco

Surf's Up

This amazing beach is located just south of Asilah. Locals call it Playa "something" and it’s been a favourite among the locals there for years. Mehdi, who grew up in Asilah, has spend most of his summers on this beach and knows the road like the back of his hand. It’s a rough road to get there, almost half an hour of extremely rugged terrain over the hills and cliffs of the countryside to arrive in paradise no less.

The beach is so beautiful and spans as far as the eye can see. The very private and surprisingly simple Hermes beach house sits on the edge of this shore overlooking the vanishing Atlantic. The sand is a beautiful orange colour and the terrain is rocky and ruggedly romantic. Since the beach is so remote and difficult to get to it remains almost private and therefore it's a wonderful gathering place for the local families. Overlooking the beach is the only restaurant where we all congregated and lunchtime. Once they know how many people are on the beach, they send out someone to go get fresh fish and food to cook for us. It was wonderful.

For lunch we started with simple fresh salad of veggies drenched in local Moroccan olive oil. Then moved onto grilled sardines which were huge and delicious. We all just pulled them apart with our hands one by one directly on the table. No plates, no utensils, it was exhilarating! There was a very delicious Spanish omelette tortilla which we destroyed in no time.

The main dish was a tagine of local fresh fish drench in the most delicious sauce made with local spices accompanied by thinly sliced potatoes and tomatoes. It had the perfect kick to it.  Sadly only two fish remained so we had to share them among almost 10 of us. It was a mix of Mehdi’s family and some friends from Spain who have also come to this beach for years. We were all just so happy together and divied up the food to share and we were all most than satisfied. It felt so good just to be out there in nature and to eat among wonderful people. William even played us a little guitar while we polished off a bottle of rose we had brought along for lunch.

La vie est trop belle. I felt so incredible lucky.