My first impressions of Le Club Fez, the latest from the raval, monza, taco boy group are really positive. The menu is concise and appealing and basically split into French food and Moroccan food. The prices are very reasonable for the level of service and quality of food–they mirror Al Di La’s prices with entrees under $20, appetizers under $10 and glasses of wine under $6 (John Marshal of Al di la was a consultant for this venture). I think it’s fair to say that Fez has hit the ground running–it feels very polished after only three weeks of operation–clearly this restaurant group knows what they’re doing.
I sampled the Moroccan side of the menu during my first visit–a really nice beef tagine with Harissa and dried cherries, an olive plate, Moroccan style mussels, and Harira (chickpea stew). Everything tasted very bright and properly seasoned with the wide North African palette of spices that includes coriander, cumin, cardamom, citrus, caraway, cinnamon, anise, saffron…sometimes these spices can be abused, but Fez used them very appropriately–the vegetable salad that accompanies the tagines illustrates this understanding well; shredded carrots with cumin, zucchini with caraway, and cauliflower with a delicate saffron taste (saffron can be really overpowering). I like that Fez cooks honestly and skillfully with these ingredients–it helps show that Charleston is sophisticated enough for new food. I would however add to the end of the meal the very important tradition of delicious, sweet Moroccan mint tea decanted from midair out of an ornate silver tea kettle. And maybe a hookah in the bar area? I’m sure this was mulled over so I respect their decision, but the mint tea is a total oversight–it’s just too quintessential to miss (and a bag of mint tea doesn’t count).
As usual, objections to this (like any) rendition of ethnic food will arise. It’s not home made Moroccan, it’s not particularly regional, the owners aren’t natives, and you could find it for much cheaper in Morocco. But this isn’t Morocco, and Fez does an honest job recreating Moroccan in a really nice environment and fills yet another void in our dining scene. I will return soon try the French side of the menu and the things that I missed from the Moroccan side. I am happy Fez has arrived and look forward to this groups next venture. Any ideas what it should be?
I have an idea, or truth be told, a desperate plea: Upscale Lebanese–the most delicate, refined, and delicious cuisine from the Middle East–totally under-appreciated and not at all what you get in a fast food shawarma/falafel joint (although we need that as well). For now I’ll have to make it at home, which is fine (check out Nada Saleh’s ‘New Flavors of the Lebanese Table’ or her ‘Seductive Flavors of the Levant’–these are some of the best books on the Eastern Mediterranean). Or a great Persian place. Or a regional Greek place. I am ready for any new ethnic food that is not Italian. Enough Italian already.