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The Road to Morocco Begins at Westwood Blvd

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I think we can all agree that food does much more for the body than fill it with nutrients; food can nourish the soul, thrill the senses, and sometimes transport us to faraway lands faster than a Concord jet. Koutoubia, a little Moroccan restaurant in West L.A., serves food that does just that. You could drive by this place for years, as I have, and never take much notice to the small, slightly embellished, structure. But once you walk through the restaurant’s front doors, you will be instantly beamed to Morocco where exotic sights, sounds, smells and tastes await!

The restaurant is decorated with lush Moroccan fabrics from wall to wall, and a combination of crystal and Moroccan chandeliers hang from the ceiling. The lighting is dim, moody and romantic and the restaurant smells of delicate spices and incense. You will be seated on low banquettes piled with pillows. The round, brassy, inlaid tables are also low to the ground. In the background, the lovely sounds of Moroccan folk music play.

After you’ve been seated, a waiter—of which there are few—will come over and discuss the menu with you. You can choose between ordering dishes a la carte or getting the prix fix seven course traditional Moroccan meal (about $40 per person). Personally, I don’t eat everything on the prix fix menu, so I usually order a la carte. If you’re dining with one or two other people it might be better to go the a la carte route, and split a few dishes so you can sample the many flavors and dishes. But if you’re with a large group, it’s probably easiest, tastiest and cheapest to go with the set menu.

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While the whole menu is tantalizing, there are several dishes that should not be missed. I love to start with their lentil soup, which is thick and chock full of rice, lentils and chickpeas. It has a delicate flavor with subtle notes of cumin and turmeric.

I also always get the salad platter ($11)--which is definitely big enough for two or even three people to share--and features several seasonal cold vegetable dishes. Last time I ordered it, the platter featured sliced beets (the best I've ever had, I usually don't dig on beets but these were so yummy), a celeriac remoulade, spiced carrots, cucumber and tomato chopped salad, and an eggplant dip. The platter was further garnished with big, plump olives. These vegetables were so fresh and delicious, and they looked like a bright rainbow on my plate. I swear if your mother made vegetables like this when you were a kid, you would not have had a problem eating them! But back to the platter... The best way to eat the various veggies is to pile them onto the fresh warm bead they serve you. Also, make sure you use that bread to soak up the juices the veggies leave on the plate! You won't want to waste a drop of flavor!

For my main course, I usually get the shrimp kebabs ($21.50) served with couscous. The spiced and grilled shrimp are smoky and cooked to perfection. Personally, I can't think of anything better. However, my mom loves the honey lamb ($21.95), which is served up with dates, prunes and couscous. Also my mom loves the B'stia ($11 appetizer portion, $18.95 as entrée), one of the more famous and traditional dishes. The B'stia is kind of like a meat pie: the crust is made of phyllo dough, the filling is ground chicken spiced with cinnamon. The whole thing is topped more cinnamon and powdered sugar. It's very sweet, almost like a dessert, but it's a chicken dish often served as an appetizer or prelude to the main course. It may sound weird, but people love it and it's definitely worth a try if you want a truly exotic flavor experience.

For dessert they serve you Moroccan mint tea ($3), which is so sweet and soothing--I wish I could make it this good at home. You can also get coffee if the tea isn't your thing. Their coffee is kind of thick--more like Turkish coffee. I also love their baklava, which is sticky, sweet and flakey. And if baklava isn't your thing, they also have assorted ice creams, sorbets, and cookies. Delish!

Now as much as I love Koutoubia, it is not a place to go if you need to be home--or anywhere else--by a certain time. Now, obviously a seven course meal isn't a thing to be rushed, but once I set aside two and a half hours for dinner there and that wasn't near enough. There are only usually two or three waiters for the entire restaurant and everything is being made to order, which is why you should expect to enjoy a more than three-hour-long leisurely meal.

Besides being a tad slow, the waiters are friendly. The host/owner/chef is perhaps a little too friendly. The minute we came in, he struck up conversation with me and proceeded to find out everything I've been up too for the last five years--mind you I'd never met him before. Then, he kept grabbing my wrist and yelling at me for being too skinny. And finally, when I said I didn't eat chicken--which is why I wouldn't be sharing the B'stia we ordered--he sorta rolled his eyes and huffed at me. Even if it might be a joke, I don't really like being judged by some guy I'm paying to feed me! That being said, even though the chef/host is meddlesome he sure makes damn tasty food, so I'll put up with his meshugaas--as you should too! Really, it's so worth it once that salad hits your tongue!

I highly suggest that next time you and your friends want to go try something new, or next time you want a quiet and luxurious romantic meal with your sweetie, that you go try Koutoubia. You'll be amazed by how far away from LA you feel, and you'll be thrilled by the wonderful food. And hey, while a sixty to eighty dollar dinner for two isn't cheap, it is way cheaper than flying all the way to Morocco!

2116 Westwood Blvd (between Olympic and La Grange)
Los Angeles, CA 90025
(310) 475-0729

Reservations recommended.

photo by jpvargas via FlickR

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