Rock the Casbah

Photographs by Thomas Mcgovern
Above: Cozy Moroccan style • Mia Octopus (the chef’s signature dish)

If you’re ready to break out of a restaurant rut and try something new, Argana’s authentic Moroccan cuisine, romantic lantern-studded dining room and out-of-the-box entertainment (belly dancing and a bocce court) are just the thing. Located in the spot that housed Nessa in Port Chester, this exotic eatery is owned by a couple who live with their family in Greenwich: Nordine Achbani, former general manager at Polpo, and his wife, Soumia Sedki Achbani, the executive chef. Chef Mia trained professionally with a famous chef in Morocco and grew up learning traditional dishes and techniques from her mother and grandmother. Her heartwarming cuisine of sweet-and-savory dishes was the perfect antidote to the frigid cold outside on a recent Saturday night.If you’re ready to break out of a restaurant rut and try something new, Argana’s authentic Moroccan cuisine, romantic lantern-studded dining room and out-of-the-box entertainment (belly dancing and a bocce court) are just the thing. Located in the spot that housed Nessa in Port Chester, this exotic eatery is owned by a couple who live with their family in Greenwich: Nordine Achbani, former general manager at Polpo, and his wife, Soumia Sedki Achbani, the executive chef. Chef Mia trained professionally with a famous chef in Morocco and grew up learning traditional dishes and techniques from her mother and grandmother. Her heartwarming cuisine of sweet-and-savory dishes was the perfect antidote to the frigid cold outside on a recent Saturday night.

Left: Harissa shrimp; Right: Chicken tajine

Argana’s dining room is designed with all the right elements for a date night: low lighting with hanging lanterns that cast a pretty pattern on the wall, plus good acoustics and enough space between tables to have a conversation. On Fridays a belly dancer performs, spicing up the scene. The décor reflects Moroccan style but in a subtle way, with an ornate carved mirror at the entry, some pottery on the walls, a mosaic-topped bar and lattice-work screens at the back. Right away our server brought a plate of pitas and green olive dip to the table. If you’re starting with a drink, try the popular Atlas mule cocktail, made with fig vodka and ginger beer, or one of the Moroccan wines, which are similar in style to French wines and rarely available in our area.

At the heart of Moroccan cuisine, with its rich blend of spices and pairings of meat and fruits, are slow-cooked stews called tajines that are prepared in their namesake clay pots. Tajines figure prominently on the menu here, which spans a range of Moroccan dishes with emphasis on the Atlas and Marrakesh regions. This is healthy food too, with many vegetable-based dishes and different types of couscous as well as seafood.

For our starters, we went with the waiter’s picks and one of the chef’s specialties, Mia Octopus. Though octopus has become almost common on menus these days, I really liked this version: it’s grilled and served on a bed of arugula mixed with red onions, tomato and radish in a lemony dressing—a refreshing combination. Other appetizers from the sea-to-mountain Atlas region include Harissa shrimp, Napoleon sardine and a traditional cumin-laced eggplant dish called zaalouk. Many cultures have savory pastries and in Moroccan cuisine, briouat plays a starring role. We enjoyed the savory briouat appetizer, phyllo pouches filled with fragrantly spiced ground beef; there’s also a vegetarian option with goat cheese and herbs.

Left: Orange Blossom crème brûlée; Right: One of the friendly waitstaff serving up the lamb shank couscous

For our entrees, we tried the short rib tajine, superb comfort food that arrives at the table in its decorative clay covered pot. Tender meat in a rich sauce is blended with prunes and topped with almonds and sesame seeds; the sweetness of the prunes balances the short ribs perfectly. Chicken b’stilla is a phyllo pie dusted with confectioner’s sugar and filled with layers of chopped chicken, egg and almonds that is seriously delicious. The b’stilla is cut into slices and our server encouraged us to pick it up and eat it like a sandwich, and we did, following the Moroccan custom. Chicken kebabs were tasty and mild, served on a bed of Israeli (larger size) couscous. Portions are generous. We paired our mains with a side of couscous and grilled vegetables, and enough was left over for almost another meal.

Craving sweets? Dessert choices include more phyllo-based options with almonds and honey, a Napoleon and cheesecake. We opted for the orange blossom crème brulee, a very light rendition of the custard with slivered almonds on top, a delicate orange flavor adding interest. The proper way to cap any Moroccan meal is with the hot mint tea, and theirs is served in a pretty, antique-y silver teapot. The attention to detail, plus friendly service and a fun atmosphere are among the charms of Argana, but the exquisite flavors are what will turn us from into regulars.

Left: Moroccan mint tea; Right: Colorful Moroccan details complete the décor.

MOST POPULAR DISHES
Short rib tajine, lamb shank tajine, chicken b’stilla, Mia Octopus appetizer, zaalouk eggplant, taktouka smoked tomato plate, Moroccan salad, savory briouat. The owner’s personal favorite is the braised lamb with couscous.

FAMILY MATTERS
Sunday through Thursday nights, there’s a family-style dinner with a starter, choice of mains and desserts for $25 a person. In season, sit outside on the patio and partake in a game of bocce.

DRINK DEALS
Tuesday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m., all drinks are half price for happy hour. Check out the signature Atlas mule cocktail, which blends fig vodka and ginger beer, and a list of other intriguing cocktails.


325 N MAIN STREET, PORT CHESTER
914-612-4440;
ARGANARESTAURANTBAR.COM

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *