SOMETIMES, escape is inevitable.
You know how it is: a rough week at work, your Netflix queue is backed up and the final disc of Doctor Who: Season 3 is going to be shipped in from Ohio (of all the absurd nonsensical places in the universe; these two days are killing me), the person you’re scamming wireless internet from has caught onto you and has password-protected their connection (a hypothetical situation, of course), you’ve seen all the movies you want to see in the theater (Snow Angels, people: devastating and hauntingly grim, but beautiful and achingly tender, and Kate Beckinsale completely redeems herself after the travesties of Underworld and Van Helsing), you’re restlessly awaiting the outdoor café days of spring, and you’ve realized—suddenly and horrifyingly—that you’re going to be moving in less than two weeks and you haven’t even started thinking about packing yet.
The ideal solution? Escape to New York City, of course! Preferably in a car driven by someone else (shout out to Dan, who wouldn’t even let me pay for gas; I’ll be your co-pilot or backseat snoozer any day) so you can take in the scenery and brush aside all those nasty little details and responsibilities you’re leaving behind.
“Why New York?” you might ask. Besides the rather large population of friends, acquaintances, and relatives inhabiting the city, there’s the food-scape. New York has it, as demonstrated quite admirably by today’s sampling. It seems that whenever I mention my breakfast quest, people always have some place in New York that I just “have to try.” Apparently, a girl can’t be disappointed in NYC, especially if the object of one’s affection is of the edible persuasion.
Getting together a group of eight girls for a brunch-fest is quite a feat. But Jyo, thinking ahead and scoping out chowhound, came up with seven possibilities, which were then narrowed down to one and communicated to the group across various media: facebook, myspace, text message, email, and the antiquated but nonetheless effective face-to-face. The MTA being what it is, we even managed to reach Café Mogador within 15 minutes of each other.
I sometimes pride myself on my powers of observation, but I confess to being distracted when I first read Jyo’s list of enticing East Village eateries. Getting ready to leave work at the end of the day on Friday, I didn’t properly peruse her descriptions and agreed, completely without judicious thought, to what everyone else had already agreed to for Saturday brunch (yes, we’re rebels). So when we showed up at St. Marks Place and were confronted with a Moroccan-inspired menu, I was surprised, slightly taken aback, and completely thrilled.
It must be said: I miss Morocco. I miss the tang of the orange juice, which nobody should ever drink on an empty stomach because it’s so tart and acidic. I miss the olives, best bought from street-side vendors and spiced with an entire caravan’s worth of seasonings. I miss the brightly colored city walls, the glasses of heavily sweetened mint tea, the slow-cooked tajines over mounds of yellow couscous, the ornate tilework in the gardens of the old cities, the beat of the Atlantic Ocean against the stalwart walls of Rabat’s casbah, the superstitions and traditions associated with the graves of Islamic saints and the eel-inhabited pool at the Chellah (feed the eels a hard-boiled egg and you’ll be pregnant by year’s end, for example; but feed the groundskeeper’s cat and you’ll have good health for a whole lifetime).
Café Mogador takes all the best pieces of the Moroccan experience and crams them into a surprisingly well-sized East Village restaurant. The décor of the room is tasteful and evocative; accent walls are painted the same blue as the walls of the Jardins Majorelle in Marrakesh; the woodwork adorning the walls and the deep benches with carpet-cushions are reminiscent of the riads converted into guesthouses in the medinas of most large cities. The menu boasts of classic Moroccan tajines, bastilla (flaky pastry stuffed with meat and spices), mint tea, merguez sausage, and pita bread slathered with zaatar. For brunch, there are various options accompanied by Moroccan spices or a Moroccan salad of green pepper and tomato (called the Moroccan salad because the colors are those of the national flag).
Our selections represented the broad range of options that Café Mogador offers. We got it all, from the Blueberry Pancakes to the Moroccan Eggs Benedict (which substitutes a spicy tomato sauce for the usual hollandaise). Win and I split the pancakes and the Eggs Normandy (we chose this specifically for the smoked salmon, and were happily delighted). Others tried the scrambled eggs, the Moroccan Omelet with Moroccan sauces and green peppers, the Haloumi Eggs which come with haloumi cheese and zaatar-topped pita bread, and a Goat Cheese, Spinach and Tomato Omelet. Brunch options come with a small glass of orange juice (enough to whet your appetite) and a choice of coffee or tea.
We sampled each other’s dishes, compared the use of Moroccan spices across the different egg platters (unanimous vote: yum!), handed pieces of pita bread across the table, and mopped up every last bite. At the end of the meal (which came to $96.82 for us thoroughly sated eight), we collapsed against the wooden benches, contemplated our empty plates and full bellies, and agreed: we’ll be coming back.
Café Mogador is sure to be counted amongst my most beloved confidantes from now on, and will be a certain destination for future escapist episodes. (And, for the record, Café Mogador is also a fantastic place to go when considering a new haircut, as you’re sure to see many interesting ones paraded before you among both the clientele and the waitstaff.)
Over cappuccino and conversation, we chased away the petty annoyances of the real world and created of Café Mogador a haven for laughter, stories, and an indulgent escape into that most fantastic of adventures. In those immortal last words, this feast was the “start of a beautiful friendship.”
On a partially-related side note, parts of Anthropologie’s spring catalogue were shot in Morocco and feature the vibrant colors of the country. Planning a trip to Morocco? Pack your Lonely Planet guidebook (tried, tested and true), and book a seat on Royal Air Maroc, flying daily from JFK nonstop to Casablanca’s Mohamed V Airport!