No cutlery required

Tear into your dishes at Mazagan.

Tear into your dishes at Mazagan.

Kefta tagine with eggs. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Words by Stefanie Gans    Photos by Jonathan Timmes

Chicken’s ubiquity—that damn boneless, skinless breast that ruined countless weeknight dinners—turned many off the fowl’s white meat.

A kabob platter of lamb, chicken and kefta. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.
A kabob platter of lamb, chicken and kefta. Photo by Jonathan Timmes.

Mazagan, a Moroccan restaurant opened on Columbia Pike in May, took a cube of that chicken, marinated it in lemon and saffron, slipped it on a skewer and cooked it over charcoal. And now, chicken is exciting again. It’s juicy and fragrant on The Chef’s Experience kabob platter, also with lamb (dry), rice (dry) and kefta, a fantastically juicy meatball.

Kefta also appears in one of the tagines, both the name of a dish and its dome-shaped vessel. The meatballs—rather, a hamburger crossed with a chicken nugget—bobs in a bubbling tomato, oily broth, intense with hot heat and spice heat. Sturdy little balls stay intact as we swipe Moroccan bread through the sauce, hitting barely yolky eggs along the way. “Back home we eat with our hands,” says Reda Bouizar, the manager of Mazagan and the owner’s, Riyad Bouizar, nephew.

He suggests dropping the silverware and using the housemade bread instead. It’s just as good collecting gently firm white beans and tomato sauce accompanying a housemade lamb sausage accented with cumin, cloves and paprika.

The bread also helps strip cinnamon-flavored lamb from the bone in the dish, marouzieya. The huge shank melds scents of dessert with saffron and onions, prunes and almonds. But it doesn’t compare to the sweetness of the appetizer, bastilla. It looks like a pastry: phyllo dough dusted in powdered sugar. It’s a dish usually served at weddings, says Bouizar, and, he continues, when Moroccans come to dinner here they order it because they know how time consuming it is to make. It tastes like dessert too, with the nutmeg and sugar cloaking the more dinner-time shredded chicken. It is jarring as a first course if you’re not used to sweetness opening up a meal.

The sweet carries into dessert, in a dense, nut-heavy baklava. Like much of the food here, cinnamon dominates the dish. But it’s a welcoming, homey flavor. A scent that begs you to relax and get your hands dirty.

Mazagan Restaurant

There’s a hookah lounge for after-dinner puffing.  

Appetizers: $3.50-$13.95;
Entrees: $9-$25

Dinner daily.

2901 Columbia Pike, Arlington

(October 2014)

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