On Saturday, my wife and I decided to check the Moroccan places on Steinway in Astoria. We walked by Kasbah, which had glaring flourescent lights and no native color to speak of. (Is this a sure sign or real authenticity for chowhounds???) A few doors down, Mamounia had some low seating, lower lights, pastel walls, Arab music, in other words lots of "atmosphere." I wanted to go to Kasbah, but my wife prevailed and we went to Mamounia --after all, it was Saturday night. I was full of trepidation, augmented by the fact that it had been mentioned in the NY Times a week or so before.The appetizers did nothing to relieve my trepidation. We werent hungy enough to have the bestilla, so we had zeilook, a barely acceptable eggplant puree, and an unacceptable tomato salad.
The main courses, however, were a surprise and a delight. We had a baked striped bass with chermoula, a sauce of paprika, cumin, garlic and cilantro, which came with carrots and green olives in the same sauce. Beyond the excellent preparation ,the fish itself was extremely fresh. It was technically stuffed with shrimp, but these were completely ignorable tough little nuggets. The rest of the dish was so good that they did not detract at all. We also had a lamb tagine special with peas and artichoke bottoms, overcooked to perfection, in a gelatinous sauce lightly spiced with pepper and ginger. The lamb was chunks of shoulder, tender but still with some bite, and lots of marrow bones to chew and suck on.
The mint tea and the desserts were also excellent, the standouts being a triangular pastry filled with almond paste, and a nutty little round cookie scented with rosewater and with a dab of jam in the center.
The service was a bit discombobulated, but very pleasant. The waiters kept refilled our dessert plate as we finished what we had. We go the impression that it could go on all night, so we left some pastries on the second plate. When we asked the owner if the desserts were made there or bought, he said that they were made by there his sister, who also did the rest of the cooking. So this is sister food, rather than grandma food. Still, not bad, and we resolved to go back for the bestilla, which looked good and smelled better as it passed us during the evening.
Mamounia is at 25-60 Steinway Street, (718) 204-1628