This is a place by Stephen Starr, who did Blue Angel and a few other Philly places.
Friday night, VERY crowded. Some very hip, young folks (cast of Friends-type people), some older tweedy-jacket-dressed folk who looked a bit confused in the VERY dark interior.
It was also very cold. For a place that's supposed to be like a souk, with all these candles and tapestries on the wall, it was very cold. It's a moroccan-type place, with middle-eastern influences in the food (there are 3 clocks on the wall, we think they are set to 3 of the following: Cairo, Morocco, Baghdad, France - we couldn't quite tell, since there are no numbers, just hands :)
We had a reservation for 7:30 but didn't get seated until almost 8 (there was a reservation for 8 at 8 that didn't show, annoying the waitstaff who knew about all the folks waiting). I think they aren't quite up-to-par on the reservations bit. They do hold some tables for walk-ins, but they admitted that they get far more cancellations and no-shows than one would expect. They said the Republican convention week was particularly bad, bringing something like 75 cancellations in one hour.
But we also wondered, as we watched that everyone else coming in had to wait too, if it was merely a ploy to get people to buy many fruit-themed drinks at the bar ($8 each)
We were finally seated in the back. The room was more enclosed-feeling, but still cold. It seemed like it should be warm, but wasn't. Beautiful low chairs (uncomfortable over time), sheer draperies, and outside the bathrooms an entire wall of mirrors that I nearly ran into in the dark.
Our waitress was fine, explaining the food - it's served family style, you don't necessarily get things at the same time (which is good, since the tables are small and the dishes are big). They give you a basket of bread, an Afghani-style bread and a fruit bread. No refills were offered, and at one point we did need more bread.
We had 3 appetizers and one entree: Tuna Tabouli, Spiced Rouget, Mussels Tagine and Seared Snapper.
The Mussels came first. No evidence of a Tagine (I think of those tall, conical dishes, filled with couscous and topped with veggies, meat, spices, nuts, etc). This seemed a pretty straightforward mussels in white wine and garlic. There was fennel in the broth, and the spicing was good (here's where the bread would have been handy). But the mussels were VERY sandy, and far too many of them had broken shells and hadn't opened. And it was a bit saltier than I would have liked. There were slices of lemon peel (I think...) floating in the broth.
The rouget came next. Way over salted. Rouget is not common in the US, so we were excited to try it. It came with cold artichoke hearts (straight out of the can) and some greens. More salt taste than anything else, and a bit over cooked. The waitress asked how we were doing, and we mentioned it was fine but maybe a bit over salted. She said she thought that chefs often used more flavorful spices than many people were used to. (it's the salt, not the spicing, we were mentioning)
Next, tuna taboule. You guessed it, over salty. This was a pile of ICE cold couscous with some tiny pieces of veggies in it (no mint, probably parsley and onion, but very hard to tell). Around it were slices of tomato and what we finally determined was seared tuna. Mushy, oversalted, seared tuna. The salt thing was getting to us, and we were guzzling our water by this point.
Finally, the snapper. Again, completely over salted, although not too over cooked. At this point my husband was having some sort of allergy to the incense they burn. Nothing major, but we decided to finish up and head out. No dessert for us, although the dessert list looked good, with a particularly tempting tangerine/chocolate warm cake thing.
Not a very good wine list, I can't believe this place got so highly rated by philadelphia.citysearch.com! Maybe it was an off night, but every dish was so oversalted! Perhaps they expect people have had 2-3 drinks in the bar and maybe can't taste so well by the time they sit down?
Would not recommend.
232 Market St , (215) 627-5116