Restaurant Review – Nur
Right on time.
The guide arrives to walk you through the Medina. Together, you navigate the narrow, dimly lit streets. As you turn the corners through the old city, the Medina becomes a labyrinth. Smoke from food venders fills the air as men gather to talk over a shared meal. Their eyes catch yours as you curiously scan the foreign city.
After a series of turns to the Medina’s blue gate, you take a left and reach Nur –– the most expensive restaurant in Fes.
Nur, meaning light in Arabic, was founded by chef Najat Kaanache. Born and raised in Spanish Basque Country, Kaanache discovered her love of cooking while working at a seafood restaurant in Rotterdam. Having trained under renowned chefs at a series of modern haute-cuisine restaurants, including the French Laundry, El Bulli and Alinea, Kaanache opened Nur to pay tribute to the cultural and agricultural diversity of Morocco.
She was the reason we were here.
We step into an open space of high ceilings and modern furniture, with just enough tilework to remind us we were still in Morocco. The waiter seats us at an un-made table for two. Place settings are laid and we’re offered a refreshing welcome drink of lemon, ginger and sparkling water. We then wait several minutes and ask for water – twice. We also ask for a wine list, which arrives nearly 10 minutes later. The restaurant isn’t overcrowded, but it feels understaffed. Three men are running the entire dining room – one manager and two servers.
Course one is a blend of vegetables, hummus and beet puree over a black sesame meringue topped with caviar. The plate is decorated with a dark plum sauce that is as rich as Warren Buffett. Unfortunately, the rest of the dish is poor and disheveled – several ingredients are out of place. Caviar with hummus? No.
The server removes our plates and course two arrives. A cold mix of peas, broccoli and baby kale sit atop a base of smoky tomato sauce that has the consistency of raw tuna. Though the broccoli is slightly out of place, the peas are refreshing and the kale brings a nice texture to the dish. Topped with avocado, grapefruit segments and black sesame seeds, the dish is eaten with a Moroccan chip – an airy, rice like crisp that leaves me wanting more.
Next, a spoon arrives – course three is on the way. A velvety soup is poured tableside over roasted duck, eggplant, beets, artichoke hearts, melon and caviar. The beets and artichoke hearts are of high quality, but under seasoned. If you dine with me you’ll quickly learn I have an affinity for salt. Curiously, I bite into the cold melon – its bitterness makes my lips purse. It’s out of place. As is the caviar – again.
Course four: a duck and mushroom quenelle. It’s served alongside herbed mashed potatoes and plated on top an orange and beet sauce. Again, the beet sauce – carried through most dishes, this is where it actually belonged. A refreshing salad of shredded cabbage and sesame seed is placed on the side. The earthy beet sauce and the vibrant orange sauce play nicely with the depth the duck and mushroom mixture provide. All components of the dish blend sensually. It’s something I could eat again.
Somewhere between course four and five the table next to ours finishes their meal and asks for their bill. The woman paying expresses frustration around the wine expense, stating, “You mislead us with the wine pours.” The manager, who doubles as the sommelier informs her she is wrong. The chaos and hustle that fills the streets of Morocco suddenly erupts in the dining room. The manager stomps off in a huff, leaving the table mid-conversation as they gather their things.
I try to move past the discomfort as the next plates arrive. Suffice to say courses five through seven introduce ingredients and flavors that are all out of place and underwhelming.
Which brings me to course eight, dessert, delivered by the manager in haste. I hope it will provide some redemption. I should have known better. The brownie, star of the dish, is burnt. It floats in a concoction of fruit and sauces, which appear to be a hodge podge of whatever is left in the kitchen. There is pineapple that tastes like a can, a raspberry vinegar sauce that is way too heavy on the vinegar and God knows what else. I push it aside after two bites, look at my friend in disappointment and ask, “Are they trying to make me not come back?”
11:30 p.m. The manager makes it clear he is done for the night and wants everyone out. Our guide arrives, and we’re told it’s time to go. After about 15-minutes, countless twists and turns, we’re back at our riad.
There, I review the meal with new friends and quickly learn Kaanache is no longer Nur’s executive chef. She’s been replaced by two chefs – one Italian and one Moroccan. Suddenly, everything made sense.
Image courtesy of www.nur.ma