A world of flavor in Andalous Moroccan’s array of authentic, made-from-scratch, warm dishes

While I’ve enjoyed Moroccan food all over the world, who knew that Chicago’s take on the difficult-to-prepare cuisine could be found at Andalous Moroccan at 3307 N. Clark St.

This cozy storefront is easy to miss because of the many popular haunts surrounding it. That’s why I loved it: Very few crowds and loads of attention from the barely-speaks- English staff.

I’m a big fan of appetizer samples, which allow me to taste several different house favorites. I started out with the incredibly fresh Andalous Combo Deal at $8.50, a total steal. It comes with decent sized portions of warm appetizers that Morocco is famous for: Zaalouk, taktouka, Carrots a la Sharmoula and bakoula.

Each made-from-scratch dish is served warm and peppered with a lineup of exotic spices. My favorite was the Carrots ala Sharmoula. The super-soft, blanched carrot chunks are dusted lightly in the juice of green olives, hits of garlic, paprika, earthy cumin and fresh lemon juice. Who knew carrots could taste so blissful.

The runner-up was the wildly rich zaalouk?a creamy eggplant spread with a ton of smoky flavor and tangs of cilantro.

It was difficult for me to choose from the entrees since I usually go the vegetarian route. I finally went with the not-to-be-missed Marrakech tagine. How could I deny falling-off-the-bone lamb shanks smothered in a thick tomato sauce with onions and herbs and covered with a big, fat pile of homemade French fries? No chance in hell. A sweet punch of cinnamon was in every bite and I couldn’t get enough of it.

And judging by how long it took for the kitchen to serve it, you’d think the lamb was slaughtered on site.

But in the warm, sparsely populated dining area, it’s not about watching the clock. It’s about takin’ a breather from the outside, shutting down the mayhem inside your head, and eating yourself silly on plate after plate of authentic Moroccan cuisine. The BYOB policy only adds to the charm.

THE FINAL RAVE: The only thing separating the dining room from the kitchen is a frayed maroon curtain, so be prepared to sit through the rants and raves of the surly kitchen help. Are they talking about you? Who knows! They’re screaming in Arabic.

KEEP IT GOING:

READ IT: Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
Paula Wolfert is the premiere chef covering this part of the world and you can pick up this home cook?friendly best seller at your local bookstore.

DRINK IT: Marrakesh ExpressO, 4747 N. Damen Ave.
They’ve got killer Moroccan tea, served piping hot with little cubes of sugar. It goes swimmingly with their chewy Moroccan-style crepes.

EAT IT: Moroccan Lamb with Couscous (www.recipes4us.co.uk)
Be bold and give this traditional Moroccan dish a go. It’s a doozy of a recipe but an hour and half later, you’re practically face-to-face with the dish every farmer in the Atlas Mountains chows down nightly.

GET CRAZY WITH IT: Wild Frontiers ( www.wildfrontiers.co.uk/chill_easter.htm)
Vacation in Morocco and chill out with yoga sessions, French cooking, and horseback rides. The county is a melting pot of good times, I tell ya!

COMMENTS