Friday night's plans consisted of meeting up with Phil, his lady-friend Emily, and Jason, who was Rajeev's partner in One Louder crime until Jeeves became a law student and ceased to exist. I had dutifully made reservations for 9:30 at Zerza, a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village. Long-time readers may recall that I went to Zerza last year, but that was just for drinks and a hookah.
On that occasion, the food had looked excellent and it seemed like the sort of low-key place I would like to celebrate my birthday. So that was the plan.
Zerza takes up two floors and is quite small. The downstairs consists of a small bar (with a very pregnant bartender) and a few tables. There are lots of traditional Moroccan lanterns about (I really can't get enough of dim lighting. It's my favorite). Upstairs is a small dining room which, on our evening, accomodated two tables of 10, two tables of 4 and one table of 2.
When we entered, the downstairs bar was full, as were the tables. Clearly, the place is well-subscribed. I told the "host" about our reservation and he stared blankly at me and ran to find the owner. The owner seemed to look less surprised, and then disappeared to "check on our table." He came back about 5 minutes later - there was a party still at our table, but they had paid their bill and would surely be gone momentarily.
Momentarily turned into 10, then 15 minutes. And I was getting very cranky. Several years ago, something similar happened to me at Makeda's in New Brunswick. We sat at the bar for 40 minutes, were treated rudely by the hostesses, until I finally had a very polite, but firm hissy fit. Apparently the magic words at Makeda's are "We're leaving and going to North Star Cafe." I've never seen an owner swoop in so fast with free wine and a table.
But in these hard emotional times, "Polite but firm hissy fit" Megan has gone on vacation, and has been replaced by "Lame-o pushover who eventually stomps her feet and whines like a five year old" Megan. Philly mentioned an Indian restaurant down the street, but I really was looking forward to some tea and a hookah after dinner. Luckily I did not have to resort to stomping my feet - the owner came over and explained that the party at our table just would not leave, but another party would be leaving shortly and would we please have a drink on the house? Yes, we would. Drink in hand (and as Emily pointed out, everything seems a little better once they give you a drink), we now had time to critically assess the group at the bar - about six attractive women, all foreign, and three ugly, older and poorly dressed men. My guess? Mail-order brides.
We finally got our table, about 50 minutes after our 9:30 reservation, and we got a nice bottle of Moroccan wine on the house for our trouble. Everything else went off without a hitch - the service was great, with a sweet, earthy waitress, and the bellydancer came up around 10:45. (Apparently the douchebags who had our table and wouldn't leave had been waiting for the belly dancer.... they were still up there when we were seated, but left before the bellydancer).
We started off with the Meze Plate (hummus, zaaluk and spinach bakoula) and saganaki, which is a marinated and fried feta cheese. The saganaki was unbelievable. Up there with the Yakitori Totto chicken livers. I had the tagine marougia - short ribs - as my entree and they were really fantastic - soft and tender, and marinated in a sauce made slightly sweet by stewed prunes. Philly had the kefta tagine, which are spiced meatballs. They were nice, but I definitely preferred my short ribs.
We finished off the meal with a large pot of mint tea. Mom and I went to Marakech (also to Essouira and through the Atlas Mountains) right after I graduated college. In the evenings, we would sit outside after dinner and have amazing mint tea. You just can't get mint tea like that here, but this was pretty close. Our dinner made me think of that trip, of how much fun Mom and I had, and it was a nice, pleasant memory that didn't cause me any pangs of grief or loss.
Phil asked the waitress if we could get a hookah upstairs (no one else had had one, and it seemed like it might be the sort of thing one can only have in the bar area). Our waitress: "Well, you are VIP, so let me see what I can do." Yeah, we got our hookah - apple flavored to be precise.
And we shut the place down. Being VIPs, we weren't hustled out, so we left of our own volition around 2am. A year older, none the wiser, with a good meal and some very good friends - I would say it was a successful night.