The Sultan’s Tent & Café Maroc
49 Front Street East
Dinner for two with all taxes, tip and beer/wine: Sultan’s Tent – $110, Café Maroc – $90
The first visit was the typical cliché – it was my birthday and I was fascinated with belly dancing, so I dragged everyone to the Sultan’s Tent. I had been warned for years, since the restaurant had been located up at Bay and Yorkville, that the food was terrible. Turns out it was the bellydancing floorshow that was disappointing (as the birthday girl I was forced to get up and take dance instructions from one of the performers), while the food was actually the hi-light of the evening.
The Sultan’s Tent/Café Maroc is actually two spaces in one with a shared kitchen and some shared menu items. The Sultan’s Tent sits at the back of a long space and is decorated in a more fanciful style with sheer curtains forming tents and walls and low tables and divans grouped together for informal gatherings. The long passageway to the kitchen also serves as a performance area for the twice nightly bellydance shows.
The menu at the Sultan’s Tent is a straight up prix fixe of $39.95 for four courses with a few items tagged with an additional surcharge. While all items on the Sultan’s Tent menu are available at the front café, the café selection is far more varied. Service at the back dinner theatre area comes with its own entertainment value as we discovered that our server was able to memorize our entire order – four courses each for five people, plus add-ons and drinks – without writing any of it down.
It took us a few months, but we eventually made it back to check out the expanded menu at the front café. Café Maroc is a bright, light-filled space with traditional Moroccan décor reminiscent of Casablanca. The menu is studded with traditional favourites like spicy Harira ($4.95) a chickpea and lentil soup that is warm with spices and lemon, or Maftoul ($5.95), mildly spiced beef “cigars” made from crisp pastry with smoked cumin, currants and cashews. This is a really subtle dish with the fruit and nuts well ground and added to the meat. Even more pedestrian dishes like hummus and olives ($6.95) are flavourful and generous – the baskets of warm pita never seemed to stop.
Not pedestrian at all were the Moroccan crab cakes ($10.95). Blended with shrimp as well as fruit and nuts such as cashews, walnuts, raisins and dates, these were sweet and moist and quite nicely paired with the slightly spicy and crispy Moroccan frites ($4.95). The garnish of deep-fried frogs legs was oh so French, but unnecessary. The legs were greasy and not particularly meaty, and kind of creepy – ew, toes.
The roast vegetable and fig pita ($10.95) came with an expectation on my part that it would be yet another ho-hum grilled veggie sandwich. The addition of figs roasted to an almost jam-like consistency and lemon yogurt gave this sandwich a kick that has seen me return a number of times since. Not to mention searching out fig jam so I can make it at home.
Sesame crusted salmon ($16.95) came on a bed of lukewarm carrot and sweet potato puree. The accompanying green bean salad was a bit odd, with the beans served cold and coated in something that resembled mayonnaise. The Maroc Steak Baguette ($12.95) is an open-faced steak sandwich served with frites. Despite the thin cut of steak the kitchen was able to prepare it rare, although this dish is served in a large soup plate, making it difficult to cut.
Fans of couscous will love the Sweet Keskesu ($4.95) for dessert; this traditional dish includes all the flavours of Morocco with raisins, cinnamon, orange flower water and almonds. As a pastry lover, I tend to be drawn to the M’Hancha ($6.95), a solid round pastry comprised of layers and layers of phylo, filled with crushed nuts. It’s a large, heavy dessert, however, and for just a taste of something sweet, the Moroccan Treats ($5.95) plate includes truly delicious baklava with a slightly salty end note that cuts the sweetness of the honey and rosewater. And for some more French influence, the Brule Royale ($7.95) is a lovely twist on the old classic, with a spicy sugar crust and a topping of pistachios.
There are a few misses at The Sultan’s Tent & Café Maroc, although most of them did occur on a recent Summerlicious visit where things were cut back slightly and the kitchen was rushed. And while participatory bellydancing – or even watching the floor show – might not be high on everyone’s list of a fun evening (we had stick-in-the-mud friends who refused to join us for that birthday dinner because of the bellydancing), the food and exemplary service at Café Maroc make up for that. The menu is varied and reasonably priced, and it’s a fun treat to stop by, situate yourself at a table under one of those massive palms with a coffee or a pomegranate spritzer and wait patiently to see if Ilsa might ever return.