Stepping out of a nondescript 28th Street parking lot into Tangier Moroccan Cuisine is a transformative experience. Once inside, one removes one’s shoes and absorbs the warm ambiance of a dining room packed with richly colored rugs and comfy cushions. Faced with sitting at a standard table setup or amongst the low cushions and tapestries, friend Amy and I took the more leisurely, and presumably more authentic, seating route.
The menu here spotlights starters like hearts of palm and the vegetable- or chicken-stuffed pies known as bastillas. Soups include lentil and split pea, while salads feature items like cucumber or eggplant. Lamb and chicken here are halal, and these ingredients figure prominently in entree kebobs, couscous and gluten-free tagines, North African stews. Small fries under 10 can indulge in a $7.95 kabob plate.
Amy started with a $7 glass of Moroccan red wine, while I selected traditional hot and sweet $2.49 mint tea, poured from up high to facilitate cooling and effervescence. Our first course consisted of $4.95 lentil and harira soups. Both of these satisfyingly warm and hearty options were earthy, pulse-based affairs with lively but not overwhelming spicing. A slight edge went to the harira, a classic Berber preparation, for possessing a more complex, full-bodied flavor.
Amy strongly lobbied for the $12.95 chicken bastilla. I’m hard-pressed to think of a dish that so compellingly blends sweet and savory. This poultry pie consisted of a plump disc of flaky yet crisp filo, liberally dusted with powdered sugar and a whisper of cinnamon.
Tender minced chicken filled this pastry, and this ingredient’s fine flavor and subtle saltiness complemented the crunchy sweetness of the exterior envelope. Amy felt she could make a meal out of this specialty alone.
The $14.95 chicken couscous was perhaps the best example of this dish I’ve tasted. Featuring a moist and tender chicken leg accompanied by perfectly cooked sweet carrot, cabbage and zucchini, the flavor profile was closer to that of a risotto. Each individual couscous grain was richly infused with the taste of vegetable, poultry and sublime spicing.
The theme of sweet marrying savory also played out in our $17.95 lamb tagine with apricot and apple. The word tagine refers both to the stew-like dish as well as the heavy earthen cooking vessel in which it is prepared.
Tangier uses an authentic red tagine cooker with a heavy peaked lid — ideal for retaining heat. The heady, broth-like sauce was an optimum match for the accompanying side of basmati rice, and the fruity sweetness complemented the lamb’s meaty depth.
We ended with a not-too-sweet $3.95 baklava, subtly aromatic with rosewater. I washed this down with more mint tea, while Amy pursued a more therapeutic closing with a $7 shot of arak, a bracing fennel and fig spirit similar to Ouzo.
Dinner at Tangier was the best meal I’ve reviewed this year. My impression was less that of going to a restaurant for than it was visiting the home of an attentive Moroccan friend who patiently took the time to explain each dish. While prices aren’t inexpensive, the quality of the experience makes this more than just a meal. Tangier is a hidden gem, deserving of a spot in the top echelon of Boulder restaurants.
Tangier Moroccan Cuisine is located at 3070 28th St. in Boulder. Call 303-443-3676 or visit www.tangiermoroccancuisine.com/.