Recently Faye and I decided to leave our glittering city to explore Morocco. I must say, from a cultural perspective, I haven’t been so taken aback by the sheer vibrancy of a people and place in quite some time. From the unique intersection of Arabic and French influences to the array of colors of zellij mosaics and endless courtyards with old-world intrigue to the simply breathtaking effect of the Saharan desert, Morocco is surely a place you MUST visit before you die.
As for the food, I have always I have loved the rich flavors of Moroccan cooking. Fragrant cumin, rich saffron, warming cinnamon, and so many more treasures fill the Moroccan spice souks. Yet, after 13 days of Moroccan cuisine I was sick of tagines, the traditional Moroccan stew similar to the Western method of braising. After having 3 course Moroccan feasts, nearly every day for BOTH lunch and dinner, Faye and I resolutely agreed no more Moroccan food for a while.
However, my first brunch back in NYC brought me to newly-opened Claudette with Naisha. Although I had anticipated mainly French fare, ironically we found Moroccan-inspired dishes on the menu. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too shocked since there is strong influence from the Mahgreb these days in France, so much so that couscous is commonplace in Paris. Nevertheless, the coincidence made me smile.
Claudette is located in Greenwich village, at the heart of it all on 5th Ave a few blocks from Washington Square Park. It’s that part of NYC that everyone would love to live in and the perfect place to brunch on a lazy Sunday. The interior is bright and airy, furnished tastefully, filled with all the laid-back charm that I seek in a restaurant. I had thought that we would have to wait on an endless line for this newly-opened hotspot but thankfully they accept reservations via OpenTable, because who really likes waiting an hour+ for brunch (I’m looking at you Good Enough to Eat).
For food, Naisha ended up getting the Harissa Baked Eggs (baked eggs, chickpea ragoût, tomato & flatbread). Harissa, being one of Morocco’s best known novelties, elevated this standard brunch dish by adding some spice. Definitely the healthier option, as I had Claudette’s Honey Pot (baked phyllo, almonds, rose water, golden raisins & spiced honey). All the sweeter flavors of Morocco baked into one dish. Both mains evoked flavors of Morocco with a nuanced, oh-so-New-York-City twist.
OK so clearly I have not sworn off Moroccan food because the image above clearly shows some traditional French options on the menu. What can I say? I always like adventurous options. Sorry Croque Monsieur but I indulged on you during my Paris days, I’m good for now. Though these days, I am all about incorporating Moroccan flavors into mainstay dishes. The only souvenirs that I bought for myself were edible: Argan oil, rose water, Harissa, Mint Tea, and Ras el Hanout – frankly all are wonderful to experiment with in the kitchen, wowing guests, or taste-tester cougars, with their aroma and depth of flavor.
Claudette is definitely a place that I’ll go back to as the menu is seasonal and I’m intrigued to see what the ambiance is like during dinner. For a discerning critic who dislikes trying a restaurant twice, I’ll say that’s a compliment.
Claudette – 24 Fifth Avenue – 212 868 2424
See more reviews at NYC Restaurants.