A tagine of slow-cooked beef with prunes, dried apricots, toasted almonds, and sesame seeds
Enter what is the only full-fledged Moroccan restaurant in Westchester, Argana Restaurant & Bar, resplendent in dappled light patterns from 27 handmade bronze Moroccan-style hanging lamps that illuminate golden-yellow walls, conferring the sense of blowing sand dunes.
Beautiful, yes, yet there’s a more significant draw to this 110-seat restaurant opened by husband and wife (and native Moroccans) Nordine and Soumia Achbani in the space that previously held nessa.
In Morocco, it’s common for restaurants not to have menus and instead offer family-style multi-course dinners. This Moroccan Hospitality Dinner is meant to replicate going to someone’s home, and Argana delivers on the concept with a choice of dinners starting at $25 for a three-course meal and up to $60 for 5 courses (an à la carte menu is also available).
The multi-course dinners are an excellent way to experience the breadth of Moroccan food: hot and cold salads, tagines (meats with such accompaniments as almonds, prunes, poached eggs, lemons, and/or vegetables, slow-cooked and served in earthenware pots), couscous, skewered meats, b’stilla (a savory pie made with phyllo pastry), and pastries commonly filled with dates, figs, honey, almonds, and pistachio, paired with mint tea.
Also expect Argan oil at some point during the meal — perhaps as a dip for pita, atop fresh Burrata and heirloom tomatoes, or as part of a red-pepper coulis dressing a lobster-tail entrée. A nut-based oil produced from kernels of the Argan tree (some may recognize it as a component of moisturizers and cosmetics), it is to Moroccans what olive oil is to Italians and Greeks.
Moroccan mint tea is the traditional way to end the meal
“Moroccan cuisine is a traditional gastronomy, with a succession of flavors mixing together,” says Nordine. “Some of our dishes are inspired by European cuisine; Morocco was occupied by France, of course. The Andalusian cuisine of Spain is also a big influence, plus flavors from all around the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa.”
Nordine works front-of-the-house (he was formerly the GM at Polpo in Greenwich), while Soumia is the executive chef. She was a catering chef in Morocco for 15 years and a chef in two restaurants in France for seven years.
The Achbanis live in Greenwich, but Nordine has a special affection for Port Chester. “It’s the first place I lived when I came to the US, and it’s where my first child was born,” he says. “I know almost every corner of the village.”
The corner the Achbanis have carved out is an oasis of Moroccan food and hospitality — but don’t expect any Arabic language lessons on the menu. “At one point during my time at Polpo, we listed dishes in Italian,” says Nordine. “But my experience is that if diners can’t pronounce it, they won’t order it.”
Argana Restaurant & Bar
325 N Main St, Port Chester