When it comes to Moroccan restaurant ventures in this city, Achraf Taby has had his meaty fingers in the mix of quite a few of them. After stints in the kitchen at the now-defunct Casablanca Grill and Lounge and the eponymous Chez Achraf (it's now called Atlas Express, but still serves Moroccan staples), Taby has taken the helm of the kitchen at Kabbab House, a visually alluring if somewhat clichéd grill/lounge in the MetroWest Plaza. And while history hasn't been kind to couscouseries in Orlando, owner Simo Soaf is determined to make it work, and most of what I witnessed suggests Kabbab House has the potential to be a mainstay.
With less than a handful of Moroccan restaurants in town (Epcot included), Berber cuisine has hardly had the opportunity to evolve ' so, not surprisingly, the menu here cleaves to the familiar. There's nothing wrong with that. You won't find modern riffs on traditional Moorish meals, but if you're up for kebabs, tagines, couscous and assorted Mediterranean bites, look no further.
Moroccan cuisine comprises a heady array of dishes tinged with influences from Persia, India, Spain and Levantine nations, and for a representative sampling, the five-course Royal Feast ($23.95) poses quite a value. Depending on your mood, you can start your meal off with sweet-and-meaty chicken pastilla or a Mediterranean platter of hummus, tabouli and baba ghanoush. The pastilla was served piping hot and was a tad unctuous, but the overall textures and flavors of this flaky phyllo pie stuffed with chicken, eggs and almonds and dusted with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon exemplified the exotic nature of Moroccan fare. The platter was entirely satisfying, particularly the tart tabouli. The next course featured hearty harira, my go-to comfort soup of choice, but one sadly lacking in beef. Soaf admitted it's a ploy to appeal to vegetarians but, thankfully, the essence of the spice-laden, tomato-based broth wasn't lost. Greek salad was well-portioned with enough feta crumbles to keep cheeseheads in check.
For the main course, diners can opt for a mixed grill of kebabs, lamb tagine or chicken tagine. The diminutive and anemic merguez sausage seemed like an afterthought on an otherwise impressive platter, dominated by succulent chicken and tender beef kebabs lanced on a blade. The beef, while soft, was overcooked; nicely seasoned kofta (ground beef) kebabs were grilled and seasoned to perfection; and the cushion of saffron rice deserved equal billing with the meat. Saffron and preserved lemon charged the sauce in the chicken tagine, with plenty of green olives offering a true taste of Tangier, even though the jus was a bit oily. Fluffy semolina highlighted a side of lamb couscous ($6.95), but the shank of the fluffy critter wasn't as fall-off-the-bone tender as I expected, and overcooked baby carrots added to the inconsistency. Honeyed baklava, the fifth and final course, proved too formidable for the IKEA silverware, but sweet mint tea made an ideal after-dinner refresher.
If you plan on dining here on Friday or Saturday night, be sure to call ahead; the place gets packed with patrons flocking to catch live music and belly-dancing. Service is friendly, but harried and uncoordinated. Our server worked feverishly while others paced the room like zombies. When utensils aren't delivered, glasses are left unfilled and checks fail to materialize, other servers need to pick up the slack. Still, Kabbab House holds a lot of promise, and with a little work, lovers of Moroccan fare may avoid having to hear the heave of the Moor's last sigh.