Zayna Flavors of Morocco is a welcome addition to Reno’s increasingly diverse food scene. My wife and I took advantage of an introductory “Sultan’s Feast” six-course meal—including a glass of house wine—for $34.95 per person. Moroccan music playing in the kitchen lent the proper vibe without making it difficult to hold a conversation in the dining room. I’ve heard that belly dancing often accompanies these meals, but we apparently chose the dancer’s night off.
A serving of hummus paired with olives and soft pita bread comprised our first course. The hummus was unlike most from the eastern end of the Mediterranean. From the color and lack of nutty sesame flavor, I’m thinking there was either very little—or no—tahini in the mix. If it was there, it was overpowered by the flavor of preserved lemon, a key ingredient in Moroccan cuisine. The intensely floral flavor was actually quite good once my expectations adjusted, but the bouquet reminded me of—so help me—Froot Loops breakfast cereal.
The first round was followed by sweet mint tea, dates and a pastry date cookie. The tea was ceremoniously served tableside by the chef—a young man of Berber descent—with a long pour, explained as being necessary to properly mix the ingredients. The dates and cookies were not too sweet, which helped cut the spearmint candy effect of the tea.
Our next course was one of my favorites, a simple skewer of spiced chicken and tomato with a salad of mixed greens, shredded veg and a fantastically spicy dressing. The chicken was tender and moist. My wife just pulled it off the stick and tossed it into her salad. The combination was delicious.
A tagine—or tajine—is a shallow earthenware cooking dish with a conical lid used to slow-roast stews and meats, a centerpiece of North African and Middle Eastern cooking. The term tagine is also used to denote a dish cooked in this fashion, thus the chicken and lamb tagines that were served as entrees.
Both meats are soaked in spices and cooked with onion, olive and prepared lemon, resulting in fall-off-the-bone meat with a powerful punch of flavor. The four chicken thighs were served with rice pilaf made with spices, bell pepper and a lot of chicken flavor. In an odd way, it reminded me a bit of my Czech grandmother’s comfort food, chicken and rice.
The lamb tagine featured a pair of lamb shanks with all the characteristics of the chicken, yet the cooking method seemed to have concentrated the rich, iron-laden flavor of the dark leg meat. If you like liver, you’ll probably love this dish as much as my wife did. I found it to be almost overpowering, though definitely worth the experience. A salad of couscous—tiny semolina pasta—with grape tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, cilantro, mint and spices, served as an excellent side to the lamb. It was tasty on its own and a perfect palate balancer with the lamb.
Something called cucumber soup turned out to be a sweet, chilled combination of mint, shredded cucumbers and cucumber water that seemed more a combination dessert and digestif than soup. This was followed by yet another serving of mint tea and date cookies. My wife declared any meal that starts and ends with dessert is high on her list of best things ever.