Restaurant Review: Zitoune Locanda (3 Stars)

Zitoune zings in Mamaroneck.



 

B’steeya and Belly Dancing at Mamaroneck’s New Moroccan

 

Spice up your dining life at this hip, ex-Meat-Packing-District favorite

 

 

 

Tired of the same old restaurants? Even though there’s a growing array of cuisines in our midst, we’re still more or less stuck with the never-ending rotation of French, Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, New American, and Japanese. Well, there’s relief in sight: Mamaroneck’s Zitoune is throwing the heady spices of Morocco into the mix. This is happy news for Westchester’s adventurous diners.

 

Chef and owner Alain Bennouna’s Mamaroneck restaurant is the second incarnation of Zitoune (“olive” in Arabic). Zitoune’s first go-round was in Manhattan’s Meat-Packing District, where it was welcomed as a bastion of good food in a neighborhood thronged with night-clubbers. After it closed in 2005, Chef Bennouna moved his establishment north—way north—to Mamaroneck and the site that formerly housed Solare, the Italian restaurant. Since then, he’s completely transformed the space, with straight-from-Morocco decorative finishes featuring colored-glass pendants, Moroccan textiles, and geometric tiles. Besides beaten-copper dining tables, Zitoune features several cozy sofa nooks for slouchy nibbling around low, candlelit tables.

 

After being warmly greeted at the door on our first visit, we sat down to a basket of bread paired with a lovely dish of lemony green tapenade. We could easily have plowed right through the breadbasket to get every last briny, salty bite.

 

With glasses of Moroccan red secured, we dove into our starters. The duck b’steeya arrived as a crisp, phyllo-wrapped package with a basket-weave pattern on top of powdered sugar and cinnamon. The pairing of duck and sugar, not uncommon, is rarely as successful as it was in Zitoune’s b’steeya. The rich, sweet filling of duck and ground almonds, which could easily have been cloying, was made ethereal with cinnamon and saffron. My salade composée, equally exciting, consisted of five large quenelles of differing vegetable pastes. Each tasted of different spice combinations and each was delicious.

 

On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, Zitoune features a professional belly dancer. Admittedly, I’m not the traditional audience for this diversion, but I felt my enjoyment seriously curtailed whenever Shakira came blasting out of the sound system at conversation-ending decibels. Nor did I need the bare-midriffed booty-shaker doing her thing next to my table while I was trying to enjoy my dinner. Call me a spoilsport. Other patrons seemed to enjoy the performance. 

 

Zitoune doesn’t need such gimmicks; its food can stand on its own. We loved our starter of fresh sardines, which arrived in a sizzling iron pan. Lemony, salty, and glistening with olive oil, the fish tasted like a beachside snack under the hot Mediterranean sun. Unfortunately, the tender

little filets continued to char on the spitting pan, leaving the precious last bites tasting only of carbon. (We’ll order the sardines again, but we’ll remove the filets from the pan.) Zitoune’s vegetarian version of lamb briwats (there are many vegetarian choices) was more successful. Here, addictive little triangles of super-crisp phyllo were stuffed with a savory filling of spinach and mint. 

 

Of course, we ordered a lamb tagine, the national dish of Morocco, served in a cone-lidded clay cooking pot. It was delicious. Our couscous el Fassi was equally good, the fluffy, heady-with-cinnamon Moroccan semolina dotted with plump raisins and al dente chick peas. Zitoune’s lemony version of Cornish hen was also well cooked and briny, accompanied by a lemony spinach bakoula, a traditional sautéed dish combining vegetables and Moroccan spices.

 

Desserts at Zitoune make the most of phyllo pastry and aromatic spices. On our first visit, we shared the sweet briwats. When we bit into the stiff little triangles, their sweet phyllo shells revealed a soft interior of ground walnuts and honey. We also liked the mixed fruit b’steeya which, like the duck version, came decorated with a cinnamon/powdered sugar basket-weave design. Here, the flaky pastry package was filled with a densely spiced mixture of chopped apples, nuts, and apricots. Though quite good, too much cinnamon left the dish tasting slightly chalky.

 

 

 

Lunch at Zitoune is where Morocco’s French tradition is most felt, with hearty baguette sandwiches and robust salads like Niçoise and fromage de chèvre. Our favorite baguette stuffers include Zitoune’s deliciously oily, lemony roasted eggplant and smoky, harissa-hot grilled merguez sausages. As added incentive, Zitoune also offers an $11 prixe-fix lunch: your choice of soup or salad, sandwich du jour, and coffee or tea.

 

 

 

ZITOUNE LOCANDA          ★★★

1127 W Boston Post Rd., Mamaroneck

(914) 835-8350

www.zitounerestaurant.com

 

HOURS:

Lunch, Mon. to Fri. 11:30-3:30 pm

Dinner, Mon. to Thurs. 5:30-10 pm , Fri to Sun 5:30-11 pm

 

PRICES:

Appetizers: $6.50-$10

Entrées: $12.50-$25

Desserts: $7

   ★★★★—Outstanding      ★★★—Very Good 
   ★★—Good                       ★—Fair

 

 

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