Essaouria came after the desert and after the Atlas Mountains, and it did not come too soon. A small fishing town for beachside tourists, Essaouria felt like a godsend in terms of pace and calm. We were there for two days with GAP Adventures, and by this point the group had pretty much built its factions and fictitious personalities, which we did not really want any part of, so we went it alone for the two days. The first order of the day was to find a real, non-GAP, restaurant, which was pretty easy via Trip Advisor. There was only one clear choice in the town and that was the restaurant Elizir.
We arrived at 7:30pm for an 8:15pm opening, and were the first in, which was fortunate as we were the only people who got to sit down for the next hour. Elizir requires reservations as it only sits about 28 people for one sitting per night. About 20 people were turned down, but we were lucky enough to get the last open table for the night.
The music was Leonard Cohen, Edith Piaf and some funky French music. The crowd ranged from a few tourists to some “locals” who wanted to take visiting friends out to a nice meal. The highlight of the night was the idiot who pranced in wearing a blanket for a cape. I mean I get dressing up like a berber, or wearing harem-wear to fulfill a dream, but a Polo shirt, tight khakis and a blanket was just ridiculous, especially since he thought he was the cat’s meow. Sigh….people.
The food was spectacular for the price and the area. No, it was not Bobby Flay or Susur Lee, but the food was fresh, clean and well-prepared in a pseudo-moderne way. We went with a full course menu to make sure that we did not waste a table for the owner, and frankly there was no better way to spend an evening.
The vibe was cool, and the wine was awful, but remember that alcohol is not on most menus in Morocco, especially during Ramadan. We enjoyed the first course of dips, and then shared a rich pumpkin and saffron soup. Given how raw our tummies were from the onslaught of tagine after tagine, the soup was a tiny miracle.
The main courses were a pistacio, ricotta and pomodoro ravioli and a beef tenderloin with balsamic reduction. I would say the beef was extraordinary, truly world-class, but the vegetables did not match the dish. The pasta was spot on, but needed garlic and sea salt to pull it together. We ended with a pear in filo pastry, and a chocolate ganache tart. Bother were nicely presented and had nice touched os ice cream and vegetable juices. The espresso was free, and I ended up paying around 600-700 dirhams or around 80 dollars with a tip. I cannot recommend Elizir more highly. After ten days of roughing it through Morocco with only beef jerky or tagines/couscous, I needed some familiar food and atmosphere.
I should also note that taking pictures of food with the iPhone is useful to remember what you ate, but terrible in terms of low-light resolution. The actual food was much more attractive than my snapshots show.