A long time veteran in the Jerusalem culinary scene, a recent visit to Darna made me understand how the restaurant managed to survive and thrive over the past 18 years and also reassure me that Darna will most likely be here for the next 18 years as well. After revisiting the Magreb some 20 years ago, Restaurateur Ilan Siboni was dazzled by the beauty of his onetime homeland, and upon return he decided to establish an authentic kosher Moroccan restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem. Entering Darna is like traveling to a different world, the hallway is illuminated with candles, the ceiling and walls are adorned with authentic Moroccan pictures and pottery, the walls are thick, the ceiling is covered with beautiful designs and the waiters are dressed in traditional Moroccan attire (caftan).
Darna is comprised of several different rooms which vary in size and décor, thus creating a warm, homey and private feeling. After wondering around the halls and enclosed garden, admiring the artwork and colors (even the bathrooms are decorated!) we were escorted to our table and placed our orders.
We started off with the “Pastilla Fasia” (poultry) and the Fish Pastilla, served aside an assortment of traditional Moroccan salads. The Pastilla is a classic Moroccan dish, a crispy phyllo pastry stuffed with minced spring chicken (the original version is based on pigeon meat) and almonds, decorated with powdered sugar and cinnamon. This was a real treat, the contrast in texture was perfect and the cinnamon offered an interesting kick to the dish. While I enjoyed the chicken pastilla in the past, this was my first time trying the fish version and it was delicious. Very different in both favor profile and texture it is filled with minced merluza (hake) and a slightly tangy-piquant sauce – I could have easily eaten three of these but managed to hold back and wait for the other courses. The salads were fresh and colorful yet I found most rather plain: lentil salad, a lemony potato salad, very hot green peppers, tasty matbouha and our favorite, Moroccan style carrot salad, among others served with traditional homemade bread.
When I ask Siboni where he sees Darna in 5 years and how the “globalization” of culinary habits and styles will affect him, he replies “in 5 years and in 10 years we will be in the same place and serve the same exact food. Darna is a traditional Moroccan restaurant and a cuisine doesn’t simply change. I have a lot of respect for fusion and other culinary styles but feel that as an authentic restaurant, we won’t change a thing. I have a son who studied cooking abroad and was influenced by other cuisines. When he returned to Israel he suggested that we make certain changes to some of the dishes and make them a bit more modern. Trends come and go and as you can see we haven’t changed the dishes and I believe that this is one of the causes for our success.”
For the main course we ordered a sweet tagine of lamb and dried fruits and the Atlas Mountain couscous served with a veal and vegetable stew. The couscous was light fluffy and absorbed the sauce from the meat while not being too soggy. The meat in both dishes was tender and cooked to perfection, falling apart at the touch of a fork.
While I was seriously considering skipping dessert, our sweet tooth got the best of us and we ordered a platter of Moroccan sweets and the Toboka Delight – crispy pastry dough, topped with a sweet (parve) creamy sauce and shredded almonds, which was different and tasty. Over the years I have attended many Mimuna celebrations and have had my share of chebakia and homemade Moroccan marzipan treats – Darna’s is up there with the best of them.
An excellent place to take out of town guests or even hold small family events - Darna’s motto is “Darna we Darqum”, Morroccan for our home is your home – after speaking with Siboni it is clear that he truly means it.