King for a Day

“The Entr?es arrived...This in when we knew for sure: god, whether a man or a woman, is most likely a Moroccan. Otherwise, why would he bestow upon them the best recipes? Nadav Avidan was a guest of Darna restaurant, owned by Ilan Siboni, formerly the chef of the King of Morocco, and felt himself to be a king for a day.”

You are undoubtedly familiar with the following scenario – you meet an old friend whom you haven’t seen for ages, you spend a wonderful evening together, and then ceremoniously pledge that “we will not allow such a lengthy period of time to pass before we meet again.” Somehow, this promise always remains just a promise, and it will be a long time before you see each other again. Such is my relationship with Jerusalem. Every time I visit her, I rediscover how much I love this city, and yet I always wait a long time before revisiting. This time, in great part due to the 40 year re-unification anniversary celebrations, I found it fitting to break my tradition of sporadic visits and take-in the city for 2 weekends in a row. What can I say? My love just keeps on growing. This city simply cannot make you tired of it. At once ancient and modern, Jerusalem stone next to Tel Aviv stone, the Wailing Wall and searching for parking – this city has a bit of everything. This time around, I decided to seek out a place which is characterized by this combination between that which was always here and that which constantly reinvents itself and surprises. After a short search, which mainly included personal recommendations, bordering on “I can’t believe you’ve never been there,” Shirley and I decided to reserve a table for two at Darna, an authentic Moroccan restaurant.

Parking was quite easy to find. The entrance to the restaurant looked almost ordinary, but from the first step we realized that the opening gate - while looking like any other gate when viewed from the outside - once crossed, is a gateway to another world. Stairs lined with candles, high illustrated ceiling, arcs in the ceiling – no doubt the look of a King’s palace in this different world, created for us by Darna.
Esther awaits us at the entrance, dressed from head to toe in traditional Moroccan garb and much charm. She leads us to a table (table for two? Don’t make them laugh. The table is large and spacious, we sit on soft sofas and lean back on soft cushions – the royal treatment), and we are given the menu. When I think of the word ‘menu,’ I usually conjure up an image of a laminated sheet of paper filled with crammed text. This restaurant surprised me in this department, as well. The menu is actually a small booklet, divided into categories, with pictures taken in Morocco and giving off a sense of the past, all bound in leather.

Soon after, the food arrives. It is the vision of Ilan Siboni, a man of reputation in the world of Israeli restaurants, with years of experience starting long before I was born. Ilan is also the owner of Darna, and it is clearly felt that for its 13 years of existence, it has been a very close to his heart. The first course is served, bringing with it an aroma of anticipation and an increasing appetite. I have the pullet pastilla (phyllo dough filled with pullet-meat with cinnamon, adorned with sugar powder), a time-honored dish in Morocco, for which Ilan himself has created a kosher equivalent (which is the version I have). Shirley has a traditional Harira soup, with veal, lentils, chickpeas, and seasoning-herbs. A word about Ilan’s food – “opinion” is an irrelevant word here. Sufficed to say that each bite continued to convince me that were posters of this man sold at stores, I would buy one for my kitchen and cover it with any recipes he would agree to divulge. Simply excellent.

The entr?es arrived, both from the special’s selection offered. For Shirley: Tangia Marrakesh, lamb shank with onion, pickled-lemon, and cumin baked in an earthenware pot. For myself: a “humble” dish called Mourouzia Tagine – slow-cooked in an earthenware pot with lamb and a mixture of onions, raisins, and nuts. This in when we knew for sure: god, whether a man or a woman, is most likely a Moroccan. Otherwise, why would he bestow upon them the best recipes? The dishes were wonderful, tasty, and were over with so soon, that, for a mo