Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sahara - Simpson Ferry Road, Mechanicsburg

5205 Simpson Ferry Rd
Mechanicsburg, PA 17050
(717) 697-3660

How exciting?! Moroccan cuisine right here in Central Pennsylvania. This place is really a testament to the growing diversity of restaurants and other attractions in the Harrisburg area. Bravo to Sahara for taking a chance.

Located in a strip mall, the exterior defies the fun atmosphere portrayed inside. The handmade tapestry on the walls and other décor along with traditional music was an excellent backdrop for our culinary adventure. The meal began with a very friendly greeting from the staff and the traditional custom of washing your hands. I was only slightly disappointed that we didn’t get to sit on the floor on cushions. (Do they do that in Morocco, or is that only in the movies?)

After a coin toss between red and white, we decided to open the bottle of 2004 California Central Coast Wild Horse Pinot Noir. The staff opened it for us and provided the glasses. The bottle proved to be a good choice. This simple wine complimented the food and allowed the Moroccan flavors of our dinner to speak for themselves.

We started the meal with three appetizers to share. The first was Khezzu, a cold dish of caramelized carrots with sweet paprika, garlic and herbs. The second was Zaalouk, another cold dish with eggplant and tomatoes as the main ingredients with “many spices.” Both of these dishes are eaten with your fingers with a piece of pita bread as your utensil. For this less than well-traveled American, this was a really fun way to eat.

The last appetizer was called Prince Bastilla, a phyllo dough “pocket” filled with shredded chicken, sweet onions, eggs and roasted almonds. The entire thing is sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The sweet onions provided the crucial link for this unusual and terrific fusion of gentle sweet and savory flavors. This dish is a real challenge to your palate. It was fun to try it with the Pinot Noir wine.

For our main entrees we shared the Maroc Tagine, a fancy stew of meatballs, tomato sauce, peas and custard-like cooked eggs on top. The tagine was not spicy, but very flavorful. The other entrée was the Lamb Couscous. The light pearl-like pasta was full of big chunks of well-done lamb, squash carrots and zucchini. We ate these dishes with our fingers and pita bread, too.

For dessert we had a fruit salad of a variety of melons and Baklava, a sticky, flaky pastry with nuts and a surprise clove flavor. We topped off the entire adventure with a sweet, mint tea that was the perfect finish to a delightful, exotic dinner.

What fun!