Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech

Sheep’s head, anise flavoured snails and cinnamon are three things that immediately flood my memory when I think about Djemaa el Fna and Marrakech.

Djemaa el Fna is the main square in Marrakech’s medina quarter. Bustling and filled with merchants and performers all day and night, this area inspired the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity UNESCO project, where they identify cultural history such as music and performances, rather than physical buildings and places.

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

During the day, stalls sell orange juice, dates and nuts. Performers wander around with poor Barbary apes on chains and snake charmers try to lure in tourists.

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

another shot of Djemaa el Fna in the daytime

There are a number of cafés facing the square.

doughnut seller and cafe

doughnut seller and cafe

merchants

merchants

snake charmers

snake charmers

And then, before sunset, the snakes move out and the food carts start moving in.

food carts

food carts

To me, this is when Djemaa el Fna really comes alive. At night the square is filled with food stalls, hungry people, singers, drummers, dancers, storytellers, women doing tattoos with some dubious henna and people selling traditional medicines.

nuts and dried fruits

nuts and dried fruits

Continue reading

Cactus Club Cafe, Edmonton

Some friends and I planned a dinner out on Saturday, April 25th, so I suggested we try out the newly opened (as in opened two days before on the 23rd) Cactus Club Cafe location over at West Edmonton Mall. Edmonton used to have a local location of this Western Canadian chain a long time ago, but it didn’t fare very well and closed relatively quickly.

Despite its brief stint in Edmonton, the Cactus Club Cafe has been around for many years. More recently in the past few years, much like how Earls and Moxie’s is also doing, the Cactus Club Cafe is working to make their menu, decor and atmosphere more sophisticated. When (Canadian celebrity chef and  Iron Chef America winner against Masaharu Morimoto) Chef Rob Feenie’s assocation ended with Vancouver’s Lumiere and Feenie restaurants, he later popped back into the public eye as the new “Food Concept Architect” for the Cactus Club Cafe. They’ve used his name to great advantage; his face is all over the website, he often talks to the media about the food at the Cactus Club Cafe, and all of his specific dishes are marked on the menus with a special RF logo.

As the restaurant had just opened, I half-expected service to be a bit slow but all of the staff were unfailingly attentive and helpful, and the food arrived quickly. (Other blogs and Chowhound discussions say that staff were flown in from Vancouver to ensure smooth service.)

The restaurant is located in a free-standing location in the northwest corner of the mall where a car repair shop used to be (Sears, I think). There is no entrance via the mall at all; an interesting decision that I hope doesn’t hurt them later when the tourists and locals stay inside the mall and don’t want to walk outside in bad weather.

The decor is modern but comfortable, with a mix of different textures and materials. Red leather seats, wood panelled walls and tables, glass, and even a concrete block wall gives the place an interesting look. The lights are dimmed somewhat so the red of the seats are muted. The booths are spacious, and art is featured on many of the walls (including some from Andy Warhol). A large patio was already set with lounge-style outdoor furniture, although at the time it was still too chilly for people to sit outside.

To start, a couple of people ordered bellinis and promptly declared them delicious. (Sorry, no photo. They stirred and slurped the drinks before I could take the camera out.)

We all shared a couple of appetizers. The first dish was an order of calamari, red pepper and jalapeño, dusted with fresh dill and served with chipotle aioli and tzatziki dips. The calamari was tender and the jalapeños gave the dish a lot of heat. (Lots and lots of heat.)

calamari

calamari

Continue reading