A fusion of Moroccan and Mediterranean flavors for Stamford’s diverse palates
Moroccan Harira Soup
photographs by gus cantavero
If the food gods were handing out prizes for the sexiest restaurants in Stamford, The Fez would surely score one. This seductive new Moroccan-Mediterranean hybrid entices diners in more ways than one. Set on Summer Street’s restaurant row, the dining room’s atmosphere, with magenta walls and dim lighting, is intimate and ideal for a date night. There are also communal tables for those who like to eat in a group (or flirt with their neighbors). Then there is the belly dancing: On one side of the dining room, a small stage is the setting for the popular Friday-night dance performances and for live music on other nights. Most important, of course, is the menu, which takes you on a culinary adventure.
The Fez separates itself from the pack with food and wine that originate from diverse regions—over the course of an evening we sipped vintages as varied as an Uruguayan Merlot, a South African Pinotage and an Austrian Weingut Groiss. “We’re not just Moroccan,” explains Eric Monte, who co-owns the restaurant with Bharat Patel and Shelby Gopinath, its executive chef. “Our influences range from the spices of North Africa up through southern Italy. The dishes represent a hybrid of flavors and culinary techniques.”
At a recent dinner, the snacks we tried immediately reflected that mixture. The sag and feta roll, for instance, is a nod to the chef’s Indian heritage. This tasty fried appetizer stuffed with spinach, feta and pine nuts is like the love child of spanikopita and a spring roll. Another snack (as they’re called on the menu) is crisped chickpeas and okra. Fragrant with spices, this exotic nosh has an unexpected texture—it looks moist but it’s actually dry enough to eat with your fingers. I’ve never had anything quite like it, or like the grilled marinated cerignola olives, served warm. Other nibbles I would order again: the lightly crunchy and salty caramelized cauliflower with golden raisins (prepared in the classic French method using brown butter) and Pizzet Aroub, a pita pizza of sorts topped with onions reduced in chicken stock and seasoned in red sour sumac, garnished with oven-dried tomatoes.
The Fez’s menu is divided into snacks, small plates and large plates, and your taste buds will appreciate a dip into each category. Among the small plates, my favorites were Moroccan Harira soup and spiced lamb chops. The fabulous soup, traditionally used to break the fast during Ramadan, is tomato-based with chickpeas, pasta and spices that linger on the tongue—heartwarming and nourishing. The lamb chops, with anchovy breadcrumbs and stone-ground mustard, are flame-grilled and super flavorful. Among the kebabs, my preference is the Kafka, a combination of beef and lamb. The same meats are employed with equal success in the first-class Fez burger, which is served with roasted veggies and fries (a good value at $12).
Standouts among the large plates include the grilled six-spice sirloin (for inquiring minds, those spices are white pepper, black pepper, cumin, coriander, cardamom and paprika) and the baked chicken bastilla, a rich, traditional Moroccan meat pie. I expected to be a fan of the swordfish tagine but instead found it to be overly fishy and not as interesting as the other dishes. However, if you want to try a tagine, be sure to order a meatball tagine for the table. The blend of spiced tomato sauce with olives and a citrus element of lemon makes these meatballs especially tasty—and they’re even better the next day!
An adventurous meal like this one calls for dessert. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, consider briwats, a North African version of baklava with an orange-blossom sauce—truly decadent. I also loved the cheese plate with dried fruit, honeycomb, sea-salted chocolate and assorted nuts. Paired with white port, it was a satisfying ending to a sensual meal.
227 Summer Street
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Mon.–Wed. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Thurs. 11:30 a.m.– 12 a.m.
Fri. 11:30 a.m.– 1 a.m.
Sat. 5 p.m.–1 a.m.
Sun. 5 p.m.–11 p.m.