Doukkala Puts a California Slant on Moroccan Cuisine
The restaurant represents the next chapter for one of Temescal’s longstanding family-owned businesses.
For all its food-loving extravagance, the Bay Area has little in the way of Moroccan cuisine. But if you ask Jamal Zahid, whose family has owned a Moroccan restaurant in Oakland’s Temescal district for 13 years, he’ll tell you there’s a natural connection between the local, sustainable culinary ethos of California and the traditional foodways of his native Morocco.
“There’s an amazing connection,” says Zahid. “The focus here on local and organic is just how it is in Morocco. When I was growing up, the fish came right from the shore, and my mom would send us to the farmers market to pick up some onions and tomatoes to go with it.” His mother, Aicha Zahid, was the mother of 10 (Zahid is one of seven brothers and has three sisters) and ran her kitchen as a tight ship. “She taught us to respect food,” Zahid says. “When we got home from school, she would check our hands and mouths to make sure we hadn’t been eating junk food snacks before dinner.”
Zahid took over the restaurant, called Tanjia, from his brother about four years ago, but this spring reopened it as Doukkala, named for the agriculturally rich region in Morocco that was his father’s homeland. Zahid has updated the interior and hired a new executive chef, Eric Lanvert, a native of Normandy, who has revised the menu. The cuisine is now a mix of classic Moroccan fare and California-Mediterranean dishes that draw on Lanvert’s formal training in France and the United States. You’ll still find buttery pastilla (flaky pastry with a sweetly spiced poultry filling) though, and numerous tagines, Moroccan stews served with couscous.
The home-country food has retained its soul, and Zahid keeps in mind the wisdom his mother dispensed in her lifetime. As the family was founding Tanjia, Zahid’s mom flew in from Morocco to teach them the traditional recipes. And the lessons didn’t stop with the opening. “Every time she visited, she was correcting us,” Zahid says. Just as the Zahid matriarch would have it, Lanvert sources ingredients from local farmers, follows the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sustainable seafood guidelines, and makes everything in-house from the brik (pastry used for the pastilla and the samosa-type dish briwates) to the preserved lemons to the couscous.
Mother Aicha’s influence is still in effect not only in the food, but also in Doukkala’s denlike, richly colored dining room, which transports guests to the world of Casablanca. Zahid, a Berkeley Hills resident who owns his own construction firm, Maroc Painting, which also specializes in Moroccan tile work and interior design, has outfitted the space with new items from his trips back to Morocco, including a gorgeous silken tent that adorns the ceiling, high-backed chairs, upholstered pillows, light fixtures, and tables. “We have round tables,” Zahid says. “In Mediterranean culture, that is a sign of unity.”
Social connection is central to Zahid’s vision for the restaurant, where diners might have the pleasure of meeting his wife, Judith, and two young children, Majid and Lina. He says he wants to create an open, friendly restaurant that welcomes all sorts of diners from the neighborhood and beyond. Zahid and Lanvert have designed a flexible menu that caters to everyone from a solo diner looking to enjoy a few tapas-sized appetizers with drinks to larger parties looking to split generous tagines. Numerous dishes are offered in small and large portions, with the small plates starting at $4.50.
“Oakland has become one of the nicest places where you can open a business,” says Zahid. “Our goal is to keep the ingredients alive and participate in the culture of the East Bay. I always want to pay back and show appreciation.” Judging by his dedication and that of his team, East Bay residents will be feeling completely at home and showing appreciation right back at Doukkala for its unique contribution to our local dining scene.
Doukkala, California-Moroccan, 4905 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-653-8691, www.DoukkalaRestaurant.com, 5–10 p.m., Tue.–Thu., 5–10:30 p.m. Fri., 5:30–10:30 p.m. Sat., closed Mon. Accepts credit cards; appetizers range from $4.50 to $7.50, and entrées from $10.50 to $28.
Mint Tea Doukkala
Tea is more than a mere beverage in Morocco. It is an elaborate ritual of hospitality. The first ingredient for this recipe is really a friend or two with whom to enjoy the tea. A decorative Moroccan teaset (pot, glasses, and tray) is not required for this recipe but would certainly add flair. Prepare the tea in the presence of your friends so they can enjoy watching the process.
4 stalks fresh mint, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon bergamot black tea, loose or bagged
2 tablespoons dried mint tea, loose or bagged
4 or 5 rough brown sugar cubes
Teakettle for boiling water
Teapot for preparing tea
6 tall, narrow glasses
Optional: tea tray to hold glasses and teapot
Fill kettle and place it on the stove to boil. Wash and gently dry the fresh mint. Remove the bottoms of the stalks and lightly crush the leaves to release the oils. Pick springs for garnish from the additional stalks.
Place the teas, fresh mint, and the sugar cubes in the teapot. When water has come to a boil, pour it into the pot until the pot is full. Stir well using a spoon.
Next, set out two tea glasses. Pour two cups from the pot and then pour the contents of the cups back into the teapot. Repeat once more. This step integrates the tea.
Let the mixture steep for five minutes. Place springs of mint in each tea glass. When tea has steeped, pour it, starting with the spout low and near the glass and lifting the teapot up so the tea drops from on high. This manner of pouring will keep most of the tealeaves in the pot, if you’re using loose leaf tea, and will generate a slight foam at the top of the glass.
Enjoy tea leisurely over conversation with friends. Prepare more tea as needed and be sure to offer your guests at least two more cups each. Cookies and fruit are optional.