Recently, it was our wedding anniversary, but someone forgot all about it. Yes, my husband was in the dog house and he knew it. In his defense, we were both super busy that week getting ready to travel out of town for a week and even I almost forgot about it. He sure made up for it though. I’m happy to report, my husband is out of the dog house because he picked Babylon, a Moroccan restaurant in downtown Raleigh.
I first heard about this place watching “North Carolina Weekend” on UNC-TV. Babylon is in an old yarn mill, located off North Dawson Street. You really have to be looking for this place because it’s located a little bit off the street, just after you cross an overpass right before you get to the Jones Street intersection and you have to take a very hard turn to the right to get into the parking lot.
We were amazed seeing the big flames coming from the space heaters, reflecting in a shallow pool on the patio. Even though it was cold out, it was tempting to sit outside for a cocktail, like some of the other people had done. However, we decided to go inside. We opened a very large wooden door to enter the restaurant. The place was very elegant yet kept the character of the old mill, with exposed duct work, red brick walls and polished concrete floors. The most impressive part was the party room, where the owner has recreated a very extravagant ceiling of a typical Moroccan building. They were getting ready to have a holiday party in the room, so we quickly departed and decided to sit in the bar/lounge area.
The waiters were impeccable. It was quite apparent they had been well-educated on the menu and could offer suggestions and tell you all about the menu items. I was very impressed by the staff. We decided to start with a cocktail to celebrate our belated anniversary. The waiter told us they were known for making their own infused alcohols, so Scott had a drink called Irish Gone Bananas, which had Jameson that had been infused with bananas. It was really good! You complex taste of the whiskey with just a bit of sweetness from the banana. I had an Old Fashioned because the waiter said they make their own bitters. That’s all he had to say to get me to try one, because I love this drink. Again the dryness of the bourbon and the sweetness of the maraschino cherries and tartness of an orange slice with a little splash of soda water and the homemade bitters was fabulous.
We ordered the Zaalook platter, which came in a plate with little compartments, one holding some very salty olives, one had the roasted peppers, another had the eggplant in a spicy tomato sauce. The eggplant was mashed up like a babaghanoj and had a nice kick to it. I spread it on some of the crusty white bread they brought to the table. We both also really liked the tomato confit, which was quite spicy, but really good!
For our main dishes, we both ordered Tagine dishes. I ordered the Lamb Tagine while Scott ordered the Chicken Dajaj Tagine. I loved the chicken because the preserved lemon had infused with the meat of the chicken giving it a real tart, fresh taste. The potatoes helped soak up the wonderful ginger saffron and Carcum olive gravy from this dish that had slowly cooked for many hours. The chickens are locally sourced.
I had the Lamb Tagine, which was very tender chunks that was falling off of the bone of braised lamb soaking in an almond honey sauce with prunes and apricots. The sweetness of the prunes was a nice surprise in the dish, but I could not really detect the apricots at all. It was nice to have some crunchiness from the almonds which added contrast to the dish. I also had potatoes, but we both were wishing the meal had been served with something like couscous instead of the potatoes because it would soak up more of this luscious gravy!
We ordered a side salad, which we split that had spinach, feta, raisins and granny smith apples in it. It was topped with some toasted walnuts and served with an apple sherry dressing, that was really refreshing.
Even though we were already full, we decided to split a dessert, so we ordered the nut roll made with phyllo dough and rolled up with almond paste. It had toasted almonds on top and was drizzled in honey and served with a homemade vanilla gelato. The nut rolls were extremely sweet, but were small, so easy to eat. I loved the gelato, and consider that to be the best part of the dessert.
Babylon is a perfect place to take a date, honor your wife for your anniversary (yes, he redeemed himself!), or have a special night on the town with your friends. If you are more adventurous, they also have hookas on the outdoor patio, so you can try that while you sip a cocktail or two!
Babylon is located at 309 N. Dawson Street in Raleigh. The restaurant is open on Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm to 10pm, while the bar and lounge is open until whenever it decides to close those days; on Friday and Saturday, the restaurant is open from 5pm to 11pm and the lounge and bar is open from 5pm to 2am. They also serve a Sunday brunch from 12pm to 3pm. You can “like” their Facebook page.