Ask and ye shall receive! A couple years back I was sitting outside of Mosaic Wine Lounge with its owner, Samad Hachby and lamenting the lack of a Moroccan restaurant in the Triangle. Aziza out in San Francisco was one of my absolute favorites and always did an amazing job serving up fresh food, bursting with flavor in rich surroundings. Fast forward to July 2011 and Babylon Restaurant opens up in Raleigh, the first Moroccan restaurant (that I know of) in the area! For first-time visitors to Babylon, beware. The location is tucked away off of N. Dawson Street in a hidden location. Heading south as the road bends to the right, there’s a sharp right turn into Babylon’s spacious parking lot across from the Days Inn.
From the outside, Babylon looks like a private compound. A weathered, dark building behind brick walls sets the mood. Push the large gate door open and you step into a refreshing oasis. Reflecting pool in the center, dark wicker seating topped with plush cream cushions and a large outdoor bar. Babylon’s courtyard is perfect for some fresh air cocktails! Head over to a heavy wooden door and step inside to Babylon itself. Babylon’s space is subtly highlighted by polished stone floors, deep, dark woods and dim lighting. No expense has been spared with the decor, many of the pieces were imported from Morocco. The most comparable restaurant I can think of is Revolution out in Durham. Babylon is definitely an upscale and sexy spot for dinner. Think dress to impress and bring a special date type place.
I’ve stopped by for drinks, appetizers and a full sit-down meal. Babylon’s got a lot of space so it can play a lot of different roles for your evening. Grab a glass of wine ($7 – $11) at the bar or a full-course meal in the dining room. Start off with the seafood brawat, a delicately fried roll of shrimp and calamari with a hint of lemon juice. Think of a seafood ceviche eggroll! Or try their zaalook cold platter: pureed eggplant, olives and Moroccan bread perfect for sharing. On the night I ate at Babylon, I was excited to try their chicken bastilla (chicken in phyllo dough) but apparently so was everyone else so unfortunately, they were all out. My backup dish of Marrakech couscous with chicken tagine was served with stewed chickpeas and cherries. Very tender, creative and delicately spiced. And the pizza paysanne here was great, a large pie with fluffy crust and topped with fresh zucchini, peppers and eggplant, dee-licious!
The staff at Babylon is well-trained, professional and knowledgeable about the menu. Our dinner party of ten was well-served throughout the evening. And the patrons fall into the professional adults demographic, pretty much anyone who can appreciate a fine meal and good glass of vino. Babylon is certainly not cheap ($15 – $24 entrees) but for the organic ingredients, upscale environment and service, you get what you pay for. And don’t miss the party room on the far side of Babylon’s bar. The painted wood inlaid ceiling is amazing and with the DJ booth in the corner, I’ve seen some serious dancing going down at Babylon. On Friday and Saturday nights, Babylon really does become more of a bar and club so be aware!
While Raleigh may not be a major urban center, it will be restaurants like Babylon that will help it reach the next level when it comes to entertainment and dining. Sparkling decor, interesting ethnic food, sophisticated dining and late hours makes for a nice change of pace in the Triangle. While I love my Southern seasonal food, I’m always looking for more edgy and interesting meals to mix things up. And Babylon certainly fits that bill. So kudos to Mr. Hachby for delivering a unique Moroccan experience to Raleigh! They’re off to a great start and I’m looking forward to see what Babylon has cooking up over the next six months. Pour me a glass of wine, hand me over that basket of delicious Moroccan bread, all I’m thinking is bon appetit and Šukran bezaf!