Tour de table…

Saturday, June 25 2005, 00:00:00

Spring cleaning at the website. Regular readers will notice our "less is more"look, which it really is with all previous articles still accessible through the tab “previous entries.” I’ve been blogging away in mySalon privé and we’ve set a place at that table for Rick, who will from time to time put in his two cents. As noted on the site, during April we enjoyed our roles in a production filmed for German Public TV and TV Arte France – a documentary on modern Casablanca. Eva and Wolfgang, the producers, used Rick’s as the background for visits to the Marche Central, Public Fish Market, my favorite merchants in the souk as well as the artisan who makes our lampshades, and strings the beads on the table lamps. The filmed Rick’s in dinner, jam session and daytime mode, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product. Cinco de Mayo was celebrated this year – tequila shooters, but most notably we scored 100 tamales from the Mexican nuns…yes that’s right, sisters from a convent who have the right approach to God’s work! Ebertec, one of our distributors, offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse at the end of May. They were sponsoring a jazz group for the TanJazz Festival in Tangier and brought them to Casablanca in advance. |They hosted a party here for their clients and our invitees on May 20 and made the group available again to us the next night during normal dinner service. We had a fun few days with Jeff Zima and his trio. And the beat continued with Guy Barker and Nick Luscombe coming to Casablanca to record a radio program for BBC World Service – we had a very intense three days with them, Issam especially pulled rabbits out of the hat at every turn – most notably a visit to a Gnaoua master in his home. Best part of that visit was watching Guy jam with our usual jammers at the Sunday night session – fortunately we recorded some of it and are going to combine with Issam’s piano soundtrack for a “Live at Rick’s” CD. More details in our interview with them. They’d no sooner left than we had a visit from members of a Congressional Delegation who traveled to Morocco during the Memorial Day Recess. On June 2 Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Mike Enzi (R-WY) stopped by after visiting the Mosque. Patrick Leahy is especially esteemed at the gin joint, having been the recipient of a remark on the Senate floor that showed V.P. Dick Cheney's true colors and mean spirit. Senator Smith from Oregon seemed to recognize the problem behind a UN Ambassadorial nomination as counterproductive as that of John Bolton...at least he appeared to when as an Oregon native I expressed how bad it looked from outside the US. The Senators and their wives were very gracious and saw that Rick's showed true American spirit and values. When all is brought down to a human level, a project like Rick's, which demanded determination, optimism and entrepreneurial spirit, exemplifies the positive side of Americans...a side that is not reflected very much these days. "We are both very proud of you-" Senator Leahy wrote, "you show the best of America." This year my birthday crept up and I just couldn't get into the mood to organize something. Since I’m not feeling my age – and certainly not behaving it! – I thought it best to let it pass in a low key way. But the staff surprised me at the start of dinner service, and the hook was knowing how obsessive I was about where the flowers should go. I came downstairs and Ismail had some flowers at the front desk from Houssein, our Maintenance manager. I said I’d take them upstairs…I thought on the console in the TV room was a good spot. Abdallah the maitre d’hotel said he’d carry them up...he's notorious for putting vases in spots that never had them and leaving grand niches bare! I noticed the flowers already on the console still looked good, so was looking around for another place when Abdallah carried the flowers towards a service table outside the VIP room. “No,” I said, “Abdallah, that’s not a good place.” He put them on the table and as I was looking to see where else they could go, I noticed the doors to the VIP room were closed. “What’s going on in there?”, I asked. Abdallah said, “une petite reunion, vous pouvez entrer.” Wondering what all this was about I opened the door and there everyone was: “Surprise.” It was so sweet, and I was really surprised. More flowers, lots of them, champagne, cake, canapes…it was great! Rick's is building a well-deserved reputation for music. I stopped by the opening of a jazz club owned by Abdou Benchekroun who previously owned and sold a restaurant which offered jazz during the week. It was packed, I went back to see who was playing...Hamza and Xavier, our Sunday night stalwarts at bass guitar and drum...they sheepishly played "As Time Goes By." When I came back to a relatively quiet Rick's I told Issam I wouldn't be surprised if we got some of the overflow from Abdou's because the crowd was a bit dense. Sure enough, a call from one of our favorite clients - "I'm bringing 14 people." And they had a great time - Casablanca stalwarts, the women started the fun by leaning on the piano singing the old French chansons. Soon the men joined. It was touching - Moroccans all, and certainly proud of their fight for independence from the French, but putting the music into a context that is beyond politics. This is why our Jam Sessions are such an important part of what Rick's is. Music is that cord that can link people together...beyond politics (almost...!), religion, nationality. So at last Sunday's Jam Session many were asking me what we were planning for the International Fete du Music, June 21. That was Tuesday...Issam's day off - I said I hadn't known, nothing was planned. My defenses didn't last long. Soon I asked Issam if he'd mind changing his day off - ok. Then, of course, we had to do something beyond...there were jammers who offered to come in. We kept our sound system, just told the people who were there on the Sunday night, and ended up having 100 clients! Everyone just assumed that Rick's would have something great for the Fete du Music. Gerard played sax, Odile sang - she is just great - and her drummer joined on the congas. Our dear friend Marcello made his last appearance before returning to the Music Conservatory in Seville - and played stirring classical guitar pieces. Kyle and Sarah leave on Monday for two weeks in Central Europe...Kyle returning to Prague after 9 years...I said, "going back to your old haunts?" "Well, he said, I was only 16, I didn't exactly have haunts." Heh. And the time is passing so fast, soon they'll be going back to the U.S. and a new adventure. I've really loved having them here, and they've helped me a lot. After our 1st anniversary I've been comparing all sorts of things to a year ago. While the first few months brought a lot of business, many were people curious to try out something new who we never saw again. We've made changes in our kitchen, service, support staff and it's showed. Today's menu reflects my strong preference for simple, eclectic dishes prepared with fresh ingredients and presented without pretense. After a lot of evolution (and chefs!) I am not surprised, but nonetheless happy, to see that some of my menu ideas from the planning stages are on today's card! My score isn't perfect, but El Baz is open to trying new things and some of my old recipes, and from that we've put our personality into our cuisine. The barbecue sauce we make for our chicken is a recipe I used for picnics at the beach when I was 20 years old. Crab Louis was a staple of "Old Portland" - James Beard's hometown - and I grew up with salads from Dan & Louis'Oyster Bar. Fish & chips, fries and cole slaw - none better than the River Queen, an old steamboat on the Willamette, or The Anchorage, upstream, but formerly a houseboat. Our "Crevettes Imperial" are "Prawns Rachael" from a recipe I learned in a French cooking class I took in the 70's from the unforgettable Chef Chuck Miles in Portland. Ah well, it's time to wind up the reverie - I think I've given myself an assignment for the next column...my life with food. To be continued...a suivre......Madame R