Partly Cloudy 

Braving the roadwork to Cloud 9 leads to mixed results.

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On one of my first trips to Cloud 9'a restaurant featuring the cuisine of Morocco'I felt like I was really in Morocco. Not so much because of the flavors or the décor, but due to the sweltering heat at my table near the front door, which'at that time of day'was also in full sun. It was high noon in late spring and maybe the AC at Cloud 9 wasn’t fired up yet. Nonetheless, it was a hot and miserable way to begin what eventually turned out to be a pretty good lunch.

Despite there being only two other customers in the place, service was slow on that day, which seems to be the norm at Cloud 9. I’ve never seen more than one server in this rambling restaurant, which means little customer contact and a lot of ground to cover for that single server. I couldn’t help but wonder why a manager who stood near the cash register throughout one particular meal wouldn’t lift a hand to help his solo server. So, order a bottle of wine from the limited wine list and, if it’s white wine, hope it comes to your table cold and not tepid, as mine was. On the positive side, I was happy just to have any wine, since four of five bottles I tried to order from Cloud 9’s wine list were out of stock and continued to be on a more recent visit. With such a small and manageable list, you’d think it would be easy enough to update it once a week, if not daily.

A starter of harira soup at Cloud 9 is a good way to kick off a meal there, if not exactly a bargain at $6.50. It’s sort of a Moroccan take on minestrone, with tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, rice and a bit of couscous all dished up in a broth brimming with Moroccan spices. The creamy banana squash soup ($6.50) with its hints of fresh rosemary is a winner, too, if a bit on the rich side for a warm-weather lunch. Probably not surprisingly, the clear winner from Cloud 9’s appetizer menu is the homemade hummus ($6.95), served with a plate of warm pita wedges. The hummus is nice and garlicky with a lively bite of lemon, and the portion is large enough to have to order extra pita ($1 per serving) to finish it all off.

Cloud 9 certainly doesn’t look like any Moroccan restaurant I’ve ever encountered. At most of the ones where I’ve dined, I found myself being served tea from old brass pots and eating with my hands next to hookahs while seated on oversized pillows. Cloud 9 has a much more modern'if less authentic'look to it. It’s essentially the same décor as Guru’s, which Cloud 9 replaced, but with some interesting Moroccan artifacts and candleholders strewn about to make the place look a little less industrial. All in all, it’s an attractive eatery where old and new blend nicely.

Bastilla'one of the grand dishes of Morocco'was not so grand at Cloud 9. For starters, it’s served as an appetizer ($11), although in a portion large enough for two to share. I’m more used to big bastilla the size of a pizza pan, which can be shared by an entire dinner party of six or more. But then, size doesn’t really matter. Whatever the size, bastilla is essentially a large “pie,” with phyllo pastry encasing a mélange of sweet and savory flavors: shredded or diced chicken (pigeon is more common in Morocco), eggs, nuts, raisins, saffron and onions, all dusted on top with powdered sugar and cinnamon. At its best, bastilla is one of the most delightful dishes you’ll ever come across. And even at its worse, it’s not that bad. Cloud 9’s bastilla was pretty good'although the chicken tasted like it had been cooked a day or two earlier and recycled, and the eggs were tough, not airy. But maybe it’s just that Cloud 9’s bastilla didn’t seem quite as sweet as my remembrances of bastillas past.

I loved the lamb couscous ($17) at Cloud 9. I’d expected small chunks of lamb but was served a large, tender shank atop a bed of light, luscious couscous with assorted veggies. I was a little less enthusiastic about the chicken tangine, which was bone-in chicken pieces simmered in a saffron-ginger sauce with preserved lemon, olive, onions and stewed potatoes'too many potatoes. For $15.95, I’d have hope for more of that delicious chicken and fewer potatoes.

It’s a little difficult to get a fix on Cloud 9’s “Moroccan cuisine” since the menu also features things like Caesar salad, shrimp linguine, chicken fettuccine with Alfredo sauce and the like. Maybe the owners are playing it “safe” and hedging their bets in case the Moroccan dishes don’t fly, but to me it just seems weird ordering fettuccine Alfredo in a Moroccan restaurant.

Business has been slow on my visits to Cloud 9, undoubtedly hampered by all the road construction going on smack-dab in front of the restaurant. But then again, I shudder to think what would happen with one server attempting to handle an entire restaurant full of hungry customers. I do recommend trying Cloud 9'to anyone who isn’t in a hurry.

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More by Ted Scheffler

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