Nabil Hach al-Luch and his wife, Elena Bernatskaya, run Rouge Cine Café with silent movies projected on a wall inside and a garden patio filled with lime trees, blackberry brambles and passion fruit vines with fountains and a fireplace.
The cuisine is French with a few Moroccan stews served in earthenware dishes, good with a glass of wine or mint tea to transport you to Marseille or Marrakesh.
Nabil is a Berber from the mountain region of northern Morocco, but grew up in Toulouse, France, where his mother worked in a factory and taught him to cook. He came to Miami 20 years ago to visit a friend, and decided to stay. Elena sold restaurant equipment in Moscow and was studying English here when the two met in a cafe. They married and turned the old Lemon Twist space into a place to call their own last January with Nabil as the chef.
Sit at a tiled, wrought-iron table on the patio listening to Spanish, Middle Eastern or French chanteuse music and order house-made chicken gizzard confit over mixed greens or seared duck and fig sausage topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms.
On a recent visit (the menu changes with the seasons), there was Moroccan harira (lamb soup) seasoned with celery, cilantro, lemon and spices thickened with chickpea flour and tomato paste with a side of dates. There is usually slow-simmered lamb with prunes served with couscous and Cornish hen tagine with raisins, carrots, artichoke hearts and fat green olives in a mild broth.
There’s also braised lamb shank, pan-seared diver scallops with mashed potatoes and seafood bouillabaisse. Desserts change daily. Look for lemon ricotta cheesecake or chocolate mousse and linger in this place of magical charm.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami food writer and personal chef who blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.