Moroccan and French flavors find a home at Rouge Café in Miami Beach

The owners of Rouge Cafe in Miami Beach. Photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.
The owners of Rouge Cafe in Miami Beach. Photo by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.

The best tables in the house at Rouge Café in Miami Beach are in what resembles a riad, or an enclosed Moroccan courtyard with muscadine grape vines. The garden also has Tuscan cypress trees, a flame tree, travelers palms, magenta geraniums, lion-head fountains, glass lanterns and a brick fireplace. 

Rouge’s menu changes about every six weeks with Moroccan and French dishes. There’s now caviar service with various imported grades served with Champagne.

Chef-owner Nabil Hach al Luch is a Berber from the Rif or northern mountains of Morocco, but he grew up in Toulouse, France, and Paris, learning to cook from his mother. He quit high school his senior year and started traveling and selling fashion clothing. He moved to New York in 1990. 

After a vacation in Miami, he moved south and opened Lemon Twist in the same location as Rouge. He later changed it to Green Fairy, but no one could pronounce it in French, so it became Rouge Cine Café almost four years ago. He recently redid the interior, adding a library and big model sailboats. Old black-and-white movies are projected at night on a wall.

Al Luch met his Russian-born wife, Elena Bernatskaya, in a café and stole her cellphone and entered her number in his — she was not interested until he cooked a leg of lamb for her. 

On a recent visit we started with bastilla, a Moroccan cigar-shaped savory pastry with a mixture of cooked-down onions and a paste of toasted and ground almonds with orange-blossom water. Eggs are added to the onion mixture and scrambled, then the chicken is mixed in and rolled up in phyllo sheets brushed with butter. After baking, it is drizzled in honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar. 

Other appetizers include gorgonzola cheese souffle, dates stuffed with chorizo, seared foie gras in passion fruit reduction and escargots in puff pastry. The tagine was braised duck with dried apricots, and there was pan-seared roasted quail stuffed with a mixture of lamb sausage, couscous and tomato paste in a thin apricot sauce. 

A Mediterranean sea bass fillet was cooked en papillote in an almost curry-like sauce made with a Moroccan spice blend with peppers and zucchini. The risotto was creamy with parmesan and bits of black truffle. A rack of lamb was glazed in wild flower honey served with a white bean ragu. 

Finish with an apple tart with cinnamon or vanilla creme brûlée. This is a secret garden worth finding. 

Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.