North African dishes cap exotic menu at Fez

Fez photos by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.

You might associate the tasseled, red-felt fez cap with parading Shriners, but at Fez restaurant it is the nickname of chef-owner Faycal Bettioui. The dinner-only eatery is on the less-touristy end of Española Way in Miami Beach, with cushioned banquettes, hanging glass lamps and films with a Moroccan theme screened on a wall.

Bettioui is from Casablanca, where he grew up helping in the French bakery his grandparents ran and cooking with his mother. He came to Miami 13 years ago to study biology at Florida International University, where he also took culinary classes. He abandoned his major and worked at the restaurant in the Kent Hotel in Miami Beach and opened his own place last October. 

The menu changes every few months with modernized dishes of the Maghreb, the North African region west of the Nile with Berber, Arab, French, Spanish and Sudanese influences. (Female descendents of Sudanese slaves, known as Dadas, are considered to be the best cooks in the country.)

Fez is the ancient imperial capital built by the Idrisid dynasty after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century, where the fez hat originated. 

Taste history at Bettioui’s eatery in kemia (small bites) with roasted piquillo pepper and almond spread with pita; bastilla, a mini duck confit phyllo pie dusted in powdered sugar; spicy peach and almond gazpacho or dates stuffed with Manchego cheese wrapped in lamb-belly bacon. 

Durum wheat semolina is rubbed through the holes of a colander and steamed to make couscous, served with a vegetable tagine with subtly spiced chunks of turnip, carrot, pumpkin, and zucchini with lima and garbanzo beans, or braised short rib in parsnip-saffron puree. 

End a Moroccan night with orange-blossom panna cotta and mint tea poured from a teapot with a caliph tea cozy — sporting a mini fez.

Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.