Soft candlelight and tranquil pools on a fall evening make for an unforgettable dining experience. But they also makes for poor food photography, so excuse the lack of images this review.
Tucked into an invisible corner of downtown, Babylon restaurant is a unique addition to the Raleigh restaurant scene. The cuisine, a melange of North African and Mediterranean, is bold and exciting. The space, a restored brick building with an enormous pool-filled piazza, transport the diner across the Atlantic to a quiet corner of the Aegean. The service, although only three months old, is impeccable and intelligent as they guide new diners thru the mysteriously seductive menu. The price is surprisingly affordable, especially considering the quality of said cuisine, space and service.
Most recently, I decided on Babylon's pre-fixe menu option: $30 for your choice of salad, entree, and gelato dessert. Add in an appetizer and a bottle of vino and you have a Marrakesh fest for two under $100.
We started with the chicken bastilla as an appetizer: crunchy filo stuffed with ground chicken seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, almonds, and saffron fried to perfection. Drizzled with honey and dipped into a tomato-harissa romesco, the bastilla may have been the best bite of the evening. Sweet, salty, crunchy, and spicy I recommend this as the first dish any new customers try.
The salads were next, the house Moroccan: sliced ripe tomato and cucumber topped with olives, paper-thin red onion, and a bright vinaigrette. The Fetard salad, a mixture of crisp lettuce, peaches, feta and walnuts was less exotic but equally flavorful. Cold and refreshing, the salads awoke the palate for the heady entrees to come.
The mains were intoxicating: First, a simple risotto topped with pan-seared monkfish and broiled tomatoes. Second: Lamb Tagine, slow cooked to unctuous perfection in a rich braise of apricot, prunes, and almonds. The fish was lightly over-cooked, but the crunchy exterior and sweet, shellfish-eque flesh was second to none. The lamb, falling off the bone into crimson strips, was assertive and heart warming. Soaked in warm spices like clove and cumin, the sweet stickiness of dried prunes, the toasty bite of almonds and sesame all coupled with smoky roasted potatoes was surreal.
Arriving to cool the taste buds were both Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate gelato. Ridiculous by themselves, but knock-out good when mixed to create the gianduja flavor any Nutella fan would kill for.
It's Babylon's attention to detail, from the balanced flavors to the lavish surroundings and attentive service, that made this an easy decision: 5 Stars.