by Cheryl Baehr
It's hard to believe, but Baida (3191 South Grand Boulevard; 314932-7950) was almost a burger joint.
"My aunt and uncle [Assia and Abder Meskine] were going to open a fast food restaurant," says Adam Bennis, general manager of Baida, the new Moroccan restaurant on south Grand. "Then they found out that St. Louis did not have anywhere to get Moroccan food. When they saw this neighborhood, they were inspired."
Baida is the first Moroccan restaurant in St. Louis, a surprising fact for a city that supports a diversity of cuisines from Vietnamese to Afghan to Bosnian. It was certainly a gap in the market that the Meskines were eager to fill.
"Moroccan cuisine has a lot of influences, but it's unique," notes Bennis. "It's spiced. Not spicy like Indian food, but spiced. It has a little bit of Middle Eastern, a little bit of Mediterranean, some African. We didn't change the food for the American audience. We want people to experience our food exactly how they would if they were in Morocco."
As I describe in my recent review of Baida, one of these traditional dishes, the m'lwee, or meat pie, completely blew me away, making it one of my favorite dishes of 2013. Wanting to get to the bottom of its deliciousness, I enlisted Bennis' help to demystify the savory pastry.
"It's a very traditional dish," Bennis explains. "We have these dishes that we make on the weekends, when people are off work and school. M'lwee is one of these. Everyone makes it a little differently, and then we all take them to the public oven to be cooked."
Bennis will not divulge the secret family recipe, but he says that some of the main components are ground beef, cumin, onion, cilantro and parsley. When asked how they manage to keep the pastry so flaky while the filling is so moist and juicy, he's at a loss.
Some things are so good they need no explanation.