Buffets are, by and large, a tough sell. Typically served galley style, the food sits awkwardly and often for hours, replenished by a dump and a stir, heating and reducing. The final product can be described only as unappealing, ladled to plate after plate, patron after patron, eaten at fake leather booths.
At Riad Moroccan Grill on West Broad Street, these notions are dispelled. The place is huge and open. Pillows are scattered at large tables and side sofas with room for at least 10 people. A hint of hookah smoke is sweet and perfumey, noticeable but not overwhelming. If you're a hookah smoker, go for dinner, which is absolutely acceptable and at times notable. But it's the lunch buffet ($7.49) that's the winner.
This isn't one of those places with dozens of items in the lineup — 15 or so dishes rotate through the daily offerings. Several salads and a couple of soups make up the starter side of the buffet, well suited for vegans, gluten-free individuals and meat lovers who err on the healthier side. A corn, apple and romaine salad is lightly dressed, crunchy and appealing. Finely shredded carrots are served with wine-soaked raisins, creating a very sweet side dish. Pita bread is served at each table and makes a great vehicle for the zaalouk, a garlicky mashed eggplant dip, or the more pedestrian chicken salad.
Harira, a chickpea soup with onions, rice and tomatoes, is so hearty it's a meal unto itself. Lentil soup is a little lighter with a peppery bite. White rice and couscous arrive steaming hot, so diners can pile a little of the djaj tagine — chicken with olives and curry — on top for a quick lunch tagine, or stack the thinly sliced lamb and beef for a quick gyro. Tomato-laden kufta, tender meatballs, make another fast and inexpensive sandwich.
These same dishes appear on the dinner menu but with a bit more flair. Dressed-up tagines in earthenware vessels are wheeled creaking to the tables. The ghamni tagine, a lamb dish ($12.95), layers artichokes and peas for an interesting texture. The beef kotban, a kebab ($10.95), is a little on the tough side and could stand less time on the flat top but has lovely anise flavor. A triangle-shaped chicken bastilla ($5.95) is flaky and buttery.
Each of these dishes can be accompanied by an after-dinner hookah toke in the newly opened Shisha Lounge. Riad offers Khalil Mamoon hookahs, said to enhance the many flavor offerings. On Friday nights, live entertainment takes over the dining room at 8:30 with belly dancing by the robust Khalima and lively Arabic music.
Knowledgeable service dots the experience, and each visit is full of talk about events and plans for the space. While Riad gets its footing, the restaurant will add a bakery to its repertoire, highlighting what's the best of their food offerings. While taking advantage of their lunch buffet, don't miss the baked goods. The ma'amoul, a Palestinian date cookie made by a local baker, is a spectacular rendition of this difficult-to-find, shortbreadlike cookie. If this is a harbinger of what's to come, the only Moroccan restaurant in Richmond won't just be the place to get a good tagine. S
Riad Moroccan Grill
8902 W. Broad St.
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday Noon-9 p.m.