Hamid Majdi grew up in the coastal city of Rabat in Morocco, where he ate tasty tagines and other dishes filled with various flavors from Africa, Europe and the Middle East, which the country’s chefs could access. due to its central location in Northwest Africa. Majdi then attended hotel school in Fez and worked as a butler in Morocco before winning a green card lottery and moving to Seattle in 2000 – a city he wanted to live in for its fantastic food scene and its access to nature.
Majdi stayed at a hotel near Pike Place Market during her first days in Seattle. He soon got a bus job and worked his way through the city’s restaurants, before landing a job as wine manager at the famed Italian restaurant in Pike Place. The Bistro, a position he held for ten years. But as he learned about the city’s culinary scene, he found that his country’s cuisine was underrepresented, even as Moroccan ingredients like harissa began to appear on the menus of fine dining restaurants in Seattle.
“We’re not very good ambassadors,” he says of his fellow Moroccan émigrés, most of whom he says don’t work in the food industry. “Most people have an idea of Moroccan cuisine that you have to sit on the floor and eat with your hands, which is absolutely wrong,” says Majdi. “I have no idea who brought this concept to an American audience.”
Now, more than 20 years after Majdi moved to Seattle, he’s trying to get more recognition for his country’s cuisine with his fine-dining restaurant in Pike Place Market overlooking Western Avenue. Shama, which quietly opened in early March, features indigo-blue walls, an intricate tile mosaic on the sides of the bar, and gold mirrors. There’s also a greenhouse-like glass-covered patio where diners can rest their feet on a large Persian rug while sitting under fairy lights.
Majdi describes his cuisine as “typically Moroccan, with a modern touch”. Most of the recipes come from his family, with gourmet touches added by himself and his chef, Enrique Vargas, another industry veterinarian from Seattle who worked at the now-closed Sazerac restaurant. Hotel Monaco, among others.
The chicken dish, for example, is made with sweet and sour candied lemons, brackish green olives and subtly sweet and floral Moroccan saffron, all traditional ingredients of the dish. But it’s served as a starter on a red-brown ceramic plate instead of a whole chicken served family-style in a tagine (as it would be served in Morocco). M’rouzia, a melty and tender lamb shank prepared with honey, almonds, prunes and saffron, is also served gourmet style, garnished with micro-vegetables with fluffy couscous on the side.
However, for a more traditional family dining experience, diners can order zarda, an experience that includes a whole shoulder of lamb served with vegetables, couscous and sides, which must be ordered at least three days in advance. ($65 per person, minimum four people).
With Majdi’s knowledge of the local wine he picked at Il Bistro, he curated a wine list that was half Washington wine and half Oregon, California, and European wines. The cocktail list is also extensive, including a drink called “Here’s Looking at You, Kid,” a reference to a famous line from the movie “Casablanca,” made with vodka and homemade limoncello syrup and rosemary.
Majdi named the restaurant after Shama, a woman from his hometown who cooked for celebrations of special occasions like births and weddings that he wanted to honor with his restaurant.
In the future, when he hires more staff, Majdi hopes to start serving lunch at the restaurant and wants to turn the covered terrace into a wine tasting room. For now, he’s focused on providing great service and giving Seattleites a taste of his culinary heritage.
“Not everyone can fly to Morocco, but you can come to Shama and have this experience from the comfort of your hometown,” Majdi says.