Thursday, June 10, 2010

Casablanca

Word association for "Casablanca" might point some of you toward this:

However, I'm thinking more like this:

But I applaud your taste in sitcoms.

Casablanca serves up Moroccan and Middle Eastern fare in its strip mall location just across from Lakeside on Severn. The menu is entirely Kosher, and if the rabbinical seal of approval is not convincing enough, then take note that:

  1. The restaurant is closed on Saturdays,
  2. You will see more than your fair share of yamulkes in the dining room, and
  3. There is a sink to be specifically used for Netilat yadayim La'Pat. (Thank you, wikipedia.)

I could continue on about how the menu proclaims a "minimum gratuity" of 15% for lunch and 18% for dinner, but (a) I don't believe in perpetuating stereotypes, (b) the waitstaff has never said anything to me about the policy, and (c) my checks never included any minimum charges for gratuity.

On to more important things, like the food. The menu lists the Mediterranean standards like hummus, falafel, and shawarma, all done well but priced higher than we have grown accustom to. The flavors and textures are recognizable but different. For example, hummus and baba ganoush are whipped to a mayo-like consistency, and the house dressing tastes and looks like French dressing mixed with honey mustard.

The best choices on the menu are under the "Exotic Entrees" heading. Here you will find a mix of charbroiled meats along with the classics like moussaka and spinach pie. The Mediterranean Combo delivers a monstrous grape leaf stuffed almost entirely with meat, a surprisingly light slab of spinach pie, and a generous portion of slightly-sweetened moussaka. The Couscous Plate (top) is cooked in a tagine with lots of softened vegetables - carrot, zucchini, cabbage, onions - and chunks of lamb. Hearty, but not enough meat to justify $21 price tag. Same goes for the tender morsels of chicken in the Chicken Marrakech ($20, immediately above).

But I guarantee that what you will most remember about the meal is the Moroccan rice. Cooked with finely ground onions, saffron, cinnamon, and turmeric, the aroma is absolutely intoxicating and the taste is just as good. I could eat this stuff morning, noon, and night. If you go to Casablanca and order french fries, then you have just made one of the biggest mistakes of your life.

The Rankings

Food - Par/Birdie. I like the standard hummus, shawarma, etc. at other places for lower prices, but the house specialties are unique and delicious. I can't say enough good things about the rice.

Wine/Bar/Service - Par. The menu lists only kosher wine and a few domestic beers. The waitstaff is very friendly but usually short-handed.

Overall - Par/Birdie. Chances are that if you come here for lunch, you are going to leave feeling that you did not get your money's worth. But there is no denying the excellence of the entrees, whose higher prices are more justifiable at dinner. Go in with that mindset and be rewarded.

2 comments:

flojindamesa said...

I'm crazy about this place. It's so far beyond the commodotized mediterranean fare served at Lebanon's, Mona's, Babylons, etc. and we actually end up spending less because the portions are so huge.

Anonymous said...

Nobody seems to know how to make baba ghanoush in the USA. It's not supposed to be creamy like hummus and it's definitely not supposed to resemble wallpaper paste. At a glance the real thing looks like it could guacamole with chunky salsa mixed in. On closer inspection you see uncooked diced green papers (for a crunch) and diced tomatoes. Ever since I had the real-deal Syrian version in Damascus, I can't even look at that paste they call baba ganoush. Babb ganoush should have color in it and it should have a crunch from diced green bell peppers. All too often these Middle Eastern restaurants think baba ganough should have the same consistency as hummus.