It's a coincidence. Tuesday we ate at Cafe Vinoteca, a place that's been there for years. Friday it was across the street to Casablanca, another place that I've driven by for years and ignored. The reason I ignored it? Because it's tiny, tucked away, and easy to ignore. Also, when it comes to Moroccan food, there are a couple of places in Sacramento. I always tend to go to Cafe Morocco downtown. But that is a typical tablecloth restaurant. If you want the Moroccan experience, then it is Marrakech or Casablanca. Marrakech seems to be the better known and I have been there twice. This was my first time to Casablanca.
This time it was Kimberly's Meetup group of 25 that attended. We took up half the restaurant because the space is much smaller. First recommendation, don't go on a day over 95 degrees. It was 102 on Friday and we were all sweating inside the place. The air was on, but it wasn't sufficient. Didn't help that when I went to the bathroom I discovered they had the back door open.
We sat as groups of five around large brass platters. In Saudi when you ate with an Arab family you always sat on the ground with some pillows for your back. In America the restaurants cater to our comfort by just putting the tables low and having you sit on cushions. The cushions are what I grew up calling poofs. They are actually the leather pillows used on the camel saddles. Somewhere at dad's house there is one I need to find and snag. Anyway, I've experience to know that poofs get uncomfortable after a long period time. Guess that's age for ya. I got there early enough to snag a wall seat.
Other things to remember when eating Middle Eastern, always eat with your right hand. The right is for food, the left is for toilet. That's why when someone is caught stealing, they cut off the right hand. From then on you're an outcast. Also, never sit with the soles of your feet showing out front (like straight legged). This is an insult.
First thing is to wash your hands. Rashid, our host, came around with the pots for us to rinse our hands. Another tip, if you're really picky about sharing your food, you'll need to get everyone to go and wash with soap and water or bring some Purell with you. This rinsing is really just for show.
First course was a lentil soup called harira. It tasted exactly the same as what I get elsewhere, although thinner without many lentils/veggies. One of my tablemates commented it was just like the lentil soup they sell at Trader Joe's. Next came the 'salad' course which was Arab bread, hummus, beets, and spiced, cooked carrots.
The belly dancer came out at this time. I will say that the quality of belly dancers in Sacramento is outstanding. We enjoyed her performance a lot because she was so enthusiastic and energetic. She got everyone involved and we all cheered on a cute five year old little girl.
The pastilla was next. This phyllo filled pastry is dusted with powdered sugar. Inside ours was minced almonds with cinnamon and honey. Rashid explained it was usually served for special occassions and often is filled with minced pigeon. I'm not sure if ours was only almond because we had a vegetarian in the group or because this was a cheaper version to produce. It is super flaky and messy to eat.
The main course was a variety of dishes. There were chicken skewers served with a mound of rice. The chicken was very spicy, but not in a hot way. Very tasty, though dry. The rice was loose and not starchy/sticky. They gave us spoons to eat the rice and coucous with. In Saudi the rice was always sticky and the Arabs would eat it by taking a handful, squishing it together into a ball in their hand, and then flicking bits into their mouths with their thumbs. A Cornish hen came out next that was succulent. The beef meatballs came in a tomato-ey sauce and that was where all the spicy hot was. I took a bite and the heat just crept right up on me! There was another stewed beef dish with potatoes and peas, the platter of coucous with stewed vegetables, and a lamb dish with cooked carrots. There was plenty of food for the five people at each table.
The dancer arrived again along with the dessert of baklava and the tea. The baklava was not very good. Soggy and lacking anything distinctive. I like baklava to be flaky and have a hint of surprise, whether it be rose water or bit of orange flavoring.
Service - Rashid was very enthusiastic and fun. He would go out and dance goofy with the belly dancer. He told us to call him Conehead because of his hat. His wife was a sour puss. She never cracked a grin and just robotically served. They were lacking on drink service. We had to repeatedly ask for water. A note is that if you want alcohol, they allow you to bring it in with no corkage fee. I think that they just need another waiter or two. By the time we left the restaurant was filled so that they had to start putting people in the back room. (Why our large group wasn't put back there in the first place, I don't know.)
Overall rating is that Casablanca is OK. I would say the level of food at Marrakech is a bit better. For instance, their pastilla has meat and their entree dishes have more vegetables. Still, both restaurants are attended as event meals. Go with a group of friends and take it for what it is, a fun night out.
Oh, the meal we had is price-fixed and called the Sultan's Feast - 25.99.