Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Casablanca Cafe (University)

The other night a friend of mine suggested that we try a new restaurant in the University Area called Casablanca Cafe. I was told it served Moroccan Cuisine, and a local paper had given it a decent review. I was excited. I love Moroccan food. The flavors and aromas are so exotic and different from American dishes -- I couldn't wait.

Before I left, I decided to check out the website (link below). "WOW. This place looks fancy," I thought to myself. The I was awed by the elegantly faded photos of the restaurant, the images of delectable entrees. I grew more excited by the moment.

As I continued to browse the website I looked over the menu -- I was slightly disappointed to find french fries as a side item, and a burger under sandwiches. Really? A burger and fries and a Moroccan restaurant? That's like getting a burger at any ethnic restaurant! Sigh, as long as the food even remotely resembled the photos, I would be happy.

I made the 30 minute drive (Will they EVER finish 485?? That drive should've been 15 mins!) and arrived at the restaurant. And my jaw dropped. (Not in a good way...)

This is NOT the place that is shown in the photos (it appears that ALL of the images are stock photos). Instead of it being a restaurant with tablecloths and silverware, it resembles a small lunchtime dinner or fast-food restaurant -- minus the charm. After a few rows of tables, and some booths along left side of the room, you come to a counter with a menu on the wall behind it.
The menu is watered-down with things you can find at almost any American-ish restaurant. From burgers and fries, to shrimp penne (italian-ish), and gyros (greek-ish), the menu doesn't scream Moroccan. But to be fair, it is right next to University, and they're probably trying to make sure that the college students come in for food too.

That said, the menu does have Moroccan food. Hummus, kebabs, and kafta are available, and in fact I ordered all three! I started with a Combination Appetizer. That consisted of "Hummus, babaghaonnouj, Falafel & Taboulih served with Pita bread." Unfortunately, they were out of the babaghaonnouj (a.k.a. Baba Ghanoush), so we'd get extra hummus and taboulih.

And for my entree, I ordered the Combination Kebabs which contains "Charbroiled beef, chicken, Kafta marinated in special spices served with saffron rice and grilled vegetable." After I placed my order at the counter I sat down.

15 minutes later the appetizer came out. The appetizer had everything as advertised, but it only came with one pita cut into quarters. We quickly demolished the pita, the problem was that we were using it scoop up the food. So, no pita = no food. We were each given a fork (no knives or spoons) but that doesn't help when we're basically sharing food. I mean, come on, I don't know what type of cooties my friend has!

After a while our meal appeared -- sorta. My meal arrived -- but my friend's meal was given to the WRONG table. In fact my meal was also given to that table too, but since nobody ordered my meal, it eventually found its way to me. My friend's new meal eventually arrived about 5 mins after mine. This became a theme as his appetizer showed up AFTER our entrees.

So, with my friend looking on, I had a bite of my kebabs. I first had the kafta. Delicious! It's sorta like a middle-eastern meatloaf. There is ground meat (probably beef) with spices and onions. It was rolled into a sausage-like shape and put on a skewer. In all honesty, it sorta looked like a long doody on a stake (Yes, I said doody). But looks aside -- it was great!

Next, I tried the charbroiled beef. And it was good. Small, marinated pieces of beef placed on skewers and cooked over flame. It could've been better, could've been worse. But good, and worth eating.

Next I tried the chicken. Cooked in the same way as the beef. This time it wasn't good. It was rubbery and fatty. I didn't finish this part of the meal.

The kebabs were placed on a huge bed of saffron rice, and there were some veggies too. If you like rice, this place is for you!

As we were finishing our entrees, my friend's appetizer of Chicken Bastilla FINALLY arrived. If you've never had it before, the ingredients can sound a little weird: "Phyllo dough pie, filled with chicken. Eggs, onion, almonds, parsley. Sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon." The thing is, the flavors are unlike anything else. And if you keep an open mind, you'll like it! Fortunately, this part of the meal was one of the best. And even though the appetizer turned into dessert, it was worth the wait.

Atmosphere: 2/5
Food: 3/5
Service: 2/5
Total: 7/15

Price: $$ (just under $20 for an entree and appetizer)
Kid Friendly: Yes, they have a kids menu, and there were several children there.

Conclusion: It's the only place -- that I know of -- in the area that serves Moroccan food. Overall, the food was OK, the service and atmosphere below standard. I really wanted this to be a great meal, but the entire experience was lacking. If you're in the University area and want kebabs, this is the only place to hit. However, I don't think that I'll be driving from Lake Norman any time soon.

Restaurant Info:
Casablanca Cafe
Terraces at University Place
9609 – I, N. Tryon St.
Charlotte, NC 28262
p) 704-503-4748

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