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Baltimore by the Sea

Friday, March 30, 2007

Casablanca Night

Don drove up from the Bay Area for a weekend of ALL BIRDS, ALL THE TIME; my favorite way to spend time. I was woefully unprepared for company – as usual these days. Since I am so out of practice in the cooking arts, we went out for dinner. We stopped by my favorite Japanese Restaurant, Mikuni’s but as always, although Mikuni’s has commandeered and added all the surrounding shops to its floor space, the wait for seating was 45 minutes. We opted to eat sooner.

So we drove down to Casablanca, a most beloved restaurant. Maurite is the owner of the Casablanca and I haven’t seen him in years now, his brother does all the waiting for the place most of the time.

Casablanca is all Moroccan style. Diners sit on authentic hassocks or if for those who do not fancy sitting cross-legged, all the tables are along a comfy, pillowed bench that lines three walls of the large dining area. The tables are ornate brass trays atop linen covered low pedestals.

Morrocans are a clean bunch - so before your food is served the you hold out your hands over a silver basin and Maurit's brother pours warm water over them for you from a silver kettle. You dry your hands with a fluffy white towel that serves as your serviet during the meal; handy, because the meal is largely eaten with your fingers. All the above delights, plus, Fridays & Saturday evenings are accented by live belly dancing.

Alternately, two young women shimmied and shook for our dining entertainment. We had the ‘Royal Dinner’; each guest choosing an individual entrĂ©e which is served after several courses of Moroccan food. For starters, iced or hot mint tea is served with fragrant hot lentil soup. Next is 'salad' - cold spiced veggies such as stewed carrots & spicy spinach. That is followed by Pastilla. I was surprised Don didn’t remember the Pastilla, but I think on his last visit the pastilla was wolfed down so quickly he didn't form a memory of it. Pastilla is layers of phillo dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar. At Casablanca the Pastillas are all etched with a heart of drizzled honey. Inside the delicate hot pastry is a delicioius mix of eggs, chicken and almonds. Sounds strange perhaps but it is amazingly yummy.

Next the main dishes are served. Don chose Moroccan spicy meatballs. I skipped my usual favorite, rabbit, choosing instead to have the chicken (Cornish hen) with honey sauce, sesame seed & prunes. Like all the other dishes, the 'Chicken with Prunes and Spices' tastes far more delictible than it may sound.

When last we ate at Casablanca, Rose, Don's young daughter was with us. The girl can be quite a fussy eater. She put up her nose at the first course, the lentil soup. She did not even want to try sipping it straight out of her small bowl. “I want a spoon!” she demanded, and she was given one. Then she sniffed the soup as if it might be poisoned. Hesitantly she touched her tongue to the liquid on the spoon. OMYGAWDITSGOOD! She gulped down her soup and when the salad came Rose dug right in. From that moment on the meal was competitive eating and for once, I lost! I have never before or since seen Rose eat so much or so eagerly. Don too, come to that.

A bit down the bench I sat on was a family of five who chatted in Spanish. When not enjoying stuffing bills into the dancer’s belts, Don commented to them, in Spanish which he learned in the Peace Corps. By the meal’s end our groups merged a bit, enjoyin a chat. The father is an American whose father is from Central America (sound familiar?) and his wife - four months pregnant - is a lovely lady from Barcelona Spain. We were all in solidarity over the occupant of the White house and our country’s lame health care system. They are so disenchanted with the way things are going in the States they are moving to Spain where the health care is free and they don't have to put up with the Shrub. Their youngest child - a four year old girl, was all over the room, bouncing about like a bunny. Happily, Casablanca is amazingly family friendly. All three kids even had a go at belly dancing with ‘the big, scary dancing ladies’.

Then the to my delight, the owner Maurit came in! I hardly recognized him at first, it's been such a long time. He sat with us for a bit to chat. What a nice guy – he always makes his guests feel like you’re the most special people to ever walk through his doors. No wonder I'm so fond of dinner at the Casablaca.

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