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Friday, June 12, 2015

A Night in Casablanca

Out of the blue I got in call from my friend Jeannie to attend the birthday dinner of her S.O., Ron. I'm looking forward to visiting Hawaii with them later this year - I. Can't. Wait. We usually rendevous at a local Korean BBQ restaurant, but this time Jeannie thought something out of the ordinary was called for. What better venue is there in Sacramento than the Casablanca? None I tell you!

Smaller on the outside

I was looking at reviews and read a comment that made me laugh. It refers to how the outside of the restaurant is a dismal & tiny storefront, but when you enter, "...the Casablanca is like the tent Harry Potter goes into before the Quidditch world cup - the inside is larger and brighter than the outside would suggest." Well, I'll say! 
Larger and magical on the inside
Haven't been to this bit of north Africa in the suburbs since my friend Diane was here 6 years ago, way too long a time ago.

Tonight Ron, Jeannie with grandson, daughter Stephie with her toddler baby and Signif. Other. Seven of us gathered around the low, broad, brass tray, most seated on the big poofy hassocks while the birthday boy and I sat on the comfy bench. I was happy to see Maurite on hand. He is the wonderfully sweet and funny founder and owner. He and 2 hijab clad waitresses wended their way around the room. Maurite joyfully tended his guests. Periodically, when shouts of delight rang out, I knew Maurite was jesting with a diner. Geeze, but I miss Maurite! I had arrived first and he seated me, but I could tell his recognition of me was on the edge of his memory and I thought I'd give him time for that 'Oh, that's who this is!' moment.

Beef Tangine
After our group was seated comfortably, Maurite came over to pour warm water over our hands & into a silver salver which is always fun to watch people experience for the firs time. I pretended the water was scalding which made Ron reluctant to hold his hands out, but the water was refreshing and warm. Later when our waitress arrived, I pretty much insisted we go with the 'Sultan's Feast', my favorite. The feast begins with hot bowls of lentil soup, followed by Moroccan style salads (i.e., spicy cold beets and pickled, chopped carrots & mild hummus all accompanied by triangles of pita bread. Next came the strange and wonderful Batista or Pastille, which is filo dough stuffed with chicken,
almonds, boiled eggs, cinnamon and saffron, sprinkled with powdered sugar. The main course was plates of the chief's choice: skewered lamb kabobs, spicy meatballs, Cornish game hen in, beef in honey/sesame sauce and beef tangine. Jeannie and the gang wanted rice but asked for and got that lovely saffron tinted couscous. Um.... Then just when we thought were going to burst, the dishes disappeared and in came dessert - honeyed baklava and hot mint tea. I was surprised Jeannie's grandson had to be coerced to try the baklava and he didn't like it, swallowing it because there were consequences to spitting it out. However, to my delight, he adored the hot mint tea, finishing up his and every other unclaimed glass of the sweet tea on the table. I pronounce there is hope for the kid yet!
The young master enjoys a new treat - Moroccan Mint Tea

Now it is important to note, everyone visiting Casablanca comes away feeling like they dined at the home of a close family friend - that's the charm of the place. However - 'ahem' - I always feel extra special because I visited it with my fellow state workers, back when Casablanca first opened it's doors in the 1990s. GAK! That was more than 30 years ago. Back to tonight, at meal's end I knew I had to give Maurite a hint. When smiling he approached our table, I asked, 'So Maurite, how is the rabbit?' Now the reason asking about rabbit is because that was what I always ordered back in the day when rabbit was still on the menu. I nearly burst with happiness to see the glow of recognition in his eyes, and an even brighter smile on his face, "Claire! I knew I knew you!"

Awwww...Color me flattered! It's so sweet or what? It's been six years since I was last here and heck, Maurite remembered me - awww... shucks! Soon I was caught up on all the news in Maurite's world. I told him I was amazed as, I swear, he hasn't aged in the past couple of decades.

  Hear a little of the Casablanca's spirit 

All in all, we left Casablanca, surfeit with sensuous, tender tidbits of the orient. Ron enjoyed his birthday bash, and really, 'what magic is this?', eh?

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