Casablanca dishes up Moroccan and Mediterranean delights

. October 1, 2015.
casablance2

Casablanca
2333 Washtenaw Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Phone: 734-961-7825
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am–10pm; Sun Noon–7pm
www.casablancaypsilanti.com

THE SHORT COURSE

Kid-friendly: More yes than no
To avoid wait: Shouldn’t be a problem, although Friday and Saturday nights are popular.  They offer take-out too.
Noise level: Low
Bathroom amenities: No changing tables and the bathrooms are small
High chairs: Yes
Got milk: No, but they offer fresh lemonade, mango nectar, yogurt drinks and pop
Kids’ menu: Yes
Anything healthy for kids: Opt for Basmati rice in lieu of fries with kids’ meals or pick grilled dishes from the main menu
Food allergy concerns: Call ahead and/or tell your server your concerns. They can identify ingredients and try to accomodate your needs.

“I’m going to express my taste buds and go with the meatballs,” said my twelve-year-old son.

My jaw dropped to the floor. This kid had spent years ordering a plain burger from every kid’s menu in Ann Arbor. These were no ordinary meatballs, either. These were Moroccan meatballs that could have (gasp) spices in them.

My family was dining at Casablanca, a new Moroccan and Mediterranean restaurant on Washtenaw that opened this spring. The restaurant, housed in an unassuming building that originally hosted a Taco Bell, exudes a casual vibe with less than a dozen tables, tile floor, and white washed walls dotted with Moroccan accents.

My son was ordering from Casablanca’s kid’s menu, which also offered a hamburger or pizza with a drink for $5.99. My daughter, 8, however, was drawn to Shish Tawook off the main menu. The two skewers of marinated chicken kabobs with garlic and herbs ($14.50) were served with soup or salad. She chose lentil soup with her grown-up entrée.

The adults had a harder time deciding. There were sandwiches like falafel or more exotic entrees like Mhammar, a roasted chicken with lemon dish, or Lamb Tagine with lamb chunks, herbs, honey, raisins and almonds. I settled on the Seffa Mdfounda ($17.99) with Harira soup, a traditional Moroccan soup. Could I pronounce my entrée? No. Did I want to try its chicken cooked in butter ghee, onions, honey and herbs served under steamed vermicelli, garnished with almonds, cinnamon, raisins and sugar? Yes.

My husband ordered the Chicken Tagine with olives, olive oil, herbs, preserved lemons and onions with fresh ginger ($12.95) plus a dinner salad. My mother-in-law, visiting from Maryland, picked half orders of hummus ($4.25) and tabouli ($5.99).

Our drinks at Casablanca were delicious. The fresh lemonade blended with mint was delightful. “You’d expect normal lemonade with a mint leaf it in, but this is 10 times better,” enthused my son. The lemonade blended with ginger was tangy. “Amazing,” my mother-in-law commented on her hot, flavorful Moroccan mint tea. My daughter’s sweet, pure mango nectar vanished quickly.

We savored fresh Moroccan bread, a blend of whole wheat and semolina flour, with garlic sauce while digging into our soup and salad. “Really good and fresh,” my husband said of his salad. “I like the soup,” my daughter chimed in. Her lentil soup had a soft, almost buttery flavor while my Harira soup was a tad disappointing. I was expecting more flavor than the vermicelli noodles, chickpeas, and spices offered.

 I was not disappointed with the flavor of my Seffa Mdfounda, though. The sweet cinnamon complemented the savory, almost curry-like flavor of the chicken; almonds on top of my mountain of vermicelli provided crunch, tempered only by syrupy, cooked raisins. It could be the most unique dish I’ve ever eaten. It was too sweet for my husband, though, who preferred the “not overpowering” flavor of his Chicken Tagine. My mother-in-law found the hummus with chickpeas, garlic and tahini pleasing and the tabouli lemony.

Our favorite dish was the Shish Tawook. The smoky, juicy taste of the chicken kabobs could not be beat. The portion was generous and we ended up taking half home.

What about my son’s meatballs, made with ground lamb, beef and spices? “They taste like Grandma’s meatballs,” he said, eating nearly all of them.

We wanted to finish with baklava, but Casablanca was out, and  I can guess why, if the desserts are as yummy as everything else. May your family “express” its taste buds at Casablanca, too.