Casablanca Grill has called 2174 W. Eighth St. home for almost five years now. Syria native Darin Masri is the co-owner of the restaurant and with help from her parents, has created an exciting and fresh menu of Middle Eastern favorites. Amanda and I stopped in for dinner at 6 o’clock on Tuesday night. To start, almost everything on the menu can be prepared vegetarian. We looked over the menu for a few minutes and Darin gave us some recommendations on her favorite vegetarian choices.
We started with the Casablanca Platter as an appetizer. We wanted to try a few of the appetizer options and felt that was the best way to do it. On the platter was hummus, baba ghannouj, tabooli, fattoush, and falafel. While every item was delicious in its own way, we each preferred different things. Amanda loved the seasoning of the hummus. It was super creamy and the tahini and olive oil on top gave just the right velvety texture. I enjoyed the baba ghannouj. The blend of grilled eggplant with lemon and garlic made for a wonderfully creamy dish with a bright and tangy bite. I also liked the tabooli while Amanda preferred the fattoush. Tabooli is a salad of bulgur wheat, tomatoes, parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. The herbs were quite strong, but mixed with the lemon and acid from the tomatoes, the flavors married together perfectly. Fattoush is a salad made of mixed greens and fried pieces of pita tossed in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, sumac, and topped with sesame seeds. Subtle hints of the sesame seeds and the pepperiness of the greens gave it a unique taste. The falafel were wonderfully crispy on the outside and still moist on the inside without being greasy. I ate mine wrapped in a pita with some baba ghannouj. The plate was sprinkled with sumac (not the poisonous variety) which added a slightly salty and tart flavor. The sampler was a delicious way to start our meal and try a few of the choices on the menu.
All of the entrees come with a cup of soup or a salad. Since our appetizer platter came with two different salads, we both chose the yellow lentil soup. Lentils were pureed with carrots, onions, garlic, and some other spices. The soup had a texture comparable to a potato soup- a little on the thicker side, but it wasn’t heavy. I could have easily eaten the Casablanca Platter by myself with a bowl of the lentil soup and called it a meal, but I was eager to try more.
For her entree, Amanda ordered the Mucklouba. Rice was layered with fresh sautéed broccoli, squash, carrots, onions, peas, slivered almonds, and eggplant. Normally the dish is served with ground beef, but instead, the beef was substituted with more vegetables. Everything was cooked with their house blend of spices and topped with a sprinkling of sumac. Alongside the meal was a dish of their scratch-made yogurt sauce. Fresh, homemade yogurt is mixed with cucumber, mint, garlic, and garnished with sumac. Although similar to Greek tzatziki, it is thinner and added just the right amount of creaminess and tang to the dish.
I chose the Frekieh for my meal. The wheat used for this dish is sun-dried and then burned/smoked to remove the hull and chaff from the seed. Because of this preparation, the wheat is infused with a rich, smoky flavor that carries throughout the dish. The wheat was perfectly cooked and topped with peas and sautéed, slivered almonds. My plate was also garnished with sumac and served with the same yogurt sauce. On the suggestion from Badrieh, Darin’s mother, I poured all of the yogurt sauce over the wheat, which proved to be a great idea. The dish is normally served with a choice of chicken or beef, but, like many of the other vegetarian dishes we’ve tried in this tour, I did not miss the meat at all. The smoky flavor was intense, but was cut and rounded out by the yogurt sauce. I would gladly order this again.
We ended our meal with a delicious slice of cake. A banana cake was filled with melted chocolate chips, chewy raisins, and crunchy walnuts. It was served warm with dollops of whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The cake wasn’t overly rich, but satisfied my sweet tooth after such a savory and flavorful meal.
Thank you to Darin and Badrieh for such an enjoyable meal. We will be back again to try even more. The telephone number for information or reservations is 814-452-4544. They are BYOB and also offer beautiful outdoor seating in the summer months. Their hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Until next time,
Andrew – Beard vs. Food