Eat big or go home
Casablanca Moroccan Restaurant
Casablanca Moroccan Restaurant3516 Fair Oaks Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95864
Good for: Moroccan food
Notable dishes: b'stella and mint tea
Casablanca is located on Fair Oaks Boulevard, wedged into a space between a liquor store and a Salvation Army. It doesn’t look like much from the outside—however, if you manage to find a parking space and get inside, you’ll be dazzled by its vaulted ceiling, rich though loved tapestry and welcoming cushions.
“Welcome, welcome!” shouts Mourhit Drissi, the owner/waiter/historian/bard who greets and seats diners. Drissi is part of the reason to go to Casablanca, as he regales visitors with stories from his home in Morocco or details the intricacies of Moroccan food and life (which, really, are one and the same as he tells it). Most people can’t help but fall in love with his adoration for life as he pours water over their hands in preparation for the meal.
On our visit, he recommended we go for the Sultan’s Feast, which costs approximately $26 per person. “Plenty of food. Chef’s choice. Everyone shares.” I rarely give up agency in a restaurant, but Drissi gave the table a good feeling and we agreed.
Plates of pita accompanied by numerous small plates drew out our primitive sides. A plate of raw, barely pickled beets brought us to a hedonistic state ruled by spice—unruly with cumin, vinegar and pepper. A dice of carrot beaten with fennel, lemon, cinnamon and cayenne greeted us warmly, then built a spicy rage that all but engulfed.
The savagery continued as we decimated a large b’stella—almonds and fluffs of egg wrapped in delicate layers of phyllo dough, and buried in a snowdrift of powdered sugar and cinnamon. Our table of hungry animals ripped apart the delicate, savory dessert.
Suddenly, we were forced to humanize ourselves. After all, kabob skewers demand a sort of civility if everyone is to leave unharmed. The beautifully charred chicken restrained a juicy interior sitting atop a simple pilaf touched with a sour cream and pops of black sesame.
The warmup complete, then the real meal began. How, we wondered, when we were already so full?
It was unrelenting by this point.
Boom! A plate of kofta (beef meatballs) arrived, served in a tomato sauce pungent with cayenne, saffron, cumin and paprika. Bam! Lamb served in a roaring hot tomato broth punctuated with peas packs plenty of verve. Whammo! Vegetables and chickpeas were soft and savory with haunting hints of ginger. All were served over a turmeric-laced couscous so impossibly fluffy one could stuff a mattress with it. Kaboom! Cuts of tender beef served in a musky honey sauce spiked with cinnamon and clove. The flavor reminded of Christmas, but in a wholly new way.
Finally, we thought, no more food. Then, suddenly, an entire braised chicken arrived, turmeric in color and perfumed with preserved lemon.
Drissi finished us off with a round of fragrant Moroccan hot mint tea served with copious amounts of sugar. Food KO. We were bursting and ready to roll ourselves out the door, only to be accosted by sticky squares of honey-laden baklava.
Certainly, there must be room for one more bite.