Emphasis on ‘lounge’
Sacramento, CA 95816
When I was in Paris several years ago, I had the good fortune to visit the hammam (steam bath) at La Mosquée in the Latin Quarter, which is the center of Middle Eastern life in the French capital. I was so taken with the relaxing steams, the tiled arches and the post-steam custom of lolling about on cushions with little pastries and a glass of mint tea, that I went back three times in the course of a 10-day trip. Alas, there are no similar baths, to my knowledge, in the United States, but the minaret-shaped arches; trickling tiled fountain; and dim, upholstered recesses of the new Kasbah Lounge in Midtown put me somewhat in mind of the lush mood of La Mosquée.
Kasbah offers a loose and glamorous interpretation of Middle Eastern food and drink, not to mention social customs. If you’ve always wanted to try a hookah (inspired, perhaps, by the sybaritic caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland), now’s your chance. If your tastes are less ambitious, but still encompass semi-reclining on comfy pillows while nibbling stuffed dates or sipping sweet mint tea, you’re also in luck.
Personally, I liked the cushioned, low-recessed seats for a deeply unglamorous reason: I had an infant in tow, and I could put her carrier at eye level instead of stashing her on the floor. Plus, the alluringly dim lighting meant she slept through our entire meal.
Because we visited early on a Monday, Kasbah was fairly quiet, but on a recent Saturday night, it was jampacked. I suspect that it will draw a big late-night crowd as well, because the restaurant stays open until 3 a.m. That will be handy the next time I am seized with a wild desire to rush out for an evening on the town following the baby’s 2 a.m. feeding, but for now I’m happy to enjoy Kasbah’s tasty food at an earlier hour.
The same team that owns the longtime favorite Tapa the World is responsible for Kasbah, and it’s devised a succinct but appealing menu of small plates. (There are plans to offer entrees soon, as well.) The plates may be small, but they’re nevertheless fairly substantial. The chorizo-stuffed dates, for example, came in a big pile that would have been plenty for a table of four to share.
Our server, who was both pleasantly down-to-earth and eagerly helpful, recommended this dish, and she was right. The dates were sweet, savory and hot; greaselessly batter-fried; and quite delicious, accompanied by a cool, crisp scattering of radish slices and greens. At first I thought that the dates would have done well with a dipping sauce alongside, but after eating a couple, I realized that their rich, complex flavor was excellent on its own. This plate, perhaps along with some marinated olives, would have made a perfect bar snack, but we wanted to make a meal of things, so we also tried Kasbah’s interpretation of fatoosh, plus two meatier dishes.
The fatoosh was a colorful mixed-vegetable salad with refreshing mint leaves; crunchy pita-bread croutons; tiny falafel perched at the four corners of the plate; and a topping of thick, creamy, tart yogurt. My mother found it a bit salty but liked it anyway; I’m an admitted salt junkie, so I didn’t see a problem. We also enjoyed the merguez, a spicy, slender lamb sausage skewered with onions, red peppers and—inventively—kumquats. The sausage itself was delicious, but the intense, sweet-and-sour kumquats made the dish.
A dollop of yogurt similar to that on the fatoosh also adorned a stack of meltingly tender, delicious eggplant slices at the center of a plate of kefta—skewers of a spicy mixture of beef and lamb. This dish went especially well with my wine, a glass of fruity Lebanese rosé. All the wines are from the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, with some selections from Morocco and Armenia as well. There’s also an extensive beverage list of liqueurs and spirits, including arak, a couple of cocktails (the Middle Eastern theme breaks down slightly here with a South American caipirinha), several rather pricey teas, and Turkish and spiced Berber coffees.
The coffees are unfortunately not available decaffeinated, so I went with mint tea instead. It was just sweet enough and fresh-flavored, served in a pretty little glass and a slightly leaky silvery pot that was perhaps more decorative than functional. (A similar problem plagued the tiny brass tables in the lounge area; they’re great for drinks and are very cool-looking, but they barely hold two plates.) There was some confusion over my mother’s tea; she meant to order the chai-flavored rooibos but ended up with yerba mate, which came in a gourd and which she said tasted very much like alfalfa—the hay, not the sprouts.
We did, however, get to try the flavor of the Berber café at dessert, in the form of a dark and rich crème brûlée. Its burnt-sugar top could have been crisper, but the smooth custard underneath had a delicious deep, spicy coffee flavor. The other desserts include sorbet and baklava. Some afternoon, I intend to drop in and recline on the cushions with mint tea and a pastry to nibble, just so I can feel like I’m in Paris all over again. Kasbah Lounge may lack the steam of the hammam, but it’s definitely hot.