Casablanca Mediterranean Restaurant a wonderful addition to the local cuisine scene
The word “exotic” gets tossed around a lot when it comes to describing Morocco. The word acts like a tapestry that can be draped over the entire country and its culture, rarefying even the most pedestrian of things with a foreign significance and air of mystique. We paint our mental images of Morocco with bold, bright colors, the smells of burning incense and fresh, aromatic spices that beckon us to try their attractive, but potentially unfamiliar flavors.
While we construct unattainable fantasies of Morocco in our imaginations, possibly inspired by the adventures of writers such as Bowles, Burroughs and Gysin, a more attainable slice of Morocco has come to Chattanooga with the opening of Casablanca Mediterranean Restaurant and Hookah Lounge.
Owners Mohammad and Abeer Salem have gone to great lengths to bring the beauty and flavors of Morocco to the Scenic City. From the rich, red walls and traditional Moroccan lanterns hanging from the ceiling, to the plush ornate pillows that have been piled along the long wall seating, all aspects of the décor are meant to immerse you into a Moroccan experience. “We want guests to come to Casablanca not just for the delicious food,” says Salem. “We want them to experience the hospitality of our culture as well. The people of Chattanooga have been so friendly and open to us, we want to return that same hospitality.”
It’s important to understand that while they offer the widest selection of flavors and hookah styles in town, from traditional to cooling ice hookahs and even e-hookahs—the food is the star. Abeer brings generations of family and traditional Mediterranean recipes to the kitchen where she makes virtually every component from scratch. “We do things the hard way,” Abeer explains, “but it is the right way, and it pays off with the taste.”
I could not agree more. The menu is a greatest hits of Mediterranean cuisine with a family-style approach and a taste that only comes from using only the best ingredients sourced from across the globe and prepared with the skill of a chef and the love of a home cook.
The mazzah section of the menu is a great place to start your meal. Don’t think of these small dishes as appetizers that would be followed by dinner. A selection of mazzas can be the entire dinner, similar to the Scandinavian smörgåsbord.
Falafel is a common mazzah that you might have had before and you might believe you’ve had good falafel before, but the falafel at Casablanca is spectacular. Made with a combination of imported chick peas and fava beans, the flavor of these lightly fried bites fills your mouth with a beautifully balanced mix of Mediterranean spices, onion and coriander that cannot be matched anywhere else in the city.
The grape leaves mazzah are hand rolled and filled with rice, tomato, mint, coriander and other aromatics before being served with a rich and slightly sweet pomegranate sauce. If you’re like me and have never cared for the canned version of stuffed grape leaves, Abeer’s homemade rolls will make you a believer again.
If you’re looking for something light, the Casablanca salad is a fresh combination of bright flavors served with her special, secret Casablanca sauce and the tabouli is made in the traditional, Lebanese way, with very finely chopped parsley, mint, tomato cucumber and red bulgur. It is absolutely out of this world.
I have a special place in my carnivorous heart for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern grilled meats, particularly lamb, so naturally I had to try Casablanca’s lamb platter. Marinated in a red wine-based brine, then grilled and served with creamy tzaziki sauce, rice, your choice of a mazzah and some pillowy pita bread, the lamb platter will have you crying “Hadshi bneen!” (This is delicious!)
Finish your meal with Casablanca’s selection of treats from Zalitimo Sweets, one of the world’s finest and oldest purveyors of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern treats. Imported from Jordan, Zalitimo’s baklava is outstanding, but the pistachio rolls are a must-try end to a wonderful meal.
While a visit to Casablanca, Morocco may not be in your short-term travel plans, an evening spent sinking into the plush pillows or hanging out on the spacious outdoor deck at Casablanca Mediterranean Restaurant and Hookah Lounge will give you a delicious taste of the exotic without the nine-hour flight.