WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Casablanca is emphatically distinctive in two different ways. It’s the only Moroccan restaurant in New Orleans, if in an Americanized way. (No sitting on the floor or eating with fingers.) And it’s kosher, in the strictest sense. Inspected by a rabbi. No dairy products. Glatt meats. Owner Linda Waknin is not only a deft cook, but a creative one. Example: she makes a kosher (dairy-free) cheesecake, substituting tofu for the cream cheese. If you were not advised of this, you’d never guess it.
Big flavors run throughout the menu, in dishes found nowhere else around New Orleans. It’s an interesting mix. About a third of the menu involves Moroccan set-pieces like couscous, chicken bastilla, and tagines of this or that. Mixed in among those are dishes you know from Lebanese and Greek restaurants–hummus, shish kebabs, moussaka. Finally, you can get a kosher deli sandwich.
Linda Waknin’s mother operated a number of restaurants over the years under her name Fortuna. That evolved, in 1995, into Casablanca, which continues to serve some of Fortuna’s most distinctive dishes, as well as many more.
The room has a lofty ceiling, dramatic murals, and an ambiance grander than you’d expect from the look of the exterior. The room has glass-brick dividers and other nice touches; the entire place sparkles. The customers include not only observant Jews but Muslims (their diet runs by rules a lot like the kosher laws) and those with lactose intolerance (no dairy products are used here at all). You may well encounter the rabbi who approves everything. He always looks happy, and I look happy right back at him.
»Harira soup (chickpeas, saffron, lentils, herbs, pepper)
»Soup du jour
Mango salad, walnuts, “craisins,” greens
»Spinach pie pyramid
Stuffed grape leaves
Appetizer combo platter
»Moroccan cigars (spicy meat rolled in phyllo, fried)
»Couscous with vegetables
»Couscous with chicken
»Couscous with lamb and beef
»Chicken Marrakesh (marinated and broiled)
Chicken meshwi (marinated kebab, onions and peppers)
»Koufta kabob (ground beef, garlic, onions, parsley, spices, on a shish)
»Spinach pie plate
»Grape leaves plate
»Mediterranean combo plate
»Cornish hen El Morocco (stuffed with rice, almonds, raisins, saffron)
Mixed grill Tel Aviv (grilled, marinated lamb and chicken skewers)
»Chicken Bastilla Casablanca (sweet-spicy, almonds, saffron, baked in pastry)
Tanzia fassi (baked lamb, onions, prunes, almonds)
»Fish tagine (baked with herbs, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spicy Moroccan sauce)
»Marinated grilled fish
Whole fried tilapia
»Chicken shawarma sandwich
»Koufta in a pocket
Chicken shish sandwich
Chicken gyro sandwich
Grilled chicken sandwich
FOR BEST RESULTS
The first courses here tend to be more carefully constructed than the entrees, for some reason; the baba ghanooj and hummus are particularly fine.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Dishes involving phyllo pastry (spinach pie, for example) sometimes are a touch flaccid.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Value +1
- Attitude +1
- Wine & Bar
- Local Color
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch and dinner
- Open Monday lunch and dinner
- Open some holidays
- Open all afternoon
- Quick, good meal
- Good for children
- Easy, nearby parking
- No reservations
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
I associate bad colds with Middle Eastern food. That’s not where I pick up the sniffles, but where I ease the symptoms. Middle Eastern restaurants always have brothy, hot soups, usually made with beans, notably lentils. And they make them better than any other kind of restaurant.
Locally, the best restaurant of all in this regard is Casablanca. Linda Waknin, the owner and chef, also has the merit of being a Jewish mother. But don’t expect chicken soup. Linda’s several daily offerings are all made starting with vegetable stock–as healthy a thing as can be imagined. And a great flavor element, too. If the very thought of split pea soup warms your heart in these waning cold days of winter, come here and get a bowl. It always unstuffs my head.