Indulge your senses at Kasbah
Special to The Seattle Times
1471 N.W. 85th St., Seattle; 206-788-0777
Web site: www.kasbahmoroccanrestaurant.com
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.
Prices: soups, salads, appetizers $3.50-$6.95, entrees $12.50-$16; five-course D'yaffa Feast $25 per person.
Wine: a brief, inexpensive list of Moroccan and Northwest wines.
Parking: on street.
Sound: like a party in your living room.
Who should go: For anyone fascinated with foreign cultures, it's cheaper than a ticket to Tangier.
Wine, beer / major credit cards / no smoking / no obstacles to access / belly dancing Thursdays-Saturdays.
Come with me to Kasbah, Seattle's newest Moroccan restaurant, where finger food takes on a whole new guise.
Here, slouched on a sofa or perched precariously on a hassock at a low table in a room where Scheherazade would feel at home, you do as the Moroccans do and scoop up everything from salads to couscous using your fingers and a piece of bread.
Proprietor Hassan Sbai greets you at the door. In the kitchen, Majida Sbai, his wife, prepares the kind of food they both grew up on in Casablanca. Together they've created a restaurant that is a tribute to their homeland and feels like an extension of their home.
The dining room is a kaleidoscope of color, texture and shape. Partitioned to create intimate nooks, it is accented with richly hued mosaics, intricately patterned carpets and brilliant brass tabletops. The effect is that of a plush, upholstered tent, the walls patterned in black, white and gold, the ceilings draped in gossamer panels of white.
So thoroughly does Kasbah evoke the mood of the Maghreb, it's like sending your five senses on a trip to Tangier, minus the jet lag and the hefty price tag. À la carte entrees range from $12.50 for couscous to $16 for a salmon tagine. The five-course D'yaffa Feast is just $25 per person for the entree of your choice plus soup, salads, appetizer and dessert.
Wines are inexpensive, too. The short list offers four Moroccan varietals at $18.50 a bottle or $5.75 a glass, along with a few Northwest selections and a Bordeaux-style blend from Lebanon ($41).
Whether you choose the feast or dine à la carte, the meal begins with the ritual of washing hands. A server dressed in a jabador approaches bearing a brass bowl and pitcher. He gives each diner a hand towel and instructs us one by one to cup our palms over the bowl and rub as he pours warm water over them. The towel is also your napkin; it stays on your lap throughout your meal.
The feast starts with soup ($3.50 à la carte). Ladled from a blue and white tureen and drunk from smaller matching bowls, this soothing tomato-based broth is thick with minced celery and onions, lentils and garbanzo beans.
Salads follow ($3.50-$5.50 à la carte). Arranged for four on a round mosaic-painted platter, they form a vibrant pattern of their own. The assortment might include carrot coins soaked in lemon, garlic and cumin; eggplant sautéed with garlic and tomato until it's soft enough to spread; and a sprightly mélange of tomato and green pepper or diced cucumber and fresh tomato, both tossed with cilantro vinaigrette.
Then comes b'stilla; billed as an appetizer ($6.50 à la carte), it's a showstopper. Traditionally made with pigeon, here the kitchen uses morsels of chicken blended with minced egg and finely chopped almonds. Seasoned with spices, most notably cinnamon, then wrapped in many layers of phyllo dough and baked, the plump, round pillow comes to the table decorated with powdered sugar and more cinnamon. To divide and conquer this sweet and savory stuffed pastry pouf, don't be shy about asking for a fork.
Couscous is an equally challenging finger food. Much to our relief, these arrived with spoons. The tiny pearls of pasta serve as a nest for stewed chicken and vegetables. The Kasbah couscous, featuring several meaty joints of dark meat, zucchini, celery, carrots and other root vegetables, garbanzo beans and raisins, is a satisfying dish, if a little bland. Couscous T'Faya, also made with chicken and vegetables, gets a flavor boost from ginger and cinnamon.
The spices that predominate here — cinnamon and cumin, ginger and garlic, saffron and turmeric — mostly speak in whispers. Meat and fruit are simmered together with great effect. Succulent Cornish hen smothered in soft, saffron-kissed onions, gets its punch from preserved lemon and cured black olives. Long simmered chunks of lamb mate with prunes, tender chicken with apricots. Both dishes are dusted with slivered almonds and sesame seeds. Honey sauces the lamb in Mrouzia, a dish presented with the meat on the bone, creating more work for sticky fingers but well worth the trouble.
Only brochette of beef and vegetables failed to please, the meat a little too dry, the rice nondescript. Many of the simmered and braised entrees are served in tagines, if not actually cooked in those traditional conical clay vessels. It makes a dramatic presentation, as does the pouring of mint tea from a silver pot held high above small glasses, a feat accomplished with nary a splash. This traditional flourish is part showmanship and part practical, cooling the sweet amber liquid before it hits the tongue, releasing not only the taste of mint but also the fragrance of jasmine.
Dessert is a bowl of orange sections in sweet syrup with a hint of orange flower. Then hands are washed again and sprinkled with rose water.
The scent of flowers lingers in my mind, along with the taste of honey and lemon, cumin and cinnamon, and the smoldering look in the belly dancer's eyes — memories that will guarantee my return to Kasbah soon.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
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