AUTHOR: Julia TITLE: Casablanca – Mediterranean Food For Thought DATE: 6/30/2008 07:54:00 AM ----- BODY:

Casablanca just celebrated 30 years open as a restaurant. The first celebrity chef it produced was Ana Sortun (of Oleana fame), and still pays homage with her signature Short Ribs appetizer. Ruth-Ann Adams took over the kitchen after honing her chops at Rialto – another Cambridge, Mediterranean mecca. She manages a consistent kitchen with little fan-fare. For better or worse, it conjures memories of other food experiences rather than creating its own.

The cocktails menu features a margarita with muddled sage. Finally, another use for the abundant sage in my garden! The medicinal earthiness of both the sage and tequila enhance the other without overpowering the fruity sweetness of the orange and pineapple juices.

The Mediterranean menu spans in flavors from Portugal to Israel. From Portugal, clam with sausages – a flavor combination that made its way to New England via New Bedford and Cape Cod. And to give the dish a New England flair it’s served with fried oysters. The briny clams reminded me of the best clam I ever tasted… standing ankle deep in Wellfleet harbor with Pat Woodbury, he dug into the sand to grab a few live clams. With a pocket knife, he pried them open and offered them up. They were still warm from the sun and salty from the bay water bath. No lemon or cocktail sauce necessary.

Dolmas, stuffed grape leaves that originate from Turkey, infuse Italian flavor with an Arborio rice filling. The less familiar musabaha is a chunky style hummos, which I first tasted in the Arab markets in Jerusalem…

I was looking for a rug to cover my dining room floor. I poked my nose into a few shops that were selling rugs. Most did not look appealing, so I walked away. In another rug shop, three Arab men were sitting in the back eating hummos and pita. They invited me to join them. They were clearly eating the food, and looked healthy, so I obliged their invitation. I was not as agile as they, picking up the hummos with pureed and fresh chick-peas, so one of the older men would scoop up little bits for me, and hand me the ready-to-eat morsel. When I was satiated, I told them that I was in fact looking for rugs, but didn’t really see what I wanted in their store. Of course, they had more upstairs. So I climbed up the rickety wooden stairs, took off my jacket, and began unrolling silk rugs. I found a few that I liked, and the owner of the shop came upstairs. Over freshly brewed mint tea, we began to discuss the virtues of hand-made, silk rugs. And of course we discussed price. He gave me a very “tempting” price. I had learned at a very early age that there is a game to bargaining. I was a bit rusty. Even though I knew I should be able to get him to drop the price by at least 50% I was only able to get a 35% reduction.

He quickly grabbed my hand and shook it, we had sealed the deal. Even though I know I overpaid, I had a wonderful morning of eating and drinking and talking. I also know that I couldn’t get these rugs in the US for less.

Alas, the Casablanca musabaha can’t compare to the memories of the first experience… and like the rest of the meal, it needed more salt.

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----- COMMENT: AUTHOR:Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) DATE:6/30/2008 09:49:00 AM Casablanca arrived in Harvard Square a few months after we moved to Boston, and for our first few years there, it was one of our favorite haunts. Sorry to hear that it has lost some of its sparkle. ----- --------