In the 1942 pseudo-noir film, Casablanca, a nightclub owner is caught in a dangerous love triangle with her ex-lover and her husband. It takes place in the Moroccan city of (you guessed it) Casablanca. Of all the names of bars in the world, the people of Paradiso have decided to expand their culinary options with a new restaurant of the same name.
Casablanca is nestled in a newly renovated building directly across from its sister restaurant, Paradiso, in the heart of Bishop Arts. From the vast exotic patio to the exquisite Arab-influenced decor, this place is magnificent. If you miss the few tables inside, Casablanca has two lounge sofas studded with pillows perfect for accommodating all your usual suspects.
At first the menu can seem a bit confusing. There are Egyptian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and Middle Eastern dishes on the menu. This is because the theme is inspired by the locations along the Silk Road, a 600-year-old network of trade routes that began in the Far East and is connected to the Middle East and Europe. . The menu has four sections: dumplings, kebabs and grills, noodles, and a savory section that includes falafels, Thai chicken popcorn, banh mi salad, and pork belly.
We wanted to try items from different regions, so we started with the Egyptian Spicy Lamb Skewers ($ 15), which is probably best shared with others. These massive and delicious spheres are made from ground lamb with dukkha spices, sesame seeds, pink berries and pork, although the latter is not a traditional meat found in lamb dishes. These lamb meatballs are served with a small layer of mild labneh sauce, a Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yogurt. The lamb was exceptionally well done for the Texan sized portion, we just wish there was more of this flavorful sauce to go with it.
Then there were the chicken and mushroom dumplings ($ 12) dipped in a tom kha broth bath. If you’re worried about being engulfed in the blazing Thai spicy heat, don’t worry. This flavorful and creamy broth paired with these Chinese-inspired dumplings was sweet and delicious. This dish was the perfect blend of flavors and could be a soothing warmth for a chilly fall evening.
Plus, on the menu, cooked red pork belly ($ 14) made with lemongrass, ginger and topped with a fried egg. In the menu, I thought it would be like two popular Chinese New Year dishes eaten for good luck because of the vermilion hue. Alas, the flavors were there but the pork belly was slightly too caramelized, giving it a charred exterior and a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Mixing the egg and rice helped soothe some of the char, but it wasn’t one of my favorites.
If the food menu was hard to figure out, the drink menu is a doozy. Love at Midnight Frozen Cocktail ($ 13) is a blend of toasted pandan coconut syrup, pineapple, lime, blended scotch, Casablanca rum, and bitters. The Smith and Such ($ 13) is made with celery, clarified apple juice, herbal liqueur, lemon, apple brandy, white vermouth, rum, gin, lemongrass, bitter a la cardamom and seltzer.
This place is new to the area and is already off to a good start and will likely soon be bombarded with curious patrons keen to take photos in the Instagrammable landscape, especially when they wind down. Casanova, a karaoke lounge with private lounges, which should open soon. We will keep you posted.
Casablanca, 200 N. Bishop Ave., Suite 113. Open 5:00 pm to midnight Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday; Closed Monday and Tuesday.