A restaurant review follows, but–first–something that expands the review
We’re both food adventurers, but we each got to this place on VERY different paths. You see, I was born a food adventurer, someone who’s always been fascinated with flavors, colors, textures, variety, and–quite frankly–all the other foods that all the other people on the planet were eating, especially in other parts of the world. Plus, I was raised by a dad who was a food adventurer, too, so I was usually the first one at his knee to try something new! My husband, on the other hand, has become a much bigger food adventurer than he’d ever imagined he’d EVER be in a MILLION MILLENNIA, thanks to living with me the last sixteen years. It doesn’t come to him naturally, but he promised me early on that–when it came to food–he would try almost anything with me at least once. As he’ll tell you, that hasn’t been without growing pains for him … but it does mean that he’s also gotten to try an awful lot of dishes and foods over the last few years–many that he absolutely LOVES–that he probably would never have tried on his own, not without making that promise to me.
Note: that doesn’t include offal/innards/whatever you want to call them. That’s where he draws the line: though he did try and enjoy some liver pate once, which means the line is a bit more flexible than he thinks it is. Don’t tell him I said that … okay?
In other words, he’s much more comfortable eating a small group of very familiar foods, mostly the foods he grew up eating, than he is eating the new and strange things I’m always dragging across his plate. And he’s happy with these foods, too, even to the point of being able to eat the same things over and over again, without ever once growing tired of them … rather than craving the large variety of foods and cuisines that I can’t live without on a day-to-day basis. In other words, the repetition he enjoys would drive me NUTS! It was hard enough for me to survive the years when my mother cooked on the “if it’s Wednesday, it must be spaghetti” model. Every Saturday, homemade pizza. Every Sunday, incinerated baked chicken with the exact same three sides … month in and month out, over and over again. Drove me barking MAD!!
SooOOOooo … given that difference between us, you can understand why our first visit to Kasbah Moroccan Restaurant–and our first chance to eat Moroccan food specifically–was something I was very excited about … but something my cute husband wasn’t quite so sure about himself. He’s “not much on weird vegetables” (his words)–which is a big part of why he didn’t like Ethiopian when we tried it–so he wasn’t so sure he was going to like a different African cuisine any better. But he loves me and he’s wonderful, so he agreed to take me for Moroccan this evening for dinner. And–in case I haven’t mentioned it lately–I’m keeping him
One quick non-food related note: I LOVED the floor lamps just inside the entrance to Kasbah! But how could you go wrong with something this stunning?
The overall decor creates a nice, cozy space for dinner, with curtains and artwork spaced around, giving you just a hint of dining in a tent in the desert at sunset. The perimeter of the dining room features a padded seating couch, with tables (made of large etched metal plates, set a bit lower than most traditional American dining tables) and chairs layered out from there. The overall decor is rich without being overwhelming, and there’s an open area in the center of the floor where they stage belly dancing and music on certain evenings. As we were leaving, the owner tried to get us to stay for the show, but the cute man and I had other plans
The Groupon we’d purchased covered the 3-course meal option, but after talking over our choices with our server, Sara, we decided to make an evening out of it … upgrading to the 5-course meal instead. They were happy to let us apply our Groupon value toward the upgrade, too, so … bonus points for giving us that option! It ended up costing us a mere $20 more to have the entire Kasbah experience, but it gave us two more chances to try what they had to offer. And we were soooo very glad we did!
Our first course featured Traditional Harira Soup, described in their menu as Tomato base soup with exotic blend of spices simmered in saffron, onions, parsley, celery, Lentil, rice and garbanzo bean.
All I know is, my nose followed it to the table!
Wow! I was love at first slurp! I’ve eaten cuisine from all around the Mediterranean before, including from North Africa, but I can’t ever remember tasting a lighter, more flavorful soup in any of them! And–just so you know–light is a word you’re going to be hearing a lot out of me in this review, because my husband and I both kept using it as our dinner progressed, over and over again. Good thing, too. I was more than a bit concerned when we upgraded to the 5-course meal, thinking it was going to be a complete stuff-fest. I even warned Sara as we ordered that I’d need lots of go-boxes before the night was over, but our entire meal was extremely satisfying and wonderfully spiced overall … without being so heavy we had to waddle out to the car afterwards. Kasbah gets extra stars for that, and for this heavenly bowl of soup! Nicely spicy, hot and delicious, it was still so light that–once I decided I’d had enough–I wasn’t so full that I dreaded the next course already. It was so tasty I looked forward to what came next.
Our next course surprised us both: the Trio of Salads Kasbah! Right off, isn’t that beautiful?
Starting with that glorious orange ring and working inward, the three chilled salads were Marinated Carrots in garlic lemon vinaigrette, Grilled pepper and tomato in garlic cumin vinaigrette, and last but certainly not least, Sauteed Eggplant in tomato sauce, all served with a big basket of fresh bread.
Now, this is one of those places where my husband’s tastes and my own usually diverge … widely. When it comes to veggies, I only have a few that I’m not crazy about (like spinach and beets), and I’m always up for ones that–unlike my own Deep South upbringing–aren’t cooked mushy with a ton of smoked pork meat in them. Granted, those are great veggies, too … but I’m always thrilled to find a cuisine or a restaurant where they’ve taken veggies for a totally different, yet equally delicious ride around the kitchen. My husband, on the other hand, will eat peas and carrots, green beans, corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and potatoes. Basically, all of the traditional American veggies … but not much else. Plus, those veggies need rather traditional American treatments before he’ll eat them, too … or he’s probably not going to be interested.
The three salads were absolutely delicious, but the big surprise was my husband … who proceeded to vacuum up every scrap I didn’t eat, his favorite being the rich tomato and eggplant center of our bright and cheery salad course. I loved them all, too. Each one had its own character individually, but I quickly found myself trying all sorts of mixing and matching along the way. Ultimately though, I found myself going back over and over again for the carrot section of the rings. The bright diced cubes are parboiled soft, then mixed with a delicious lemon and garlic sauce that absolutely POPS with flavor. I could have eaten a whole bowl of the carrots salad all by itself … but then I would have missed out on the cumin and other flavors drifting into it from the other two salad rings. Normally, that would mean Decisions, decisions, right? But the beauty of eating at Kasbah is, you get all three salads in one!
When our third course arrived, it instantly blew away everything that came before it! Behold, our Kasbah Chicken Bastilla, described on the menu as: Filo dough stuffed with roasted chicken, saffron rice, marinated carrots, harissa and a blend of kasbah spices.
It was–quite simply–heaven!
Our server told us–after we’d torn through it–that her favorite part of eating a bastilla was that moment when you first crack open the crispy filo dough on the top. I completely understand what she meant by that. Inserting a knife in the top released this amazing perfumed steam that quickly found the nose, with crisp filo and exotic saffron at the foreground of its mouthwatering aromas. But the best part to me was that first mouthful! Again, I expected heavy … but I got light instead, with little crispy bits of filo, rich saffroned rice, bits of shredded chicken, and sweet chunks of carrots, all mingled together, still moist inside the crisp filo shell and brimming with the most amazing spices. My husband’s eyes lit up at the first bite, too … when he tends to shy away from rice dishes all together, again, because it’s a food he’s just not all that crazy about. Honestly, he would have never ordered that dish off the menu in a million years, not after reading the description, but after tasting it … he agreed with me that it was pretty amazing. That’s serious applause out of a non-rice eater! I loved it so much, in fact, that I could see myself ordering that by itself one day if I wasn’t hungry enough for one of the multiple-course meals. Plus–bonus points for me, the person who can’t eat that much in one sitting–the quarter we took home with us was excellent a couple of hours later, too, even at room temperature. It was just that good!
By this point, three courses in … we both initially expected to be packing up the rest of our dinner to take home with us. The older we get the less we both eat, so it’s a tribute to the chef at Kasbah that our stomach’s stirred with even more hunger as our entrees arrived. First, my husband’s Chicken Kabob, described simply as “Marinated chicken breast in exotic spices, served with saffron rice.”
Simple was right, but don’t let that fool you! The rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned, with just the right amount of fat and spice cooked into the beautifully separate grains. The chicken was marinaded in lemon juice and spices, skewered along with some savory bits of peppers and onions, and then grilled. It was absolutely delicious … but maybe just a tad bit dry overall. Most likely, that’s due to King County’s restaurant regulations regarding required temperatures for cooked chicken, but it could have used a bit more moisture. However, that bit of dryness didn’t spoil my taste or my husband’s overall enjoyment of his entree. He definitely said he’d enjoy ordering that dish again!
My entree, as the picture below will attest, came to our table SCREAMING HOT!
I’m a big fan of lamb, and Moroccan cuisine features a clay cooking implement that’s the perfect vessel to bring the tenderness and flavor out of it: a tagine!
If you’ve never seen a tagine/tajine before, here’s an example of what one looks like:
A tagine cooks much like a dutch oven. You seal your food inside a cooking vessel that retains and radiates heat evenly, and then you subject it to controlled heat so that it cooks low and slow. Instead of cast iron, a tagine is made of thick pottery, often painted and/or glazed. The unique, conical lid design encourages evaporating juices to condense and flow back down the insides of the pot, keeping the food moist as it cooks in the flat bowl section below. In modern kitchens, tagine pots can be used both in the oven and on top of the stove, but the traditional cooking process involved placing them on racks slightly elevated above the coals.
Tagine is also the name given to the various various dishes cooked inside of a tagine pot, as evidenced by the name of my entree selection: T’Faya Tagine, described on the Kasbah menu as Simmered Lamb in saffron ginger sauce and topped with caramelized onion in cinnamon, and raisins.
As you can see from the picture above, my dish was not only screaming hot when our server removed the conical top, it was also a feast for the eyes and the nose as well, long before I pulled my first bite of amazingly tender lamb, caramelized onions, and raisins off of that bone and plunged it into my waiting mouth!
I can honestly say that the dish contained more cinnamon than any savory dish I’ve ever eaten before, especially when you’re talking about meat dishes, but there’s just something very natural and wonderful about the combination of cinnamon and lamb. They were made to share a tagine! In addition, the sauce, studded with lots of dark black raisins, was also one of the sweetest sauces I have EVER eaten on meat in my entire life, and that includes some pretty sickeningly sweet soda pop-based barbeque sauces down South, and those red-dyed, honey-soaked ribs they offer in Chinese restaurants in this country, the ones so saturated with five-spice powder that you can barely tell you’re eating meat beyond the obvious texture. My T’Faya was definitely sweet: so sweet, in fact, that a bit of bread soaked in the sauce could easily substitute for dessert, especially with that rich, fresh-ground cinnamon flavor that filled it. But–as Sara predicted when she gave me the recommendation–the caramelized onions made the dish! They can often be a bit sweet themselves, but–in this case–they brought a much-needed bit of savory to the sauce, bolstered by the flavor of the gamey, meaty lamb below. Combined, the flavors hit a wonderful mid-range note on sweetness, spice, herb, meaty, and all the other scales, too, making it one of the most interesting and satisfying dishes I’ve eaten in a very long time … and that’s in a life of many, many interesting and satisfying dishes.
By this point, of course, I’ve already got three to-go boxes stacked up beside me, and even though every single one of the courses surprised me with how light they were overall–even the big hunk of lamb leg with all the sauce baked into it–I was already thinking, I’ll just have her pack dessert to go.
However, there was no need
Our final course, mint tea and a chef’s choice of dessert, ended up being the perfect ending to the perfect meal. There is no way after all that food that we could have eaten a heavy dessert, and obviously the chef at Kabul Moroccan Restaurant understood that, too. Instead, our server brought us a lightly-sweetened mint tea, poured from an ornate teapot into etched tea glasses, and two plates of light (there’s that word again!) crispy cookies, flavored with just a hint of cardamon and other spices.
Like I said, perfect! I went into dessert thinking I couldn’t eat another bite, but the cookies and tea went down like they had no bulk at all, like they were just the last wonderful flavors of Morocco visiting our happy mouths for a moment … before we bid them adieu, and a hearty until next time!
And–yes–even a bit of dry white meat chicken couldn’t shake that rating in my book! Kasbah earned every bit of it! And we’ll definitely be back!