While my mister n’ others were out partying it up in Vegas for our friend’s 4th of July bachelor bash, the girls decided to get together for some of our own 4th of July festivities, including dinner. It took us a while to settle on a place to eat (some of our first options were closed for the holiday), but we finally reached Casablanca, a restaurant in Venice that S. has wanted to try for a while.
At first, I thought it would be Moroccan/Mediterranean given the name. Turns out, this is a Mexican restaurant. Wait, wah??? What’s a Mexican restaurant doing with a name like Casablanca? Well, whoever owns this restaurant either is a huge fan of the movie or never got around to renovating. The interior is done up Moroccan style and memorabilia from the movie decorate the walls. There’s even a wax figurine of Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. I really wish I had a camera on me…
As we entered Casablanca, we were a little bit skeptical. Reassured by the fact that there were customers there already and they looked like they were enjoying themselves, we didn’t bolt back for America. We were quickly seated and ordered margaritas which, by the way, were great. The menu was actually surprising as they didn’t cling to the typical Mexican restaurant fare. While you could order from a small selection of “almost famous” burritos or enchiladas, the menu offered up several dishes that did not seem very “Mexican”. Apparently, their specialty was calamari but no one at our table ordered one of those dishes. There were also beef and chicken options as well as a variety of other seafood – shrimp, salmon, and Pacific red snapper. Most of the menu was variations of a set of dishes; just the meat was different. One of the choices was steak/chicken that was marinated in Dos XX and served with a mushroom sauce. There was also the criollo which involved a tomato-based sauce. S. had the cheese enchiladas; K. had the Dos XX chicken and I had the chicken criollo.
All our dishes came with a side of rice. Instead of the standard Mexican rice which, to me, seems to be just rice cooked in salsa, this rice was better, I thought. It looked to be broken grains and was fluffier. There was a hint of color to it which makes me think it was boiled in something other than water but it had a lot more flavor than just “salsa-rice”. It was also topped with cojita cheese…mmmmmm cheeeeeese.
The chicken criollo was definitely more flavorful than the Dos XX which was a little disappointing due to blandness. The criollo had an almost Italian feel to it. The chicken in both dishes, though, were cooked well and were moist.
One point of interest is the very large iron griddle in the middle of the restaurant. Yup, they have a little lady who makes tortillas from scratch. Instead of bringing chips and salsa to your table, they bring you fresh, piping hot tortillas, pats of butter and tomatillo sauce with chunks of cojita cheese in it. These seriously are the best tortillas I have had so far. They are still a little doughy and taste a million times better than anything you would find in the grocery store. I skipped on the butter and just ate them with the tomatillo sauce which was really quite tasty and had a very small kick to it.
While the food itself was mediocre, I would go back for the tortillas. I’ll probably opt to try the calamari or just get a burrito…yes, they use those awesome tortillas.
The service, by the way, was very good. We never had to ask for refills on our water; they were quite attentive without ever getting intrusive.
Casablanca gets 2 1/2 NOMs.