By Molly Dunn
By Catherine Gillespie
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By Minh T Truong
Even for only $7, it was still an insulting plate to be presented with for lunch: If these few slivers of chicken don't fill you up, snack on some dry rice and a cucumber slice. On the other hand, it could be great if you're on a diet.
I was disappointed. The Indonesian food that we'd had for iftar had been a little better, although we'd ordered only a few appetizers that night: bergedel, potato patties that were good if too greasy, and fried tempeh (tempeh goreng) that desperately needed salt. The bowl of spicy-salty sauce that would normally accompany the tempeh goreng was nowhere to be found. But none of it was insulting.
Still more worrisome than the food during lunch was the service. Gone was the genial waiter who'd taken care of us the week prior — even if he'd forgotten a few things here and there, or was slow to refill our water and tea, at least he'd been there — and in his place was a harried woman, who frequently disappeared into the kitchen for long stretches. I had to hunt her down twice to receive and then pay for my check.
5506 Richmond Ave.
Houston, TX 77056
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Mondays through Sundays
Lamb tagine: $9.95
Beef couscous: $8.95
Royal couscous: $12.95
Kafta sandwich: $5.95
Tempe goreng: $4
Mee goreng: $6.50
SLIDESHOW: Oasis in the Desert: Casablanca Brings Moroccan Food to Houston
BLOG POST: Oasis in the Desert: Casablanca Brings Moroccan Food to Houston
That same harried waitress was there again on my third visit, whom I now understood to be the owner's wife. She remembered me, gave me a broad smile, and I was ready to forgive the bad Indonesian food and the molasses-slow service. She sat me at a table and then — as promptly as she'd done on my last visit — forgot about me until my friends met me 20 minutes later. There were no other diners in the restaurant.
Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" blared from the kitchen as someone hammered loudly and repetitively within the bowels of the restaurant. Perhaps they were trying to fix the non-functioning a/c in the restrooms; one can hope. Al Jazeera played on the large flat-screen TV and Moroccan-esque fans whirred noiselessly overhead while I waited for our waitress to return.
She didn't seem to be cooking the food on either visit, just supervising the kitchen. So perhaps the Yanouris are trying to get those Indonesian recipes up to par. And on this visit, they had improved. An Indonesian salad called gado gado was a hit: crunchy shrimp chips atop a mound of vegetables in a sweet peanut sauce. Ditto the improved tempeh goreng, which didn't require salt this time.
Our order of mee goreng was enormous, and large enough to feed three people. The egg noodles tasted slightly smoky and too salty — clearly salt is still a work in progress here — but there was no trace of spice to the dish whatsoever, a huge letdown for a classic Indonesian dish that nearly breathes out a sweet, intoxicating fire.
And as if to add insult to injury, the one Moroccan dish we ordered that night — a beef tagine — was lifeless and bland, the beef overcooked and the sauce a drab color that reflected none of the vivid saffron it contained, either in taste or appearance. And the mint tea that had been piping hot and sweet during previous visits was oversteeped and lukewarm, filled with grounds. At the end of the meal, I found myself searching for our waitress all over again.
It's difficult to discern exactly how interested the Yanouris are in seriously running a restaurant, if at all. There's a sort of sloppiness in almost every aspect of the place — from the un-air-conditioned bathrooms to the inconsistent service, from the lack of posted hours to the stumbles over basic dishes like mee goreng — that is either endearing or exasperating, depending on your perspective.
It's the kind of sloppiness that shouldn't still be apparent in a restaurant that's been open for nearly a year. But because of how truly difficult it is to find great Moroccan food in Houston, I'm willing to forgive the service and forgo the Indonesian food, if only for Casablanca's wonderful couscous.