Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Night in Arabia

Dinner at La Kasbah was, in one word, otherworldy. I've never been to Morocco, or Tunisia, or set foot anywhere within a few miles of Africa, so I can't trumpet to the world how authentic it is in terms of cuisine and ambiance. Suffice it to say that for an Asian like me who is so used to the mysticism of the orient, I was bowled over by the sensuality of the music, the warmth emanating from the copper, mahogany, wine and rust-colored walls, and the "Arabian Nights" setting of this little basement restaurant in a busy part of Soho.
I was too entranced by the decors that I forgot my main purpose in bringing the camera - to capture our unforgettable mezze platter appetizer and dinner of lamb tagine and lamb couscous. Good thing I got some pictures of the colorful hanging lamps, brassware, pottery and wall hangings. I even took a picture of the charming braided red lamp in the ladies' room. It looked like an inverted flower pot with red dreadlocked strings attached.

We started off with the mezze platter, a way of ordering that ensures you get to taste at least 4 or 5 varieties of the hot and cold appetizers. The servings are perfect, small enough to tease the taste buds and leave you craving for more, but after finishing it off, you feel relieved you didn't order the bigger plates, or there would be no room for the main course. The platter consisted of Zaalouk (a compote of aubergines, tomatoes, shallots, coriander, chives and cumin). It had the texture of pureed beans, and the cumin and coriander gave it that whiff of middle eastern/mediterranean. The Hummous (puree of chickpeas, sesame seeds, fresh lemon and olive oil) went perfectly with the warm, round bread (similar to pita) we couldn't eat enough of. It wasn't too garlicky, unlike supermarket brands, and tasted fresh and smooth, much like a spread should be. Little pieces of phyllo-wrapped minced lamb with diced apricot and roasted almonds (Boureck) were the bestseller of the bunch. The nutty almond flavor, sweetish apricot and tender lamb meat exploded in a cacophony of flavors after one small bite of the pastry. The serving was literally bite-sized, 2 small pieces of lamb goodness. In the middle of tha platter was a leaf of lettuce with marinated feta cheese, grape tomatoes and olives, which I popped into my mouth liberally.

There were many main courses to choose from, but first-timers should try the tagine (stewed meat served on a clay pot with a funicular cover that keeps the heat in). I tried the lamb tagine, chunks of tender meat coked with apricots, prunes, almonds, glazed olives and potatoes. Delicious! Imagine the crunch of slivered almonds, the chewiness of prunes and apricots, the bursting saltiness of olives and the neutrality of potatoes in one spoonful. I ordered couscous on the side, and the tiny grains thirstily absorbed the sauce of my tagine, making it virtually impossible to resist that last scoop. It was a hefty serving of couscous and should really be shared by two. As much as I enjoyed it, I would prefer savoring the sauce with the Morrocan bread next time, much as I always opt to eat Indian curry and lentil dahl with warm garlic naan instead of pullao rice. On my next visit, I will be sure to try the chicken tagine, which is cooked with lemon confit. Ooooooh, I love lemons. Hong kong always does wonders for my craving for exotic cuisine. Next stop: FINDS (cuisine from Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden) and Ivan the Kozak (Russian and Ukrainian cuisine).

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