“The art of the cuisine, when fully mastered, is the one human capability of which only good things can be said.”
– Friedrich Durrenmatt
I first tried Moroccan food around ten years back and returned with elaborate stories of pigeon meat and sweet and savoury balances. Most people I told had a look of awe on their faces and I wished then I could change that to a look of deep and delicious satisfaction. So I made Pastillas albeit with chicken, dusted them with icing sugar and ate 4 out of the 8 on the platter. Over the years I experimented with Tagines but never came even slightly close to the real thing. So when the DoubleTree by Hilton, Gurgaon opened the doors to their Moroccan fine dining, Casablanca, I was waiting with bated breath! Our first experience had us hooked, much like most of Gurgaon. It was a cool winter evening when the husband and I sat out in a private Casbah and felt like we fell in love all over again.. 16 years into a rather interesting marriage. Casablanca is visually opulent and even lovelier in the evenings.
We started with the Khobz b Chehma (695), much like an Arab Fatayer, this is a Moroccan bread filled with minced lamb; delicately flavoured and hugely aromatic. This was followed by the Prawns Pil Pil (895); a bit like the Spanish Gambas, this is a very satisfying appetizer, the chilli-garlic-olive oil combo just perfect with meat-like prawns. What I was really waiting for however, were the chicken Pastillas (695) – traditionally Moroccan and the most beautiful balance of sweet and savoury I know of. The stuffing is usually pigeon but can be chicken or wild fowl too and since it is cooked in broth, it is bursting with the flavour of game fowl. Like most Moroccan food, fragrant herbs and spices find their just place within.
[quote type=”center”]Pastillas are essentially stuffed meat mini pies that have been baked and dusted with icing sugar before serving. Don’t guffaw at that till you try one, because you too will be starry eyed thereafter.[/quote]
While we waited for our main course we nibbled on baby pita breads, house made Harissa and olives and hummus which were complimentary to every table. For our main course we sampled the Tagine Menu; don’t miss the Rabbit, Artichoke and Green Peas Tagine (1325) and the Quail, Onions, Raisins & Almonds (895). These are signature dishes from their exotic kitchen and absolutely worth every penny. Tagines everywhere else are not always cooked in a Tagine (type of pot), the conical lid and wide based utensil unique to Morocco. At Casablanca, a Tagine is made like it’s supposed to be and I know this because I was busy considering picking up one and making a run for it. The conical lid allows all the fragrant, delicious vapours of the stewing meat and vegetables to condense and drop right back into the dish almost re-infusing the Tagine stew with its own flavour and losing none. We had the Tagine with steamed couscous; neither my husband nor I are couscous fans but I guess we need the right accompaniment to truly appreciate it.[box]This past Women’s Day we enjoyed a magnificent brunch at Casablanca with General Manager Ms. Monisha Dewan as our hostess along with the gracious Chef Rajat Tuli and the gregarious Chef Rachid Choukki of Casablanca. My table had a world renowned blogger, a hugely talented home chef, a pastry Chef from the Culinary Institute of America and little ‘ol moi and all we did was marvel at how much we loved the food.[/box]
For the rest of the mains, I I think I can blindly suggest the Samak Makli (1125) to start with. I haven’t tried it at Casablanca but I am certain they will do it well; its one of my favourite fish dishes, very close to an Iranian tomato fish but with a more salsa-like base. We finished with one of our family favourites, the Medfouna (845); leavened Moroccan bread with Harissa, we chose a topping of minced lamb, just the way we love it. In the Gulf they make one with Zaa’tar; this one had us going to all those wonderful bread and meat meals we loved so much.
Then came dessert. I am not a big one for flowery flavours in my food; you won’t see me gunning for jasmine rice or ordering Chamomile tea. Even so, I quite enjoyed our dessert of Orange Blossom Ice Cream (325) and thought it an ideal palate cleanser. I suppose citric flavours are overpowering even in the flowering stages. My next order though will be the Bhgrir (345); Moroccan crepes with honey and nuts. I suggest you eat them just pistachios, like we do when we order Moroccan abroad.
I know I compared many dishes with Arab/Mediterranean foods but do remember that was for explanation’s sake; personally I disapprove of people clubbing exotic cuisines like this one with any other. Moroccan food is extremely refined and the product of centuries of cultural blending and fortification. The flavours are deep, aromatic and soul satisfying all at once and I am not alone when I say this. Gurgaon needs cuisines like these to complete it’s burgeoning repertoire for good food!