Editors' pick

Casbah Cafe

Greek, Moroccan
$$$$ ($14 and under)

Editorial Review

Journeys Close to Home

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 29. 2008

Sound Check: 70 decibels; Conversation is easy

Half the menu is Moroccan, half is Greek at Casbah Cafe in Georgetown. So I turn to my waiter for some direction. Go with what you like, he encourages me. If you don't see anything you like, we'll try to make something for you.

That won't be necessary, because lots of dishes are calling to me: chicken tagine, moussaka, kefta, spanakopita -- indeed, the choices read like a greatest hits list from the Mediterranean. And what follows from the kitchen proves my waiter right. Herby falafel (made the Egyptian way, with fava beans instead of chickpeas) on a drift of garlicky hummus and cinnamon-spiced ground beef wrapped in cabbage pay nice tribute to Greece. Fat phyllo cigars of shredded chicken and almonds -- a twist on the famous bisteeya -- and a fluffy pyramid of couscous with chicken and artichokes do Morocco proud. There are even pizzas that speak to the two-cuisine format, with toppings of artichokes, feta and tomato (the Mykonos), or chicken and eggplant, a.k.a. Casablanca. Lamb souvlaki is tough and underseasoned, but shrimp on a chunky bed of tomato is bright with preserved lemon and wine.

You can tell the regulars from the newbies here; the former frequently don't bother to look at the menu, because the staff knows their preferences.

The dining room -- long, mirror-lined and sharing a side door with Ledo Pizza -- is neat and tidy, but not particularly reflective of either Morocco or Greece. The soundtrack, on the other hand, places us in a sun-drenched somewhere, feeling as if we're eating the efforts of a good home cook -- who, it turns out, is also the owner, Egyptian-born T.D. Diab. Hehints that the menu might change down the road. I don't like people to get bored, he tells me on the telephone, after I've eaten there. Fat chance, I think to myself, hoping to find more of the same foreign intrigue the next time around.