Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. Atmosphere: Tasteful Middle Eastern, but with no trace of Humphrey Bogart. Price Range: $5.50 to $7.50 for main dishes. A couple of appetizers might well be combined for a cheaper child's meal. Reservations: Only on weekends. Special Facilities: Accessible by wheelchair. Booster seats available. On-street parking is rare, but there are parking lots nearby.
Friday night in Georgetown isn't exactly prime time for a family dining trip, and I had wondered whether children would be received with open arms. But the Casablanca Restaurant, which wasn't crowded, made the four of us feel welcome.
It's a small, attractive room with Oriental carpets on the walls, embroidered cloths on the tables and Middle Eastern music on the speakers. Since no belly-dancing at the table was permitted, our children had to content themselves with muttering an occasional "Ole!" to the music.
Chickpea dip and eggplant dip ($1.95 each) were our no-question-about-it choices for starters. "It's so good I can't stop!" said our 11-year-old guest, making short shrift of hers. My daughter, son, and I agreed as we wolfed down our own appetizers.
We had iced mint tea (75 cents), the proper Moroccan drink, but beer and wine are also available. We also had quite a few baskets of warm Arabic bread with the dips. The eyes of our waitress twinkled slightly as she asked whether we wanted more bread, surveying our nearly empty third basket.
In a spasm of greed, I also ordered the stuffed grapeleaves ($2.50) as an extra appetizer, and we all dived in. Served warm, they were well seasoned. We also might have begun with lentil, vegetable, or chicken soup ($1.75); meat, spinach, or cheese pie ($1.95), or a salad.
Thus stuffed, our group could consider the main dishes more judiciously. My daughter and her friend, feeling adventurous, decided to look into the kebab combination (lamb-chicken-kufta plus rice and salad, for $14.95 for two).
My son stuck with shish kebab ($6.95), which has served him well in the past. Stuffed ouzi (filo stuffed with lamb, rice, nuts, and peas for $6.50) sounded good and rather atypical to me.
We could have gone in several other directions. There's chicken kebab ($5.95), kufta kebab, featuring cigar-shaped ground beef ($5.95), couscous ($6.50, but far more enticing on a cold winter evening) and something improbably named macloubey ($5.50).
It would be nice if this fairly standard Middle Eastern fare were enriched with Moroccan dishes like bisteeya, or pigeon pie, and various tagines (stews). But what kid you know would order pigeon pie?
Appetites were noticeably flagging by the time our main dishes arrived -- too much to soon, I fear. But we each approved of what we got. The chicken and kufta kebab portions of the combination platter were arrestingly spicy. On the other hand, my ouzi was pretty bland, although it was fun to discover what lay inside that tidy-looking mound. Its yoghurt and cucumber sauce livened it up considerably, though.
Slow service was a definite drawback. Charming as she was, the one waitress had trouble handling everything. And at one point she wondered aloud whether the kitchen had forgotten us. During the long predessert lull, our children turned peevish. But they renewed their spirits by popping in and out of the door to survey the M Street Friday night action, of which there is indeed plenty.
For dessert we had comtemplated baklava, ( $2) or the less usual kenafey (stuffed with white cheese, also $2.) We waited so long for them, however, that candy sticks from the store across the street finally seemed to make more sense. Anyway, my son walked out munching on yet another hunk of pita bread, so I guess he figured that would do for his dessert.
The bill for four of us came to $46.70 -- more than I had expected before we went. But prices have slithered upward, and, anyway, we didn't need that order of grape leaves.
It's not a place for the youngest of the young, but older children with mildly experimental palates should be pleased with the Casablanca.