Who knew to look in Harvard Square for creative and affordable cuisine? I was under the impression that one must pay at least $50/person for a good and creative three course meal in Boston. Casablanca proved me wrong. You can savor wonderful dishes inspired by the flavors of Mediterranean in the company of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman for as little as $35 for three courses.
We started our meal with a fennel and grape tart with aragula and blue cheese salad. Fennel and grapes were an unusual, but delicious combination. The pastry was flaky and delicate. Although it was not soggy, it could benefit from a bit more crispness. Our second appetizer was a garlic and chorizo soup with poached egg and gruyere crostini. We ordered it just because it sounded funky, and I wanted to find out what a poached egg was doing in that soup. It turned out that it was not really doing much. It was a great soup - garlicky and pleasantly spicy with a crisp very flavorful crostini. It was a great egg with delicate white and golden liquid yolk. These two great components did not really come together to create a new and interesting whole, but were delicious nevertheless. The highlight of our dinner was the skirt steak roulade. I loaded a fork with a juicy piece of steak, tender potato, and bright green spinach. I dipped it in the jus and tasted it - I was in meat heaven. How on earth did the chef get this cheap and tough cut of meat to taste as juicy and tender as tenderloin? Mushroom risotto cake with fontina, braised greens and mushroom broth was very tasty and satisfying on a cold winter day. It consisted of creamy risotto formed into a thick patty, rolled in crumbs and fried to a crisp. It sat on top of braised Swiss chard and spinach surrounded by mushroom broth. The mushroom flavor was not as intense as I hoped it to be, but the contrast between creamy, crisp, and liquid textures was wonderful.
The wine list is affordable and has some good choices. We had the most luck with the two Spanish wines that we tried by the glass. We also tried a Macon and a Shiraz from Australia, but those were nothing to write home about. We tried to get waitress's help with matching wines by the glass with the dishes we ordered, but she only tried a few of the wines on the list and couldn't really help us match them with the food. Other than that, the service was very friendly and prompt. The only uneventful part of the meal was the dessert. I ordered the Caramel Banana Chocolate Tart with coffee bean ice cream and Turkish coffee sauce. Although the menu indicated that it was served warm, it was around room temperature. Jason got the Chocolate-Chestnut Roulade with red current puree and compote. I can't say that these desserts tasted bad - it's hard to make something with chocolate taste bad - but they did not taste particularly good. Next time, we might skip desserts, but there is no doubt that there is going to be a next time.