Sunday, January 1, 2012

My New Year's Casbah-lution

For auld lang syne, my dears.

Yes, indeed it was so long ago that I last shared my culinary opinions with you all but I have resolved to resume blogging -- both here and at Life is Cake. Though I had a few options of reviews to share with you today I thought it only appropriate that I post about our New Year's Eve dinner last evening at Casbah in Shadyside.

Casbah is a part of the wonderful and fabulous big Burrito Restaurant Group with whom, I can tell you now, I've never had a poor meal.  I'd only eaten at this particular restaurant once prior to last night -- a lunch meeting eons ago. After doing extensive research on New Year's Eve menus throughout the 'burgh, we landed on Casbah due to it's prix fixe menu choices of "Land" or "Sea" and their wine pairing options.

Our reservations (which we made nearly four weeks in advance via my awesome Open Table iPhone app) were for 6:15 p.m. which we all agreed was early for New Year's Eve, but the place was already almost booked! We arrived to a very pleasant and polite valet attendant -- valet parking is free for those dining at Casbah or Mad Mex.  As soon as we stepped inside (my first time doing so at night and PID and FORTs' first time doing so ever), we felt like we were transported into the garden of a Mediterranean villa.  I completely adored the romantic and mythological ambiance in this place.  I've always been a sucker for fairy lights and stucco appeal, but put them together and you've got a god among dining rooms.

We were lucky enough to be seated in this charming faux-outdoor (though heated -- talk about awesome in the chill of the December night) section, though Casbah does have additional, equally-appealing seating indoors.


But lest we forget the most important part of a restaurant review -- the food. As I'd mentioned, we chose Casbah because of the special New Year's Eve menu.  Mrs. FORT and I both chose the "Sea" option and it's paired wine choices while Mr. FORT and PID went for a mash-up of both "Land" and "Sea" options for the perfect combination.

We started with the bread, butter and...labneh?  Yep, that's right.  Casbah offers a home-made strained Greek yogurt spread which upped the ante on the would-be moderate bread offering.

Next came our first wine offering, we ladies received a sparkling Rose wine and the men a sweet white which, if I had to guess, might have been a Riesling of sorts.  

The two were paired with our equally outstanding appetizers:

Veal Confit

The men both ordered a confit of veal shortribs with cider glazed root vegetables, arugula, apple and pistachios.  The pistachios added a welcomed but surprising kick of flavor and variation of texture which really added a lot to the dish.  The veal was extremely fatty, but in a very good way.  The fat was full of flavor which melted in our mouthes.

Sea scallop with truffles

Mrs. FORT and I were both graced with the scallop served with a wild mushroom-spinach ravioli, sherry emulsion, mache and delicious black truffle. The scallop was cooked, quite possibly, better than any scallop I've ever had. It sprung back at my fork prongs, but was far from chewy. The ravioli, however, was the pleasant surprise of the evening.  What was surely meant to be a mere mortal of the evening turned out to be certainly not of this world...except for the delicious earthiness of the mushrooms. Off to a spectacular start!

Next we received our second wine and course. Silly me, I never wrote down our wines.  They were delivered backwards at first and our servers were quick to make sure they made things right. It made for a slightly awkward moment, but in the end no harm was done. Mrs. FORT actually liked Mr. FORT's wine so much, she asked not to switch!

Sage gnocchi

The men of the table were served the sage gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, Madeira, foie gras butter, black walnuts and Piave (a deliciously sweet, dense Italian cheese). Apologies for the picture, folks -- I let PID do the clicking on his meal this time and he was just so excited to dig in. Both men sighed with elation after just one bite and I have to admit I was a tiny bit jealous after just one taste of the flavorful gnocchi and sprouts.

Lobster ravioli

The Mrs. and I had the lobster ravioli next.  The second ravioli of the night in a pre-determined menu which I thought a bit odd, but definitely had no true qualms.  The saffron tomato sauce was - by far - my favorite part of the dish and it paired beautifully with the pancetta béarnaise AND the delicious Chablis (don't quote me there, I'm merely making an educated guess as to what my wine could have been). It was just a triple-threat match made in Greek heaven.

My first "complaint" of the evening (if you can call it that), was the abundance of residue in PID's wine. He could taste it the moment he took his third swallow and it lingered on his glass.  Slightly disappointing for a place labeled as a wine bar, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

Next we moved on to our main courses and their respective wines.  I will say that although for a brief moment they mixed up who ordered what (not uncommon and in no way a problem), the service here was impeccable.  From the friendly demeanor of the staff to the appropriate timing of the delivery of the wines and meal (and even to the patience of our server who continued to retreat to the kitchen to ask the chef my seemingly never-ending questions about our meals), I could not have been more pleased with the service at Casbah. After what felt like mere moments after our third wine selection was delivered, we received our meals.

Wild striped bass

The ladies - still sticking strong to our "Sea" menu - received the wild striped sea bass (perfectly cooked) with grilled potatoes, leeks, and a delicious lemon caviar butter.  This sea bass was perfectly cooked and I was amazed beyond words at the crispyness of the skin -- a must-have when it comes to serving skin-on whitefish, but often difficult to execute with a kick of non-charred flavor. This was my favorite fish skin I've ever been served...aside from the size of the serving.

Lamb loin

The men stayed on land once again as they both chose the lamb loin served with lentils, cauliflower, roasted tomato, herbs with a lamb jus. The boys concurred that the ratio of lamb-to-lentil was far from appetizing and only receiving one, lonely cauliflower was a bit of what we call a "wah-wah..." moment. I personally thought the lamb was delicious, but PID wasn't ecsatic about it and neither was Mr. FORT who was appalled at the miniscule serving size of the entree.  We hadn't questioned the serving sizes to this point because we were well aware that they were starter-courses.  However I have to admit I was on Team WTF when it came to the size of the main course.  Even at an elite location like Casbah, I expected just a bit more, especially for the price we were preparing to pay.

Finally, we received our fruity, sparkling, dessert wines and our final course -- a unanimously chosen flourless chocolate cake.

Flourless chocolate cake

This photo does not do this cake justice. We unanimously chose the cake and unanimously agreed that the cake was a shining star of the evening.  The fudgy-ness of the cake was a heavenly textural complement to the peppermint and cacao nib ice cream.  We each looked up at one another sheepishly as we realized -- one-by-one -- that we were loudly scraping our plates. 

Restaurant Information:

Address: 229 S. Highland Ave, Shadyside
Phone:  412-661-5656
Reservations: Taken, strongly suggested especially for Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings (and you can make 'em via
Lunch: Mon–Sat 11:30–2:30
Brunch: Sun 11:00–2:00
Dinner: Mon–Thurs 5:00–10:00
Fri–Sat 5:00–11:00
Sun 5:00–9:00
Cliffs Notes:
I should mention that, as is the trend these days in seasonal menu selections, Casbah's menu changes almost daily.  We chose a special, one-night only menu but hope that our review of these meals will be a nod to what Casbah does on a daily basis.

Beverages:              Wine pairing menu, carefully selecting wines perfectly paired with each (4) course @ $30 per person
                                Diet Pepsi @ $2.75

2 Prix-Fixe menus @ $65 per person:

First course:           Sea Scallop

                                Veal Confit (shortribs)

Second course:      Lobster Ravioli
                               Sage Gnocchi

Entree course:     Wild Striped Bass
                              Lamb Loin

Dessert:                 Flourless chocolate cake

Tax:                        Food AND drink tax  @ 7% (Allegheny County only) @ $13.49
Tip:                           $40.00
Total for two:          $246.24
Overall Opinion:

I've admitted time and time again that I base my reviews on ambiance, service and flavor. And this place, my friends, excelled in all three.  I had but two qualms of the evening and it was entree portion size and the TINY mishap of the wine residue.  Personally I adored this meal and would recommend Casbah to anyone looking to enjoy a beautifully framed evening of deliciously prepared food.  If you're STARVING and looking for nothing but a belly-filler, maybe look elsewhere.   This place will blow your socks off when it comes to flavors, textures, setting and service.  I'd suggest it for a date OR a business dinner, anytime.

Καλή όρεξη!

Casbah on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share this!