Monday, September 04, 2006

Legacy Review: Caspian Cafe

Date of Visit: 2/25/06

While it may be housed in a former Denny's building, that's about as close as the Caspian Cafe ever gets to the chain.

The interior of the building has been transformed from its Denny days into a warm cozy space, with lots of dark wood and cream walls subtly enhanced with hand-painted scrollwork. The tables range from smallish high tops to roomy standard height models - go for the standard height if you can.

We started with the Eggplant in Spicy Honey Sauce - three slices of grilled eggplant with a thick, sweet sauce of honey, ginger, chili, and other spices. Alongside were three pita triangles, three slices of lemon, and a good sized dollop of plain yogurt. I would have liked the eggplant to have been just a bit more cooked - it was still a bit firm in spots - but the honey sauce was delightful, sweet, spicy, and worked perfectly with the tangy yogurt.

The bread was Italian ciabatta, according to the server, and while it had the prerequisite dense, spongy interior, the crust was a little soft. It's served with individual saucers of olive oil for dipping.

Entrees come with soup or salad. The salad was half greens, half other vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, onions) with currants and ground sundried tomatoes. The pomegranate vinaigrette was lovely - sweet and sour, fruity
and complementing the vegetables nicely.

One of my dining companions ordered the soup, a fava bean with cavatelli in a tomato broth. It was not as flavorful as expected, although the beans were quite tender. The salad was the better choice.

For an entree I chose the Moroccan Roast Chicken, a chicken breast and part of a wing rubbed with spices that definitely included ginger and saffron, roasted with lemons and oranges. I wish the chicken had been slightly more tender. The rich flavor was offset nicely by the citrus - it was served with asparagus, basmati rice, and wonderful spaghetti squash cooked with ginger and other spices.

Another dining companion had the Greek Country Salad, which was loaded with Kalamata olives and feta cheese; he declared it very good. Another person had the pork chop special, stuffed with olives and feta. It came with the same sides as my roast chicken. And yet another ordered the Shish Taouk, a chicken kabob basted with saffron and butter, served on a mound of basmati rice.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to share our impressions of our dishes at the time because the sound system was playing very loud music for the Saturday night belly dancing.

While belly dancing is a common enough entertainment at Mediterranean restaurants, this is the first restaurant I've eaten at where it became a complete nuisance. Other places often clear a space in the middle of the room for the dancer so those who wish to watch can, and those who want to converse are not constantly being interrupted. The dancer did her level best to dance between the tables, but she was almost always hovering over someone trying to eat, nearly clocking someone with the sword she had balanced on her head, or blocking the servers from bringing food or refilling glasses.

Speaking of the service, it's friendly and knowledgeable, but very leisurely. Glasses were kept full, but plates hung around on the table for awhile.

Despite the distractions we hung around for dessert. The dessert menu is fairly standard - baklava, nut roll, sorbets, ice cream. I split the dessert special of the night, a chocolate mousse with grand marnier, served in a tall champagne flute. It tasted slightly closer to chocolate pudding than mousse, but there was no mistaking the grand marnier. The other couple split a "pastry combo" of one baklava and one nut roll, which were declared good
but slightly overhoneyed.

I will be returning to the Caspian Cafe, but not on Thursday or Saturday nights when the belly dancing is featured. When I go to dinner I want to concentrate on my meal and conversation with those at my table, not be deafened by music or trip over the entertainment.

Update: haven't been back since. We really should.


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